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.
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…
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.
For many years, BUMP and Oak Mountain have played host to one of the best-known mountain bike events in the southeast—the Bump-N-Grind. I remember attending this race in the mid 90’s as a participant and it still is held all these years. The trails are well-maintained using a combination of State Park employees and volunteer help and they still do weekly rides there for all levels of rider. Seeing as they get a good bit of traffic from the greater Birmingham area, maintenance and new trail building are key and Jeff’s team help oversee that. Finding ways to use these trail systems that are close to urban areas for both visitors and local residents alike is an important way to take care of a sports tourism asset that can enhance the value of a community.