Business Development

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Identifying and Working with the Gatekeepers

31 Dec, 2008

By: Stacy Brown
Inclusion Is Key When It Comes to Community Leaders

A great leader was quoted as saying, "The leaders who work most effectively, it seems to me, never say "I." And that's not because they have trained themselves not to say "I." They don't think "I." They think "we"; they think "team."

Great leaders know that it takes a group of experts to support and host major sporting events in their respective communities. For this team to be triumphant it has to be assembled not by coercion, but with inclusion and buy-in at the start.

Community inclusion is key, not only for the client, but also for the destination. Identifying and working with gatekeepers within the community are among important steps that should be taken very early in the process. To identify gatekeepers within the community, the destination sports marketing leaders should have knowledge about their community and reach out to community leaders to help forge mutually beneficial partnerships while cultivating existing relationships. For so many convention and visitor bureaus and sports commissions, many of these partnerships and relationships are already established.

That certainly is the case for Shreveport-Bossier, Louisiana. For that very reason, we were successful in garnering the 2009 Bassmaster Classic, the largest sporting event to ever be hosted in the northwest region of the state. This event could not have happened without the teamwork of the Shreveport-Bossier Convention and Tourist Bureau, Shreveport Regional Sports Authority, City of Shreveport, City of Bossier, Bossier Parish, Caddo Parish, and state governing bodies.

Each of these entities pledged their support with various resources all of which were important to the securing and hosting of this major sporting event. In a market that has some 9,000 hotels, hosting an event that draws more than 70,000 fans is a monumental task. But when the team says, 'yes you can,' then you can because the team will go to extensive lengths to generate resources, provide knowledge, solve problems and guide the event.

One successful tool for this community was assembling a local organizing committee with diverse representation and expertise in transportation, city events and planning, marketing, sales, hospitality, media, sports marketing, and more. This provided a forum to relay and share information, as well as to provide a platform for seeking inquiries and sharing feedback. Furthermore, it provided an opportunity for many of the gatekeepers and the community at-large to learn more about what convention and visitors bureaus and sports commissions do and the economic impact that sporting events can have on a community.

These community leaders were able to shed light on problems, offer ideas, and provide resources that would have been largely untapped if this committee did not exist. Such large sporting events are simply too much for any one organization to handle in some instances. It would be a good practice to solicit and utilize the various community experts at your disposal.

When people are included in meaningful ways, they are likely to take ownership of the event and provide more support than you would have realized possible. This team of individuals can assist you with volunteers, hosting welcoming events,producing goodie bags, solving transportation issues, and spreading the good news about the event and its impact on the community.

These gatekeepers will become ambassadors, not only for the event, but for sports marketing when they grasp the importance and short and long term benefits of these events on the people that comprise the community.

This team of new ambassadors will begin to champion your cause as you go after a diversity of sporting events that suit the needs of your community. They will be able to share your message that sports events and conventions are good for the community. It's not easy to share your message through the media, because it's often not easy to convey the benefits of sports marketing in a short television sound bite.

It's even tougher to share with the masses that these sporting events generate clean money, resources left behind by individuals who do not require schools, transportation and other city services. This clean money ultimately reduce the taxes that the average citizen pays into city coffers.

But your new ambassadors will tout these benefits, because they now understand them having seen what you do, how you do it, and why you do it as an important component to your team. That's true of government and business leaders, as well as state representatives who you often have go to for funds to attract these events. It is gravely important that these gatekeepers be on your side, understand what you do and can articulate the benefits to their colleges and network of associates.

As Shreveport-Bossier becomes even more aggressive in securing sporting events, we will have to reach out to even more partners. Sometimes these partners or gatekeepers are unlikely ones, but effective all the same.

For us,utilizing our sports talent and stars proved to be very successful in securing the 2010 Amateur Softball Association Conference. Tim Brando, a CBS sports announcer, was born and raised in Shreveport. In fact, he still resides here. We reached out to him and he was so gracious to lend his name and face to our bid presentation. It was his video broadcast about the Top 10 reasons ASA should come to Shreveport-Bossier that sealed the deal.

It was an unconventional bid and partnership, but in these times when groups are much more selective it can be this type of teamwork that gives you the edge over another destination much larger or seemingly more appealing than yours.

Though your community stars are not your typical gatekeepers, they still wield influence and power on so many levels and once they are involved with you and understand what you do and the far reaching benefits you have undoubtedly created an ambassador.

Each ambassador will use his influence in his network of individuals and business to spread your message in a positive manner.

Here is Some Messaging to Keep in Mind
Economic Impact. People need to know how much money is generated because of these sporting events. Typically, these numbers are derived by number of hotel room nights times dollars spent per day on hotel, meals, attractions, shopping, gas, etc. This usually reveals a conservative number because it does not take into account the number of people occupying one room.

Media Exposure. It's important to let the community know how much media publicity this has generated for the destination. This awareness can lead to additional sporting events and consumer visitation. The publicity value can be equated to advertising dollars and you can show that as well.

Business Generator. Hosting sporting events can lead to securing other large sporting events. This also can be an economic development opportunity. For instance, one of the benefits of hosting the 2009 Bassmaster Classic is that high level executives will be in the community who may not have otherwise had a reason to. They may begin to see future business opportunities.

CVB and Sports Commissions Services. Oftentimes, the convention and visitor bureau and sports commissions offer a tremendous amount of free services from request for proposals for hotels and meeting space, to event planning, attendance building and publicity assistance for the groups. It's important for the community to be aware of all of the services offered, because various people belong to a wide range of state, regional and/or national organizations. These very individuals can help you navigate the politics, talk to the right people, and seal a deal to host a sporting event.

So remember, your gatekeepers today can become your champions tomorrow as you forge ahead to host sporting events in your community. You must seek these gatekeepers, include them in the very beginning, and utilize them in meaningful ways. By engaging them, they will gain knowledge about what you do, recognize the benefits to themselves and the entire community, and spread your message to their circle of friends. Their influence will be essential to your future sports marketing efforts.

About the Author

Stacy Brown

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