This April, the National Association of Sports Commissions (NASC) will convene its 19th Sports Event Symposium, which kicks off in Greensboro on April 11. But you don't have to wait to see what surprises the NASC has in store. Beth Hecquet, director of meetings and events for the NASC, along with several NASC members, gave Sports Destination Management a preview of the great things you'll find in Greensboro this spring.
What is the NASC Sports Event Symposium?
Each year, the NASC Sports Event Symposium, the sports event industry's leading networking conference, brings the sports event industry together for programming, networking, the NASC Sports Marketplace, and more than a little fun along the way as well.
"It's a chance for both our members and nonmembers in the sports event industry to experience three days of programming-based education. All of our programming is very much planned and geared toward the events and issues our CVBs, sports commissions and rights owners are working with every day," says Hecquet. "We have an exceptional committee of 235 members that helps us plan every aspect of the Symposium, from education to schedule to location. The most unique thing about this conference is that really designed for our members by our members."
NASC executive director Don Schumacher explains the ongoing and growing popularity of the Sports Event Symposium, which is a must-attend event for the industry.
"The NASC was created to provide host organizations the information necessary for their success," says Schumacher. "Every Symposium is different: we listen to the needs of our members and adjust each program to reflect changing needs. Because the NASC is the only industry association and because we remain the only education-based conference, the symposium's importance continues to grow.
"Greensboro is a chance for us to return to our roots: we are a North Carolina based not-for-profit, and the Greensboro Sports Commission serves as our statutory agent. It will be 19 years from our founding to next year's symposium. Our industry has grown tremendously in those years, but the need to know what is working is as important as ever."
Education is the Thing
"One of the big changes we've made, and one that will be very evident in this year's Symposium, is that we are making all of the education programming very interactive," says Hecquet. "This is a trend in the meetings industry in general, not only to have educational content, but to have it be interactive:case studies presented with open dialogue between presenters and attendees; sessions that offer a hands-on experience. You'll be involved. You won't sit there for an hour and stare at someone talking about event insurance."
Of course, interactive education sessions depend heavily on the participation of those attending, a fact that Hecquet and her committee are well prepared to handle.
"We have a wonderful meetings committee, and they have planned the sessions to promote interaction in every way," says Hecquet. "There will even be small collections of people in each session prepared to ask questions and get the session going if things become static. We'll also be setting up rooms with different formats to encourage interaction."
The team that planned the Symposium's education programming worked primarily from requests and feedback from NASC members and past Symposium attendees.
"The topics we address in the education sessions are very much planned around member input," says Kindra Fry, director of group sales, sports and conventions, Bryan-College Station Convention & Visitors Bureau, as well as Symposium meetings committee co-chair."We pull speakers from the membership as well as outside-consultants, conflict management specialists, media experts. Sometimes we'll do panels of members, and they'll address a topic chosen by members."
This year, social media tops the list of hot topics, determining economic impact and return on investment is another key issue, and one the NASC is currently studying. But there are some topics that are always on the minds of CVBs, sports commissions and event owners.
"The big topics have always been sponsorship, getting a better bang for your buck, especially in the current economic climate, and working with hotels," says Fry. "Those are issues we will probably always continue to have sessions about. We can always learn more."
The focus, says Terry Hasseltine, director, Maryland Office of Sports Marketing and Symposium meetings committee co-chair, is to provide attendees with tools, information and strategies that are not just relevant, but also immediately applicable. "We bring in a lot of high profile, key grassroots strategic thinkers, and we ensure that all of the information we're presenting is relevant to what's going in our members' work: we look at the issues they face, the trends they need to prepare for, and get them ready to take everything home and start applying it right away."
It's always nice to hear you've done a good job, and sometimes paying careful attention positive feedback is the best way to keep that praise coming. One of the key pieces of feedback the committee received after last year's Symposium was that the event's best practices roundtable was a big hit.
"Unfortunately, we held the Roundtable at the end of the event, on the last afternoon," says Hecquet, "and that prevented a number of people who had to leave early from participating. So this year, we'll be kicking off the Symposium with two and a half hours of best practices roundtables."
"Another crucial aspect of the Symposium is the networking opportunity," says Hecquet. "We put a lot of stress on this in planning, both in scheduling sessions and flow, but also in forming our receptions. We want to allow every possible chance for informal networking and relationship building."
To that end, the Symposium includes a welcome reception on the first evening, which is also a chance to get a chance to get familiar with the event's host city, Greensboro. The Symposium will also include an awards luncheon and networking reception, which provide opportunities for informal meet-and-greets, but attendees are also give a couple of other unique chances to get to know one another.
On Tuesday and Wednesday evening during the event, Team Kentucky will host the Extra Innings Lounge, and after-session social gathering. Throughout the conference, attendees can also take advantage of the Cyber Café, situated in the heart of the conference just steps from registration and the NASC Sports Marketplace. As in part conferences, the lounge area will include six computer work stations and a printer as well as breakfast items in the mornings, an assortment of drinks throughout the day and, new in 2011, two specialty "half time breaks" to give conference attendees late afternoon pick-me-ups.
"The Cyber Café is one of my favorite parts of the Symposium,"say Hecquet. "It's a great place to host informal meetings and recharge before your next session. We've always kept a keen eye on allowing for a lot of those hallway moments, where people can just run into each other, meet, and form a relationship. The Cyber Café is the perfect way to create that environment."
The NASC's meticulous planning also extends to first-time attendees, and a great deal of work has been done to ensure that first-timers have an exceptional experience.
"We have a member mentoring committee for brand new attendees," says Jennifer Miles, senior sports manager, Amateur Athletic Union. "As part of the committee, I meet the people I will mentor at registration and then hang out with them at functions, make sure they have a chance to speak to other first-time rights holders as well as other sport commission and CVB representatives."
The Can't Miss Sports Marketplace of the Season
Bringing together all the key players who make the sports industry work, the NASC Sports Market Symposium offers the unique opportunity not just to meet face to face, but also to make the most of that meeting.
"Prescheduled meetings between CVBs and sports commissions (host organizations) and event owners are a common practice at these types of conferences, but this year, we're moving toward not just prescheduling, but prequalification as well," explains Hecquet.
Making the most of its custom-built database-available to conference attendees and to NASC members online after the conference-the NASC has, for the first time ever, been able to put a wealth of information about both sports destinations and sports events in the hands of attendees before they set up meetings.
"We conducted a lot of research with our members, both host organizations and event owners, to find out what questions they need answered in order to make their meetings more productive," says Hecquet.
For example, at the conference, event owners will be able access a list of all of the CVBs and sports commissions who are attending, as they have always done in the past. Typically, this list is used to simply select attendees an owner might want to meet, but the real information exchange until the meeting. Prequalification removes that extra step because this list includes a whole resume of information for each attendee.
"It's a great system, because it saves time and helps all of our attendees' meetings be more productive," says Hecquet. "All Sports Marketplace meetings are 10 minutes long, so it's pretty important to know if a location is a good fit before using those ten minutes. You might find out in the first five, for example, that a city doesn't have enough room nights to host your event,or that an event requires 12 courts, and you only have 10. You could have made better use of that time if you'd had that information up front, which is exactly what we're able to provide this year with prequalification."
The database uses a custom-built format to ensure that members can access information quickly and easily, providing conference attendees, as well as members who are notable to attend the conference, a thorough resource to use during the conference and beyond. With the same database available to members post-conference, NASC has created the industry's only centralized database with this depth and breadth of information.
The Event Owner Opportunity
NASC offers event owners free registration to the Symposium, making the conference an unbeatable value as well as a strategic step to finding the ideal host city for your next event.
The conference's programming is planned with event owners in mind-and event owners like the AAU's Jennifer Miles on the committee-so rights holders also enjoy the same exceptional educational and networking opportunities as host cities.
"One of the things I really value about the conference as a rights holder are the education sessions," says Miles. "They're geared to the whole sports industry and the rights holder in general. Last year when we as rights holders got together-I was moderator- we had a great discussion about things that were affecting all of us, such as how to track hotel room nights and how to handle athlete incentives. Everyone threw out ideas, and we all left with new things to try."
Bring Your Game
Whether you're a member of a CVB or sports commission or a sports event rights owner, the industry's big game in 2011 will be in Greensboro. Share a few ideas of your own at the 2011 NASC Sports Event Symposium, April 12-14 at the Sheraton Greensboro at Four Seasons. For more information or to register, visit http://uat.nascsymposium.systemsinsight.com.