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.

Gov. Polis

I was able to attend the Colorado Bicycle Summit this last week which was hosted by Bicycle Colorado, a non-profit group focused on bicycle advocacy in the state. It was a great time to mingle with the advocacy side of the sport of cycling, reconnecting with people I hadn’t seen in a while and meeting new people from the non-profit cycling sector in Colorado.

We had the new Governor, Jared Polis, as an opening speaker and he had a great talk on how important bicycle infrastructure was to the state.  It is amazing how much cycling industry exists in Colorado and all were there in full force.

The keynote speaker was Rebecca Rusch—Red Bull world championship athlete and star of the Emmy-winning film Blood Road who spoke at length about her time in endurance sport.

Also present were several destination marketing organizations from cities around the state and even a few from out of state. There were some great discussions about bicycle infrastructure led by People For Bikes and city advocates around Colorado. I did notice, however, the absence of event representatives at this conference. With events being such an economic driver and a way to shine a spotlight on cycling assets, it surprised me to see little interest by those groups. What better way to show off cycling infrastructure than with an event with featured athletes to rally around it? Maybe next year…

2019 Annual Conference for IEDC

Sports is economic development. That is the mantra for Sports Strategies, and we have lived by it since inception. The 2019 IEDC (international Economic Development Council) Annual Conference in Indianapolis presented an excellent opportunity to prove sports business is great business for local communities.

Sports tourism is typically generated through sports commissions, DMOs, and parks and recreation departments, but the value of hosting tournaments and events, is not lost on development authorities. Over the course of the conference, this was reinforced in discussions with community leaders who shared in our vision of how sports and recreation drives local economies.

In fact, the value of sports tourism was not lost on conference organizers, as one of the off-site sessions included a site visit to Grand Park Sports Campus in Westfield, Indiana. This 400-acre campus is one of several mega complexes across the U.S. that follows the trend of communities making substantial investments in sports tourism.

We came away from Indy more convinced that sports tourism needn’t live just inside the bubble of destination marketing organizations. Sports can be an important driver of economic development, going beyond visitor spending for a single event. Sports and recreation bring economic opportunities, including business investment and job creation, and should be considered in economic development planning.

I spent some time in Hoover, AL this month. This city is a great example of destination finding its way in the shadow of a larger metropolitan area. They are blessed with being close to a large city like Birmingham, but also looking for their own brand identity to set themselves apart. They already have some sports infrastructure that sets them apart—they are host to the annual SEC Baseball Championship, so baseball fans in the southeast are well acquainted with Hoover.

They are also home to a group of like-minded outdoor enthusiasts who are trying to brand themselves using these assets and building even more. Local home builder, Signature Homes, has even been giving up land and building trails for the community as they look to enhance the housing value in town and create a better standard of living for the residents. I see many communities looking to find ways to create outdoor recreation opportunities for their residents and visitors as it not only creates economic impact from visitors from out of town, but it attracts people who are interested in living in a town with an outdoor lifestyle. These outdoor-minded people are an attractive demographic for cities looking for people to fill the workforce and the idea continues to pick up steam around the US.