2020 Georgia Sports Annual Meeting

On January 16, I had the honor of moderating a discussion, “The Future of Georgia Sports,” at the annual Georgia Sports meeting in Augusta, Georgia. Georgia Sports is the statewide coalition of sports commissions and CVB’s who promote sports tourism in their respective communities. The invitation came from my old friends, Brian Graham, CEO of the Augusta Sports Council, and Georgia Sports President, Stacey Dickson, President of the Lake Lanier CVB. As a former member of the organization, it was an honor to be invited for this discussion.

Many states have sports tourism coalitions, and Georgia is no different. These groups often partner with state tourism or economic development entities for the purpose of promoting statewide sports assets. Coop marketing opportunities provide cost-effective means of advertising, and, while communities may compete for events, it is better that the business be kept within the state, as opposed to it going elsewhere in the country.

I really enjoyed this presentation. Since I’m no longer with a sports commission or CVB, I don’t get to see this group as much as I would like. Many of the attendees were old friends, and some were existing clients. It was a neat perspective coming into this as an “outsider.” And I hope that I was able to provide some valuable input. Since leaving the sports commission/CVB world over three years ago, I’ve had the opportunity to work with major metropolitan areas, as well as small rural towns. The makeup of these Sports Strategies clients isn’t unlike the makeup of the towns and counties across Georgia. I hope the wisdom gained with working with this cross-section of communities can help my old friends and peers across my home state.

Augusta Gaelic Sports hosted their annual “Azalea Cup”

Augusta Gaelic Sports hosted their annual “Azalea Cup” hurling competition at Sweetwater Park in Thomson-McDuffie County on November 9, 2019. The event was secured by Sports Strategies through a collaboration with Visit Thomson and Thomson-McDuffie Recreation. The tournament attracted teams from Augusta and Atlanta, GA; Charlotte, NC; and Charleston and Greenville, SC.

Hurling is a team sport of Gaelic-Irish origin, and it is considered the “fastest game on grass.” It combines elements of lacrosse, field hockey, soccer, and hockey for fast-paced, physical action. I was introduced to the sport through my neighbor who introduced me to the Augusta Gaelic Sports Club. After learning they hosted an annual tournament, we began discussions about bring the competition to Thomson.

Sweetwater Park proved to be an excellent venue for the tournament. Having two pitches set up side-by-side allowed teams and spectators to place their tents between the two fields and never have to move. It was great for spectating and allowed for a genuine ease of managing the day.

Following the tournament, the teams enjoyed a post-event celebration at the Highrail in Downtown Thomson. It was a magnificent location to finish an excellent day. People ate, beer flowed, and bagpipes were played to the merriment of everyone. Seriously. Plans are in the works to make 2020 an even bigger deal.

With Derek Bombeck and Derek Bonds at Memorial Stadium

I left the conference in North Platte and headed to Lincoln, where I had the privilege to spend a few days and take in a game.

During the visit I was able to meet again with Derek Bombeck of the Lincoln CVB, as well as Jeff Maul, the CVB executive director. Following our meeting, Derek arranged for a tour of Memorial Stadium at the University of Nebraska. As a lifelong Cornhusker fan, it was a dream come true. I’d never been to a Nebraska game, so to be able to stand in the middle of the field at Memorial Stadium was a real kick in the feels. The tour ended with us standing at the top of the stadium watching the test run of flyover for the next day’s game. It was a remarkable way to end an amazing experience. I will be forever indebted to Derek Bombek and Derek Bonds of the University of Nebraska’s athletic department for fulfilling a big point on the bucket list.

For gameday, my cousin, Jeff, drove up from Kansas to take me to the game against Indiana. Through the generosity of the Lincoln CVB, I was invited to the Governors Tailgate at the Governor’s mansion prior to the game. Through the generosity of an attendee at my breakout session in North Platte, we were also invited to the Nebraska Champion’s Club tailgate. It would have been nice to beat Indiana, but after a week of stellar mid-western hospitality, there was no room for complaints.

John Ricks, Nebraska Tourism Director

The week after returning from IEDC in Indianapolis, I headed to the Cornhusker State for the 2019 Nebraska Tourism Conference hosted by Visit Nebraska. This was a big deal to me as I spent a great deal of my youth visiting relatives in Lincoln. My father went to the University of Nebraska, and I have been a lifelong Cornhusker fan.

My trip itinerary had me flying into Lincoln then joining my Nebraska tourism hosts for the drive west to North Platte. If you’ve never been to the state, I can you tell you it’s very flat. That’s fine unless you’re getting hit with 70mph crosswinds on the interstate. Then it’s terrifying. Fortunately, we made it safely to our destination, but the winds decided to stick around for the duration of the conference. It made for a blustery and chilly visit.

On the opening day of the conference, I had the honor of leading a round-table discussion for Sports Nebraska, the statewide collective of sports commissions and CVB sports sales managers. Co-moderators included Jim Steele, former South Sioux City Chamber President, as well as Derek Bombeck, Sales Development Manager of the Lincoln CVB and president of Sports Nebraska. In addition to discussing the state of Nebraska sports tourism, the round-table discussion also served as a learning platform for communities beginning to delve into the sports realm.

Sports Strategies Presentation at 2019 Nebraska Tourism Conference

On Day 2, I led a breakout session, “Sports Tourism as Economic Development.” During this presentation, I was able to expound upon many of the concepts that we had discussed during the previous day’s Nebraska Sports meeting. Lincoln and Omaha are widely recognized as major destinations for national events, but it was apparent that smaller communities also recognize the benefits of recruiting events and tournaments.

The smaller Nebraska communities are capitalizing on natural assets over sports complexes while keeping up with national trends, as evidenced by the number of gravel cycling events popping up on the miles of dirt roads that cover the state. The trip to North Platte was excellent. I’d be remiss not to mention the incredible hospitality of the Visit Nebraska team, especially conference organizer Callie Austad.