In the world of sports, competition is expected. It’s the same in the business of sports tourism. Destination Marketing Organizations regularly compete against each other to bid on, win and host youth and amateur sporting events. Imagine, however, if you instead viewed your neighboring cities not as competition but as a competitive asset?
Last July, the West Michigan Sports Commission did just that when it hosted the 2022 Junior Gold Championships, partnering with two organizations that it typically competes against: the Greater Lansing Sports Authority and Visit Muskegon. The unique collaboration proved to be a win for all three regions.
The three destinations had a history of collaborating to promote Michigan as a region through the Michigan Sports Commission, a 16-destination nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting Michigan for sporting events and fostering economic development through sports tourism. However, all still operated separately to compete for business in their respective destinations. In its 15-year history, the WMSC has never partnered with another DMO to bid on and host an event. As Greater Lansing Sports Authority Executive Director Meghan Ziehmer echoed, “Traditionally when competing for business, it’s every destination for themselves.”
Approaching bid proposals from a regional perspective can have unexpected and beneficial results, if you plan accordingly and have open communication. Following are some of the benefits of partnering with neighboring DMOs when pursuing a piece of business:
• Ability to meet bid specifications: Sometimes your market may not meet all the bid criteria for a new piece of business alone, but with another partner, you can check all the boxes. In this case, the Junior Gold Championships is an annual national tournament for the top male and female youth bowlers in the United States, drawing approximately 4,000 registered athletes from all 50 states plus U.S. territories and necessitating a significant number of bowling centers and hotels. Grand Rapids alone couldn’t offer enough bowling centers and hotels, nor could it with the addition of just one market. The other cities were in the same boat. By partnering with DMOs in two neighboring markets, it was possible to offer eight bowling centers (four in Grand Rapids, two in Lansing and two in Muskegon) plus more than 30 hotel properties across the regions.
• Disbursement of work: From a practical standpoint, hosting an event across multiple markets can create economies of scale when it comes to recruiting help to support an event. Each market usually has a local club for the respective sport that can be drawn upon for volunteers and other support. These local sports clubs are a key part of the sports tourism industry and an important resource to tap into when hosting national events. In the case of this event, the local USBC (United States Bowling Congress) associations in each region were key partners in the success of this event. These clubs helped host the event on the ground, providing important knowledge of the sport, local buy-in, access to volunteers, fundraising, etc.
• Diverse experience for athletes: When hosting an event across various markets, you are giving athletes a more diverse playing experience. They get to compete in a variety of sporting venues, which can be rewarding and challenging. For the Junior Gold Championships, each bowler played at a minimum of two centers for their age group and possibly additional centers depending on their events. From a recreation and quality of life standpoint, athletes also get to visit a variety of cities, which enhances their free time and makes for a richer experience. With the Junior Gold Championships, bowlers spent only a few hours each day in competition, giving them plenty of downtime with their families to experience the amenities that three Michigan cities have to offer, from the state capital, to Michigan’s second largest city, to a Lake Michigan shoreline community, offering a unique and well-rounded tournament experience.
• Economic impact for the state and regions: Let’s face it, when you can keep business in your state instead of going elsewhere, everyone wins. Reiterating the philosophy of the Michigan Sports Commission, business in the state is better than no business at all. Despite the fact that your organization has to disperse the economic impact of the event across the partners, you are still generating revenue for your region that otherwise wouldn’t have been realized if you didn’t meet the original bid criteria in the first place. The Junior Gold Championships was one of the largest sporting events for our area, generating $7,361,967 in visitor spending and 10,000 hotel nights booked that supported all three regions and ultimately, Michigan. And that had a trickle-down effect on small businesses in West and Central Michigan since the athletes and their families enjoyed local attractions, restaurants and shops during their free time. That is in addition to the eight bowling centers themselves who welcomed the additional business during a typically slow summer season. As Cody Jacobs, proprietor of Northway Lanes in Muskegon said, “The event brought a large amount of business to our center during a time that we would otherwise be extremely slow.”
Regional, cross-market partnerships can work well if done right, bringing a strong return on investment to multiple regions of your state. Ziehmer concurs: “This non-traditional partnership has encouraged our team and our partners across the state to look at all future bids from a new lens. This partnership showcased how just because one city did not have what it needed to win the bid, if we pooled our resources together, we could accommodate and make it a win for not only our cities/regions, but the state as a whole.”
By looking beyond your borders and partnering with other destinations for bigger events, you can broaden your target of what sporting event business you can pursue, giving you infinitely more possibilities that can generate additional business and revenue for all involved. SDM