The Southwest Region Has It All
31 Aug, 2009By: Amy Henderson
Stunning scenery, endless natural attractions, rich cultural history, delectable food and a temperate climate - sounds great doesn't it? If you're considering the southwest region as a destination for your upcoming event, you'll get all that and more.
Sports abound in this area with the 2009 Super Bowl contenders Arizona Cardinals as well as several NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball organizations situated in backyards throughout the region. Toss in world-class facilities peppered throughout the region, along with ample resources in notable collegiate venues, and the Southwest is a "can't-miss" destination.
Jobing.com Arena has not only provided residents and visitors in Glendale, Arizona great shows with artists like The Rolling Stones and Madonna but also acts as home to the NHL's Phoenix Coyotes. Originally opened as the Glendale Arena in 2003, it was re-named in 2006 and has changed the area.
Glendale was known as a daytime destination only for its quaint historic downtown but that all changed in 2003. "The arena has really changed Glendale," said Lorraine Pino of the Glendale Tourism and Visitors Center. "It brought all of the other changes with sports and brought the building of the hotels. We now have over 1500 rooms and thousands of more rooms have been developed in the western part of the valley, it's all from Jobing.com Arena."
The same can be said for Ford Park Event Center in Beaumont, Texas. "We have one of the most unique facilities in the country," said John Hughes, general manager of the Ford Park Event Center. "When people come out here they are blown away because it gives them a creative boost about what their event could be."
Ford Park Event Center sits on 12 acres and boasts 12 championship fast pitch softball/youth baseball fields, an outdoor pavilion that will accommodate 18,000 and on-site parking for 1,000.
"Beaumont is the home to outstanding athletes," continued Hughes. "This area has produced so many athletes that have gone on to a pro level."
That level of success also demanded for top-of-the line facilities. "It (Ford Park) actually started as the ball fields," said Hughes. "They were the genesis of the entire complex. They were built (due to) a need for quality fields for high school athletes."
Abilene Christian University, Hardin Simmons University and McMurray University provide the same results for the community of Abilene, Texas.
"We are a smaller scale destination for sports," said Debi Shulz, sports sales director for the Abilene Convention & Visitors Bureau. "Our key thing is our universities. We have three excellent facilities and an excellent working relationship with them."
The area hosted the Texas Showcase League in June and utilized all three campuses and their facilities for the 20 team baseball tournament. "If we didn't have the cooperation (of the Universities) it would be much more difficult," said Shulz.
Man and Nature
With spectacular topography that includes the Grand Canyon, Mojave Dessert, Wheeler Peak and Carlsbad Caverns to name a few, there certainly is enough to keep the average visitor engaged. The area's dry, crisp climate also make this region a must see,as it allows outdoor competition almost year round. "We have truly spectacular weather 10 months out of the year," explained Pino.
Hughes agreed by explaining why Ford Expo Center is such a popular choice for tournaments. "With our year-round weather, we can play in or out almost all year long."
The community provides great support to the area's natural resources, "Abilene is known far and wide for its wonderful hospitality and friendly people," said Shulz. "Our location is perfect, we are right in the middle with the Metroplex, Midland, Odessa and the Lubbock area. We are in a great place to bring all of those markets together."
It's a feeling throughout the area, "What sets us above many other destinations is our customer service," said Pino. "We are new to the sports and entertainment field and we bring energy, enthusiasm and excitement. We provide customer service that exceeds your expectations whether it's the promoter, fans or athletes; we take that role very seriously."
Variety is the Spice of Life
This area has hosted Super Bowl XLII in 2008, the NHL All-Star Game in 2007, MLB's All-Star Game in 1995 and the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl will return to Glendale in 2010.
But with the commitment to the sports market from the southwest region, this area is reaching out to more diverse events and as a result more tournaments are migrating to this area.
Glendale will act as home away from home for four Major League Baseball teams during Spring Training. Abilene will host the State Power Lifting Championship also in March 2010 with 2,500 participants and their families as well as the USA Volleyball Tournament for the third consecutive year. Ford Park Event Center hosted the Baseball World Series in July/August and is looking forward to the International Fastpitch Association and pro basketball tournament with the American Basketball Association in November.
Wrestle Mania comes to Glendale in March 2010. "What's exciting is it brings a new visitor to our city which we hope will in turn become long term visitors," said Pino. "The demographic is huge and diverse and it's so exciting for us. Wrestling fans are so passionate about the sport. The focus will be on the state, but more specifically Glendale, and we are ready to roll out the red carpet like we did with the Super Bowl in 2008."
Friends, Money and Growth
What do these events mean for the host communities? Revenue.
"The fields themselves (bring in) an estimated $10-20 million dollars in economic impact for our community," said Hughes.
The State Power Lifting Championships in Abilene are estimated to generate over $500K for weekend events and the USA Volleyball Tournament averages approximately $160K in two days. Of course none of this could be achieved without strategic alliances to not only market the southwest but also provide the necessary resources to ensure a great event.
Sports partnerships and regional sports authorities are becoming more commonplace and it's no exception in the southwest. Event planners can utilize the Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority, New Mexico Sports Authority, and the Utah Sports Commission. And of course, local Convention and Visitors Bureaus are key in the planning and implementation of your event.
With success comes development: development of hotels, restaurants and entertainment.
"We have had an influx of new limited service properties," explained Shulz. "It has increased our room inventory for the area and it's wonderful for sports events since they generally don't need a full service hotel with meeting rooms."
"Sports have become the number one market in Abilene," continues Shulz. "It's 42 percent of the Convention and Visitors Bureau's business."
Pino agrees, "We've stirred up a lot of dust over the past few years," she said. "Within the past year we opened 1,100rooms. You have everything from five-star hotels to modest family-friendly properties."
Twitter, Facebook and Other Media Outlets
Social networking media is a hot new marketing tool for all business, and sports is no exception.
"Initially it was grass roots and word of mouth in the baseball industry," explained Hughes on the Ford Park Event Center's marketing plan. "We started with a more traditional marketing about five years ago with print and mass mailing. We are now on Twitter and Facebook and we are tapping into other social networking blogs on sports networks."
However, social networking is still new and hard to track. "We are just getting into Facebook and Twitter," said Schulz. "It's difficult to monitor that type of marketing we try and go with ROI (return on investment). Our marketing is mostly at trade shows, meeting people and marketing Abilene as a sight for mid-range events."
"Sports marketing is new for us," said Pino. "It began a couple of years ago. We developed a new campaign specifically for the sports market: 'Glendale's Got Game.' We developed the campaign in-house and utilized print, radio, television, online and social media to really showcase the brand and educate our sports market about what's happening in Glendale and the West Valley."
Whatever this area is doing, it's working. The Southwest provides sports event planners great facilities, affordable accommodations, bountiful restaurants, ideal weather and picturesque scenery.