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Local sports groups are an excellent source for event leads and support

The National Association of Sports Commissions (NASC) offers regular event leads for communities searching for event hosting opportunities. Every industry pro I know peruses the lists when they come through email. It’s especially useful for finding national championships as well as events looking for regional homes.

If you’re willing to put in the legwork to establish the relationships, there’s an even deeper source close to home, your local sports groups or Local Sports Bodies (LSB). Recreation facility managers, event promoters, sports club representatives, and race directors are an excellent source for sports development opportunities. From AAU basketball and USSSA baseball tournaments to road races, these events are often silent economic engines.

If your DMO wants to include sports tourism in your marketing and product development plan, consider taking some time to get to know the locals. You’re probably sitting on a goldmine. At minimum you should have a database of all local sports groups and facilities. Keep in regular contact through email and be sure to get their tournament schedules and inquire about new opportunities.

Relationships with your LSB’s can extend beyond being a lead source. Representatives from groups and facilities are an excellent source of knowledge. If you’re a small tourism agency or don’t “speak the language” of sports, don’t fret. There is probably a soccer club representative or a trail race promoter nearby who can educate you on the particulars of their sport. This will come in handy when you up your efforts, and it will allow you to be a better, and more educated, host partner.

Your willingness to collaborate on events can also have another tangible effect. Youth teams and sports clubs are a great source for volunteers. By securing the room block or getting comp rooms for the local club’s annual soccer tournament, you may have found road marshals for the 10K. Many youth teams and clubs seek out volunteer opportunities. Maintaining relationships with the locals can expand your volunteer roster.

It would be ideal if there was some magical all-encompassing list of every event looking for a home, but alas there’s not. Every community is different, and one size definitely does not fit all.  Take some time to do research close to home. Find out who host races and who runs tournaments, and plan to keep in regular contact. These new friends will appreciate your support, and your local economy will appreciate the boost.

There has been a trend towards communities across the country building large multi-sport complexes. The dual intent is to accommodate local league sports and to also use the facilities for hosting travel events to capture the sports tourism dollar. Municipalities with these venues may consider themselves fortunate.

The facilities can be costly. However they are typically underwritten by SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) funds or some other funding mechanism that doesn’t entirely put the onus of financial responsibility wholly on the locals.

Not all communities have or can afford large facilities, but that doesn’t lessen the opportunity of drawing visitors for tournaments, competitions, or events. The advantage comes in having quality or unique venues that can be suitable for myriad sports ideas.

Thomson, Georgia, a rural community 30-miles west of Augusta, is an example of a community utilizing the quality of their facilities over the quantity to attract visitors. Sweet Water Sports Complex and the Thomson High School “Brickyard” football stadium offer excellent amenities for traditional sports. Not as visible, but no less important to the sports tourism cause are gems like Veterans Disc Golf Course at Sweet Water Park and Georgia’s Little River Water Trail. Disc golf and kayak fishing tournaments will work to great effect in this community. These tournaments appeal to a niche audience that will probably want to return for a visit even if they are not competing. The events aren’t typically huge, but large enough to have significant impact in a small town.

Supporting sports tourism is smart destination marketing. Even if a community doesn’t have a massive sports mega-complex, they still can attract this market. Every community has a unique asset that could be the next cool sports venue. It’s about being aware of what you have and going with what ya got. It really is that simple.

Columbus, Georgia has capitalized on the success of its in-town whitewater park to attract visitors and host competition.

In his annual address at the 2017 Georgia Governor’s Tourism Conference, Kevin Langston, Deputy Commissioner of Tourism for the Georgia Department of Economic Development, stated that sports tourism and outdoor recreation were going to be major areas of focus for state marketing efforts in 2018. This was great news for communities who have long-used tournaments and events to attract visitors. Having additional support from the state to promote Georgia as a sports destination is excellent news. With the new year, it is also a perfect time for cities and counties who are considering implementing a sports development program to get the process going.

Sports events have been an excellent economic driver for the state of Georgia. Hosting major events like the Olympics, Super Bowl, The Masters, World Series, and the upcoming College Football Playoff National Championship have pumped billions into the statewide economy. Often less high profile, but every bit as important is the continual revenue stream of thousands of youth tournaments, cheer competitions, races, and challenges that push visitors into communities throughout the state annually.

Across Georgia, sports commissions and DMO sports planners have done an excellent job utilizing local assets for economic gain. This isn’t lost on state officials who recently released the Georgia Sports Planner. Georgia Sports, a statewide volunteer collective of destination sports recruiters, is also ramping up efforts, which can only be enhanced by state support. So, why now? Well, according to the National Association of Sports Commissions, the economic impact of sports tourism nationwide in 2016 was a staggering $10.47 Billion. In Georgia, the impact is being felt in cash registers across the state.

It shows in economic impact in Augusta where the Augusta Ironman 70.3 triathlon has generated a nearly $40 Million impact during its run. It also shows in development with sports-centered destinations like Lakepoint Sporting Community and the future Atlanta Sports Complex in Dekalb County. And it shows in events like the Albany Marathon, the Six Gap Ride in Dahlonega, the ACC Tennis Championships in Rome, and the upcoming 2018 ICF Dragon Boat World Championships at Lake Lanier. Communities see the value in hosting sports as a means to draw visitors.

Smaller towns may not have the traditional sports venues or the lodging capacity to host some “super-events,” but that doesn’t mean they should forego sports tourism efforts. With outdoor recreation also getting a push in Georgia marketing, municipalities with lakes, rivers, parks, and multi-use paths, have an opportunity to attach themselves to the state’s promotions. Athletes like natural venues. With the growing popularity of events like trail running and kayaking, communities with great natural resources have ample hosting opportunities. Any community committed to branding themselves as adventure and outdoors destinations will be in a great position this year.

Sports events are great economic drivers. Youth tournaments, races, and events put people in hotels and restaurants. Many communities across Georgia have active sports recruitment programs, and many more are getting into the swing. With the state taking a more active role in promoting sports tourism, the effect can only be positive. There are numerous event options for those who may think they don’t have the necessary venues. And events are a consistent means to boost visitors in non-peak seasons.

2018 is the year to ramp up efforts. Georgia is wide-open for opportunity. Due North Sports Partners looks forward to helping communities in Georgia, and beyond, be the best and most accommodating sports destinations they can be. This is an exciting time in this industry. Take advantage of it. Happy New Year!

Cyclists line up at start of criterium at the USA Cycling Masters Cycling Championship

May and early-June were intensive, but gratifying. I’m proud to say that I completed my coursework for Southeastern Tourism Society’s Marketing College in Dahlonega, Georgia on May 17. For any tourism professional who hasn’t attended, I highly recommend it. The instructors are the best minds in the tourism industry, and the classes will leave you informed and inspired. It’s also a great time to network and socialize with peers from across the region and beyond. The University of North Georgia is an excellent host to Marketing College, and having a few days to hangout in Dahlonega is always a great thing.

The University of North Georgia in Dahlonega is where STS Marketing College is held annually
The University of North Georgia in Dahlonega. 

Following my last class, I had the honor of making a presentation on sports tourism to the Northeast Georgia Mountains Travel Association during their annual luncheon at the Smith House in Downtown Dahlonega. I’m grateful to my good friend, Jerry Brown, Executive Director of Alpine Helen-White County CVB, for inviting me to speak to the group. The reception I received was excellent, and the feedback has been quite positive. It was a perfect opportunity for Due North Sports Partners to speak before this esteemed group, and I’m excited about the new friendships made during this wonderful occasion.

In May, I also had the privilege of visiting several communities across South Georgia during a little Georgia sports road trip. Stops included LaGrange, Columbus, Bainbridge, Valdosta, and Macon. Each visit included a site tour of sports facilities, as well as great discussion on how these communities use sports to drive the local economy. I’m forever grateful to Jj Kuerzi (LaGrange), Merri Sherman (Columbus), Julie Harris (Bainbridge), Tim Riddle and George Page (Valdosta-Lowndes County), and Gary Wheat (Macon) for giving so freely of their time to show me around their great communities.

Whitewater rapids runs through Downtown Columbus
Whitewater rapids run through Downtown Columbus, Georgia

The thing that has stayed with me after two road trips is how widespread and energized the drive to move back to a town center is in Georgia. As a native, it’s really cool to see, and for the state’s tourism industry, it is reaping great benefits. Town squares and downtown locations are coming back alive and thriving with locally-owned businesses. Multi-use paths and greenspace are now the planning rule and not the exception. It is a beautiful thing to see.

It’s also prime season for the impact of sports. Every location I visited had tremendous resources and the desire to maximize them to the fullest. This is the second road trip I’ve taken to visit friends and peers who make sports happen in Georgia, and I’m impressed. This state has a lot to offer, and it has a passionate band of sports tourism warriors who are making it happen to the tune of tens, if not hundreds of millions of dollars annually to the statewide economy. It’s big.

Universal Joint in Clayton, Georgia is one of many great restaurants in Rabun County
Great restaurant selections in Clayton, Georgia

At the beginning of June I worked with USA Cycling and the Augusta River Region on the USA Cycling Masters Road National Championships in and around Augusta, Georgia. The feedback about the venues and the race have been very positive. Congratulations go to new USA Cycling National Events Manager, Shawn Brett, and the Augusta Sports Council for the event’s success. I was honored to be a part of it. Approximately 800 racers from 35 to 85 years of age competed in the four-day event. According to the Augusta CVB, the economic impact for the event exceeds $2 Million. That’s excellent. The cycling championship will return to Augusta in 2018. I’d like to give a shout-out to the US Army Corps of Engineers, Fort Gordon and Fort Gordon MWR, the city of Augusta, Columbia County, and McCormick County, South Carolina, and so many more for providing great venues and support. The riders appreciated it.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t include a big thank you to Teka Earnhardt of Explore Rabun for a great visit in Clayton, Georgia right after the bike races.  North Georgia sings to me and those folks really have it going on. Rabun County will be the epicenter of the first total solar eclipse in 38 years on August 21, 2017. 10,000 visitors are expected to gather for the occasion. If they are smart, they will get a table for some post-eclipse eats at the Universal Joint on Main St. We had lunch there during our visit with Teka and it was great. You must make a plan to visit. The area is stunning. Thanks y’all! 

Be sure to check us out. Go to: www.sportsstrategies.com. We are on Facebook at Due North Sports, Instagram @DueNorthSports, Twitter (barely) @DueNorth_Sports, and YouTube (Due North Sports Partners). Please check us out. Thanks for your time!

Runner passes cow in pasture trail race

For as long as there has been free space, there has been a venue for sports. Through the ages, promoters and gamesmen knew that to hold a competition, one need only have competitors. The same holds true now more than ever. The rules for what constitutes a field-of-play are still not bound by tradition, and communities that grasp the concept have been able to convert their creativity to cash.

Swimmers exit Savannah River in Augusta, Georgia during Ironman 70.3 AugustaBaseball complexes, basketball courts, and soccer fields are excellent amenities to have, but it’s not a deal breaker if you have something else to offer. There has been a sweep across the country for communities to develop greenspace, add mixed-use trails, and expand parks. These efforts increase the quality of life for residents. They also present great opportunities for sports tourism. Just think, what may serve as a bike path one day could be a half marathon course the next. While some communities may believe they don’t have a lot to offer in the way of hosting sports competitions via traditional venues, a second look around town may yield some nice surprises.

Several years ago, while I was doing event development for the Augusta (GA) Sports Council, we brought Bill Burke, owner of Premier Event Management, to town. We wanted to launch a half marathon and Bill had put on many high-profile events. We knew he could put on a great production, so we were excited about meeting him. On the morning of our introduction he asked us what we thought about doing a Half Ironman. This was before we even had a chance to begin talking about the road race. He had noticed the Savannah River behind the hotel where he was staying and started doing some research on Google Earth. His quick investigation led him to the conclusion that we had a potential 70.3 course. Honestly, we had never thought about putting swimmers in the river, but were glad he had given it some thought. Since 2009 over 3,300 athletes have annually made  the swim down the Savannah River to start IRONMAN 70.3 Princess Place Preserve in Flagler CountyAugusta. The cumulative  economic impact of the Half Ironman is approaching $40 million. Like watching 3,300  multi-colored swim caps bobbing up and down the Savannah River, that’s something we  never could have imagined. We are certainly grateful that Mr. Burke did.

 

In northeast Florida, my friend Matt Dunn oversees tourism for Palm Coast and the Flagler Beaches. As executive director of Visit Flagler, he is tasked with maximizing tourism opportunities for his community. With miles of unspoiled beaches and a rich abundance of natural resources, Matt hasn’t been kicking back and letting the landscape sell itself. Ever mindful of new opportunities to attract visitors, he has been eyeing two community landmarks as potential fields-of-play. Princess Place Preserve and the Florida Agricultural Museum, two popular Palm Coast recreation destinations situated along Pelicer Creek, are being considered as potential sports venues. The natural landscape, trails, water access, and infrastructure between the two venues make the locations prime for adventure races, trail runs, cyclocross, and other outdoors sports.

Flagler County has an advantage as it owns Princess Place Preserve and the Florida Agricultural Museum. With connectivity between the two venues, as well as being completely self-contained, Mr. Dunn is quick to point out that the arrangement is a benefit to event rightsholders. “The backdrop for the facilities is stunning,” he says. “With the expansive footprint being completely self-contained, events here don’t require as much law enforcement or other resources that can raise event costs significantly. We think this will be a great enticement for attracting event owners.” Being able to contain events within the perimeter of the parks also lessens the impact on the greater community. “Customer service for us extends from the event owners to the community. By keeping costs down, and the greater community happy, we all win.”

There are no rules about what constitutes a sports venue, only the parameters required for the competition. Of course, as long there are sports complexes, there will always be a location for a tournament or game. But communities that don’t have an overabundance of sports infrastructure should not fret. If a town has a body of water, a forest, or even a cow pasture (I’m not kidding), there will always be a spot for a race or some other type of event. This really is a time of fantastic opportunity for the sports tourism industry. Locations that are willing to expand their thinking about where they have events will reap the benefits. Towns that are slow to catch on may want to take notes or they will risk being left behind.

2017 NASC Symposium

Last week I returned to the NASC Symposium following a two-year absence due to date conflicts with the little golf tournament we have every year in Augusta, you know, The Masters. It was a great opportunity to catch-up with old friends and meet new ones as Due North Sports Partners made our debut at the 25th annual symposium.

In keeping with such a momentous milestone, there was no shortage of significant moments during the annual sports tourism rite. During the event, the National Association of Sports Commissions bid a fond farewell to the first and only leader the organization has ever known, Don Schumacher, who served as president and CEO for 23 years. Stepping into these rather large shoes is Mr. Alan Kidd, former president of the San Diego Sports Commission, who was hired in late-2016 to take over for the retiring Mr. Schumacher. I’m proud to say I developed a nice friendship with Don through my association with NASC and wish him well in his “retirement.”

Over 900 members and event owners attended the conference, which was held in Sacramento, California. This was my first visit to the California capital, and it most certainly won’t be my last. Our local hosts did a fantastic job with the event set against one of the prettiest backdrops I’ve ever experienced. Sacramento is a beautiful town and the weather couldn’t have been nicer.

The inaugural NASC Hall of Fame class was inducted during the Symposium. The class included:

  • Hill Carrow
  • Kevin Gray (RIP)
  • Jack Hughes (RIP)
  • Diane McGraw
  • Tim Schneider
  • Don Schumacher

Sports tourism is an annual $10.47 billion industry driven in large part by the individuals in attendance in Sacramento. It’s a very significant amount in that it has grown exponentially through the years and because just 25 years ago this data wasn’t tracked as it is now. With the launch of Due North Sports Partners, we hope to help communities across the country realize the potential of sports tourism as a major economic driver. In collaboration with organizations like the National Organization of Sports Commissions and others, we feel we will play a major role in seeing that $10 billion number rise.

In 2018 the NASC Symposium will be held in the beautiful city of Minneapolis, Minnesota. I’m particularly excited about this as I graduated from high school in Eden Prairie, a suburb of Minneapolis. As we move on from Sacramento, I’d like to say farewell to Don Schumacher as he moves on to his next venture; welcome to Alan Kidd as he assumes the mantle at the NASC; congratulations to the Hall of Fame inductees; thank you to our fantastic Sacramento hosts; and well done to all of the sports commissions, CVB’s, DMO’s, and event owners responsible for putting billions of dollars back into our nation’s economy.

Southeast Region, Golf

Relationships are the key to life and business. It is support. It is advice. It is camaraderie. We need relationships to nourish our soul and keep us inspired. With that in mind, it made absolute sense to begin the road trip with a visit to the Southeast Tourism Society in Roswell, Georgia. My introduction to the organization was through STS Marketing College (which I hope to finally complete this year!) and has grown into valued friendships and great admiration for these tourism super-advocates.

Tourism is embedded in the DNA of STS President and CEO Bill Hardman, who is celebrating his 20th year at the helm of the organization founded by his father, the late legendary Mr. Bill Thompson Hardman. The passion carried through Bill, Suzanne “Mama” Moon, Wendy Thomas, and Nadia Merrit, the day we got to visit.

It was great to hear their enthusiasm about Due North Sports Partners and our desire to work with smaller communities to help them build up their sports opportunities. The door has been opened for future collaborative efforts that will only serve to enhance the Southeast's reputation as a generous and accommodating host. It is a partnership we at Due North Sports Partners look forward to and welcome.

Cumming, GA

For a sports geek, there’s no shortage of nice “stuff” in Georgia. If ever there was a more fertile time for the state to capitalize on sports tourism, this is it. And with an abundance of great facilities across the state, right holders and event owners not only have their choice of premium venues, they can also decide whether they want the mountains, the ocean, the City, whatever, as their backdrop. That’s a convenience and a selling point for the state.

Over three-and-a-half days in February, I toured a handful of communities across Georgia visiting old friends and making new ones. From Cobb County to Rabun County, I toured facilities that have hosted the premiere events of their discipline and also venues that didn’t even know they were venues yet. Sports are no longer bound to the traditional fields-of-play and everything should be up for consideration.

From community to community, the excitement was palatable. I accept my biases when it comes to my tour guides, but hearing the plans and seeing the great facilities we have across North Georgia was inspiring. It also didn’t hurt to see so many willing to expand their creativity and go big when it comes to cool events.

Sports tourism as economic development is the new paradigm. You see it manifest itself in a planned sports destination community like Lakepoint in Emerson, the development of new facilities in White County Helen, Georgia, or the level of events hosted in Cobb County and Cumming. These few communities I visited are just a small fraction of what the greater state of Georgia features.

Because of my relationships with sports tourism professionals statewide, I can tell you what we are seeing in North Georgia is happening all over the state. It’s doing wonders for local economies and, collectively, leaving a major impact on the state. It is also leaving a significant impact across our country. As more communities embrace sports tourism as economic development, the benefits are great. And from our vantage point, communities willing to capitalize on it are doing the reaping.

Lakepoint; Emerson, GA

For a long time, I’ve wanted to go on a road trip to visit the communities of my friends and peers in the Georgia sports industry. The aim was to see the venues where they make the magic happen and spend some quality time hearing about their approach to sports tourism. With the launch of Due North Sports Partners, the opportunity presented itself, so a few weeks ago, I hit the road for Atlanta and then kept going north.

Georgia has an abundance of great resources and it’s cool to see how different communities utilize theirs. Behind the venues and events are a passionate band of warriors that deftly meld salesmanship, community activism, and passion, into serious economic development. It’s impressive really.

The facilities I toured ran the gamut from Lakepoint, the fantastic sports mega-complex in Emerson, Georgia (more later) to the vineyards of Yonah Mountain Vineyard in White County, which will be the site of a grueling trail race, The Crusher, this May. Whether traditional or non-traditional, Georgia has the venues to host virtually any sport. And the communities who are maximizing their sports tourism efforts are reaping great dividends.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to thank everyone along the trip who gave willingly of their time and knowledge. If you work in an industry long enough, you develop a lot of friendships. When it comes to these folks, it was more like seeing family. Thank you Wendy Thomas, Bill Hardman, and Suzanne Moon at Southeast Tourism Society; Rachel Rogers at Cobb Sports Alliance; Renee Carden at Lake Lanier CVB; Anna Barlow at the Cumming-Forsyth Chamber of Commerce; Jerry Brown of Alpine Helen/White County CVB; and Teka Earnhardt with Explore Rabun. The State of Georgia has a lot to be proud of with its great selection of venues, and even prouder of the fine folks there to promote them. From what I see, Georgia is in a very good place.