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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Baseball 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 Augusta. 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.
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:
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.
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.