E-mail Ally Mills Dorrough, APR, TMP
The bottom line – or bottom dollar – can elevate or deflate a sporting event’s success. Sports event planners are pulled in a million directions for each event from site selection to planning daunting details. Solution? Call on the local experts – the destination’s convention and visitors bureau or sports commission – to raise the bottom line and help the destination increase its economic impact of your event.
Mutually Beneficial Scheduling
Clichés aside, time really is of the essence, and working with the local sports commission to pick the best time of year for each party is crucial. What works best for the sports group may not be the best for the destination’s economic impact, and vice versa. Corporate markets such as Atlanta may need more weekend business, whereas a more leisure destination like New Orleans may need more weekday business.
Michelle Russ, director of sales for the Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Sports Commission along Alabama’s Gulf Coast, noted filling “need” periods is key for sports commissions.
“We are a family beach destination, so summer is our major peak season, and it is increasingly difficult to schedule large athletic events during that timeframe,” Russ said. “Planning an event during our shoulder seasons of fall, winter and spring is huge for lodging and retail impact, and participants benefit as well with lower rates outside of summer.”
Many communities take the opportunity to enhance athletic facilities to bid on bigger business and increase event diversity to drive the economy during need periods. In coastal Alabama, building winter business is key for seasonality, so identifying sports that match that time of year is essential.
For example, collegiate soccer has grown exponentially in late fall and early winter for Alabama’s beaches – a win-win for event holders and the city of Orange Beach. The city and sports commission hold long-term contracts with clients, such as the Southeastern Conference (SEC) Women’s Soccer Championship and the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) Women’s Soccer National Championship. To continue these relationships and grow the ability to host more elite events in the future, Orange Beach made a financial commitment to update its lighting for national television visibility.
“Investing in our facilities, such as our $350,000 upgrade of HD-quality field lighting several years ago on our championship soccer field, pays off in excellent exposure on a national scale as games are televised and the field looks incredible,” Ken Grimes, city administrator for Orange Beach, expressed. “With sports tourism, we know it matches perfectly with our goal of being family-friendly here on the Alabama Gulf Coast and for Orange Beach, the athletic events are how we diversified our local economy which was most evident during the aftermath of the [BP] oil spill. Travel teams kept coming when traditional beach tourists were concerned, and many stayed away. We want Orange Beach, Alabama, to be known as the ‘Youth Sports Capital of the South’ and we feel we are on our way to that title.”
Aside from the time of year, the length of stay seriously impacts the destination beyond accommodations. Many sports commissions work with planners to incorporate practice days and other activities to extend the event’s impact.
Visit Panama City Beach, located on the Florida Panhandle, encourages building in a pre-event day to allow participants and families to experience the destination off the fields.
“We encourage event rights holders to schedule a pre-event meeting for coaches and an orientation for team moms and dads during weeklong events to get the teams and families in a day early,” said Chris O’Brien, director of sports marketing and special events. “This allows teams to drive in, get checked into their hotels, get to the beach, relax and get ready for the week. Many of our events also schedule a skills competition or a light schedule day or half-day to have on reserve for any makeup games due to weather.”
By scheduling an extra day, whether pre-event or a “rest” day in the middle of a longer event, teams, staffs and families can extend trips and build in a vacation. Participants and families are already budgeting to travel for the event, so it is much more economical to piggyback and plan a vacation, which in turn positively impacts the destination.
Capturing the heart of the host destination and giving back is a huge win for all parties. The Tulsa Sports Commission has hosted Oklahoma USA Wrestling for three years, and it works with the Olympic group to engage children through its Olympic Day Wrestling Clinic.
Olympic Day is designed to expose youth to and grow the sport of wrestling with clinics hosted by Olympians and other high-level athletes. Because of community commitment and economic impact, USA Wrestling awarded Tulsa the 2018 Senior Greco-Roman World Team Trials, June 21-22, and the Junior National Duals June 20-23.
“Olympic Day has provided the perfect platform to expose our youth to the sport of wrestling,” noted Mark Hargis, national sales and development manager for Tulsa. “USA Wrestling and Oklahoma USA Wrestling have both been tremendous partners in their efforts of providing the Olympian clinicians.”
Longstanding relationships make a big difference in community activation, and in turn increase economic impact. Along Alabama’s beaches, NAIA fulfills its Champions of Character program by demonstrating the core values of integrity, respect, responsibility, sportsmanship and servant leadership through youth clinics and service projects. During the Women’s Soccer National Championship in December 2017, teams spread holiday cheer by donating dozens of items such as dish soap, blankets and snacks for the furry friends at the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo.
Additionally, the coastal sports commission works to secure honorary coaches – business leaders in the destination – for each NAIA team to cheer them on and make them feel at home throughout the week as well as before and after the championship.
“The NAIA student-athletes always leave the area talking about their impact in the community,” said Jim Carr, NAIA president and CEO. “The experience they have on the playing field and taking time serving and giving back in the community adds up to memories that will last them forever. The sports commission and community partners offer these athletes opportunities to do more than just play a game – and that is why the NAIA continues to hold its national championships in this wonderful area.”
Businesses reap economic benefits from events via direct visitor spending and create long-term relationships, but money cannot buy the organic marketing that takes place in the destination. Athletes return with their families because they were positively impacted by the destination and its people and made lasting memories.
To further leverage mutually beneficial impact, sports commissions offer free services to save planners time and money to help attract participants, therefore ensuring event success for the planner and participants. Services include seeking the best accommodation options and rates, welcome bags and coupons, destination images, videos, logos and digital postcards, pre-packages social media content, public relations toolkit, sports commission website and social media promotion, local volunteer information, vendor and supplier referrals, grants and other features based on the size of the event.
Sports commissions can also assist with on-site event coordination, including opening ceremonies, banquets, clinics, community service projects and other services.
“During the summer in Panama City Beach, the CVB assists with large-scale opening ceremony parades involving up to 300 teams that are free for families,” O’Brien says. “These events typically involve sponsor brand activations and activities like pin trading.”
Furthermore, destination demographic data is an excellent resource CVBs and sports commissions provide to planners. Demographic information can help planners understand the destination’s feeder markets, allowing them to pinpoint potential teams, fans and families to register or attend their specific events. By comparing destination demographics with sport’s demographics, the planner can better utilize their marketing efforts to attract sports-oriented families or fans who are already familiar with the destination and the planner’s organization – a perfect match.
Tulsa encourages planners to engage sports commissions early. By engaging early, planners can unlock the full potential of the partnership through services the commission has in its repertoire. This includes full lead generation that begins the economic impact study process.
“The best way a sports commission can build a strong relationship with planners is to become an active contributor to the success of the events that come to our destinations,” said Katie Nicholas, national sales and development manager for Tulsa. “For partners that engage sports commissions, they open the doors to not only resources but the opportunity to build beneficial relationships.”
According to Tulsa, economic impact of an event is critical to long-term success but is often overlooked. An economic impact study establishes a verifiable valuation that can be used in future RFPs, sponsorship proposals, communications with the media and more. A consistent history of an event’s economic impact establishes accuracy and highlights trends to convey to external stakeholders.
“Sports commissions want your business and are going to work with you in whatever ways they can,” noted Russ. “The local CVBs and sports commissions know their areas best and want all visitors to have the best experience possible.” SDM