Inside Events: Huntsman World Senior Games
20 Sep, 2017By: Mary Helen Sprecher
An Interview with Kyle M. Case, CEO
The Huntsman World Senior Games, an international multi-sport event for athletes age 50 and up, have been in existence since 1987. They are presented annually in St. George, Utah, and include 29 medal-eligible sports (and one social sports event) for both teams and individuals. A list of sports can be found here. In addition to athletic events, the Games include health screenings, social events, concerts, dances and more, designed to create a positive visitor experience. This year’s Games will be presented October 9-21, 2017.
Sports Destination Management: This is an international event for ages 50 and up. How many athletes do you get total, and how much registration do you get from outside the country?
Kyle Case: We have about 11,000 athletes all in all. It’s about an 80/20 split as far as people coming from inside vs. outside the United States.
SDM: In terms of the athletes from within the U.S., do you get attendance from across the country, or is it more Western states?
Case: We definitely have athletes from across the country; in fact, all 50 states are represented. I’d say about 60 percent come from the Western part of the U.S.
SDM: What is the biggest sport, in terms of participation?
Case: Softball; it is just huge. We have 353 teams registered so far for this year. I’d say the second-largest is volleyball; we have 200 or so teams signed up. From an individual sport standpoint, it’s pickleball; that has grown exponentially. We’ve been a driver in the growth of that sport, and we’re really proud of that. We’ve been offering it for 15 years now and what we’ve seen happen is that people watch the sport, then go home and start playing it, and it just keeps growing.
SDM: It’s great to know there is a racquet sport for people whose joints are bothering them after a lot of time on the tennis or racquetball courts.
Case: It is; we have plenty of athletes still competing in our tennis and racquetball events, but pickleball has really been a phenomenon for sure.
SDM: You have a lot of sports presently. How do you decide on adding new ones?
Case: Right now, we have 30 events so there’s a large selection but every once in a while, we do get a request. When we do, we evaluate it according to a five point checklist:
Is there someone who can act as our sports director? These are volunteer positions held by people who run the tournament. Honestly, when a new sport is proposed, sometimes that’s the end of the conversation about it. Often times people are passionate about playing the sport, but unable, for what ever reason, to run it.
Is there a venue to host it? This is important because we’re an event that takes place in the fall and school is in session.. Many other multi-sport events use high school and/or college campuses for their events. Having kids in the schools can create some scheduling challenges.
Is it viable or is there a market? In other words, there may be a few people who are really passionate about the sport, but would there be enough to actually offer it?
Do people travel to compete in the sport? In some cases, a sport might be quite popular, and people from all over participate, but there isn't a culture of traveling to compete. If we're going to have the kind of successful tournament that we are looking for, bringing in people from all over, the athletes need to be used to idea of traveling for competitions.
Is there an international appeal to that sport? As the World Senior Games, we're looking for sports that might draw in athletes from other countries that would participate.
SDM: So with that in mind, what was the most recent sport added?
Case: The most recently we added was shooting bench rest, which is a sport where you shoot while leaning on your elbows. The target is actually the size of your pinky fingernail, and in order to really aim, people have to squeeze the trigger between heartbeats, so it really calls for calming yourself down and being aware of your pulse.
SDM: In order to participate in the Huntsman World Senior Games, do you have to medal at the National Senior Games, or in your state senior games?
Case: No, enrollment is open. However, if people medal here, they do qualify for participation in the National Senior Games.
SDM: This is the 31st year. Did you do anything special to celebrate your 30-year anniversary?
Case: We did a lot. We found out that we had 11 people who had been attending the Games right since the beginning. Of those 11, five are currently registered this year. We like to recognize endurance within the senior sporting market so we have commemorative rings for people who have participated in 15 or more events; we will give out about 180 rings this year. We have a watch for people who have done 20 years, and then since we’re known for it, a red sandstone trophy for people who have been here for 25 years. At 30 years, people get a letterman’s jacket. There’s a real sense of loyalty to the Games for sure.
SDM: Are medals awarded in age groups?
Case: Yes, in five-year age groups just like NSGA does. Also within the skill groups, we’ll often have skill level divisions as well. For example, in softball, we’ll have Majors, AAA, AA, A, B and so on; it’s not uncommon to have seven to eight skill levels within one age group. We can’t guarantee everyone gets a medal but whenever it’s possible, we try to give people the chance to compete against people of a similar skill level.
SDM: What is the economic impact?
Case: The Games are scheduled over two weeks and the vast majority of competitors are coming to stay from other states, and sometimes other countries, so it really adds up. Last year, I think the impact was $16.7 million.
SDM: Are you seeing any change in lodging caused by the sharing economy such as Airbnb or VRBO?
Case: We have watched those trends happen and it’s interesting. For sure, the highest percentage of people are in hotels, and some in timeshares, but we’re certainly seeing the other options becoming more popular.
SDM: There seems to be an increasing number of events for senior athletes. Does it affect your event negatively?
Case: At every level of sports, there’s going to be a certain amount of competition, but we’re big believers in synergy and in creating opportunities for people. In a lot of ways, we feel like the more events we have, the healthier we are, and the more interested people will be in competition. Yes, you’re all competing for the same dollars, but if we can provide opportunities for people to live better and healthier lives, that’s better for everyone.
SDM: What sets your Games apart?
Case: One of the things we pride ourselves on is creating what we call the Huntsman World Senior Games Experience. Rather than just offering a sports event, we try to create an experience. We want it to be well-organized and well-run and enjoyable. Every event has a sport social event. We want people to create and maintain friendships, and it seems to be working. Rather than just coming and competing and going home, the athletes are really feeling the magic of what goes on here. They might have come to compete, but they’ll come back because they made friends and they want to see them, and enjoy themselves again. In addition, the community itself has really welcomed this event with open arms. I think the event and the community have grown together over 30 years. We know that everyone wants to win, but the friendship and camaraderie they find here is what will bring them back.