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Playing Economic Hardball

Some Indiana counties are profiting
from big sporting events

Jefferson County considers getting in the game
to try and tap into this fast growing market

By Konnie McCollum
Contributing Writer

(August 2006) – Every year, Madison Gymnastics World plays host to two large state gymnastics meets. Each November, nearly 400 gymnasts from all over the region come to Madison, Ind., to participate in one of the biggest meets in the state. Traditionally, most of those girls and their families will stay at least one night in the Madison area and will shop and eat at local stores and restaurants.

August 2006 Indiana Cover

August 2006
Indiana Edition Cover

In the spring, Madison Gymnastics World, plays host to a state championship meet. Nearly 300 girls and their families will arrive in town for a weekend stay for that meet. More family members will travel with the gymnasts during the spring meet because it is the championship event. Once again, up to 1,000 people will fill the town’s restaurants, shops and hotels.
Events like these bring in thousands of extra dollars in revenue for local businesses. Throughout the country, towns large and small have realized the huge economic impact that sporting events make. Many have established sports marketing departments or commissions to attract these events to their communities.
“Sports commissions are a good idea for communities of all sizes because the sports marketing experts can help attract events, book them and then help work out all of the details,” Don Schumacher, president of the National Association of Sports Commissions, said in a telephone interview from his Cincinnati office.
Establishing a sports marketing authority in Jefferson County could help Madison and Hanover attract major sports events and bring millions in direct spending to the local economy, local officials say.

Functions of sports commissions

There are various ways in which sports commissions help their communities. For one community, a sports marketing expert may simply need to help attract events or offer advice. For a larger community, a sports marketing department may be needed to organize and centralize information about what is available in the community. Some big cities have sports commissions that actively pursue major sporting events, organize volunteers, seek sponsors and help to build or create the infrastructure necessary to attract the largest of sporting events, including Olympic activities.

NCAA Cross Country Athletes

Photo courtesy of Hanover College

Hundreds of college athletes came
to Jefferson County, Ind., in 2003 to
participate in the NCAA Div. III Cross
Country Championship at Hanover College.

Columbus, Ind., a community of about 39,000 residents, several years ago formed such a group. The Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau and the local parks and recreation department developed a partnership to organize the city’s efforts to attract sporting events. Even though the city had long been involved in sports tourism, officials from both departments realized there was a need to combine efforts to attract even larger and more sporting events.
In the three years since the partnership was established, sports tourism has accounted for nearly $9.6 million in estimated revenue for the city.
“That figure is really a very conservative number, the actual amount is probably much higher,” said Lynn Lucas, executive director of the Columbus CVB.
When Columbus officials calculate the amount of potential revenue, they multiply the amount of people expected to attend an event times $100 per day in spending times the number of days the event lasts.
For example, during the last week of July, the city hosted a World Series Girls Fast Pitch Softball tournament. With 103 teams bringing, on average, 17 members, and each member bringing an extra 1.5 people with them to stay from Sunday to the following Saturday, that calculates into roughly $2 million dollars for the local economy in one week. With figures like that it is easy to understand the push by officials in sports tourism.
Columbus actually played host to several other major sporting events that week – among them a tennis tournament, a state swim meet and another softball tournament.
“Sports tourism is currently the hottest thing in the industry,” Lucas said.
Lake County, Ind., home to the cities of Gary and Merrillville and only a short drive from Chicago, has a population nearly a half million. CVB official Katie Holderby said that the county has always been in the sports tourism market, but with such high demand for regional sports events, the Lake County CVB Board of Directors decided to create a separate sports marketing department. Although in its infancy, the new South Shore Sports Promotions is aggressively pursuing regional sporting events and tournaments.
The new marketing department deals with the tourism aspects of the event and is also capable of supplying a local expert in whatever sport is involved. Department officials take inventory of the area’s sporting venues, prepare bids proposals, arrange for facility inspections, secure room blocks for area hotels, organize local committees for volunteering, provide publicity and create new events and venues for its regional market.
Holderby said that the department is a go-between for sports officials looking to find venues in the area or looking to bid on tournaments for the area. The department was created because of the bottom-up effect, a situation in which a customer was looking for a single source to find information about sites, housing, rates and other factors before booking events in the area.

Carin Koch

Photo courtesy of
Indiana Sports Corp.

Carin Koch takes a swing during last year’s LPGA Solheim Cup Championship, held in Indianapolis.

In Indianapolis, the Indiana Sports Corporation has worked for nearly 25 years to bring Olympic-size events to the state’s capital city. During the weekend in which the city played host to the NCAA Men’s Final Four, more than $40 million in direct spending came through the local economy, ISC officials say. During the Big 10 basketball weekends, Indianapolis businesses took in $10 million in direct spending.
Susan Williams, president of ISC, said sports commissions are great for communities for several reasons. First, they help create financial opportunities for the community. They also help energize a community by providing entertainment for corporations and families, and they help make a community more attractive for sports officials looking for a place to hold an event.
She added that a sports commission can generate badly needed volunteers for sporting events, as well.
She said when Indianapolis plays host to big events, thousands of volunteers are needed. For recent tennis events, 2,000 volunteers were gathered. For the LPGA’s Solheim Cup golf championship held there last year, more than 3,000 volunteers were organized.

How other sports commissions work

One of the first steps that all of the sports marketing officials agreed upon in organizing a sports commission is to take stock of what the community offers as far as venues, infrastructure, natural surroundings and volunteer base. “Communities need to evaluate their assets, decide what their appropriate niche is and then set some goals,” the ISC’s Williams said.
For example, Lake County officials realized that bowling was a huge sport in their area, so they began to pursue bowling events. Today, bowling tournaments, both amateur and professional, are their largest market. They also cater to basketball and track and field events.
Columbus officials simply looked around and realized they had great venues to hold softball tournaments and other youth sporting events, so that is the market they focus on when trying to book events.
“Look at what you have, and build from there,” Lucas advises.
Schumacher agreed, saying “Sports event can leave $100,000 or more behind in a community because there was no need to create a venue; it was already there before the event was booked.”
On the other hand, the ISC goes for the huge markets because Indianapolis has the infrastructure and the venues to pursue world-class events, such as the Pan American games or the Solheim Cup.
Communities must also decide what type of sports commission will fit their particular needs, these officials say.

Samantha Peszec

Photo courtesy of
Indiana Sports Corp.

Samantha Peszek, 13,
of McCordsville, Ind.,
performs at a recent gymnastics meet in Indianapolis. She is a
top gymnast with
Deveaux Gymnastics Club
in Fishers, Ind.

Schumacher said that while there are about 100 sports commissions throughout the country, there are about 300 communities that operate their sports marketing from their tourism departments. Smaller communities usually choose to work out of their tourism department with a specialist who knows the business side of sports marketing, he said.
In 2003, Hanover College played host to the NCAA Div. III National Cross County Championships. Forty-eight teams with five runners each and several coaches and 180 individual runners with their coaches attended the meet, school officials said. Hotels throughout the entire area were filled for that event. Restaurants and gas stations also benefited from the influx of visitors to the area.
According to the NASC, every athlete brings, on average, 2.3 people with him, and the younger the athlete, the more people that trail along. With that in mind, nearly 2,000 people visited the Hanover area for the cross country meet and spent money on food, restaurants, hotels and shopping.

How a sports commission can help

According to Hanover College Information Director Carter Cloyd, Hanover College has been awarded two more major cross country events, the 2006 NCAA Division III Great Lakes Regional to be held on Nov. 11, and the 2008 National Cross Country Championships.
Cloyd said he believes that a sports commission for the area could certainly help with sorting out housing accommodations for the athletes and could also help rally community support for these kinds of events.
“Many people did not know such a prestigious event was happening here,” he said, referring to the previous NCAA championship meet. He also thought a sports commission could help bring in even more of these types of events to the area.
Stephanie Kemp, owner of Madison Gymnastics World, agreed that a sports authority could help bring about public awareness of how successful many sports programs are in the area. “Every year, girls in our town bring in 20-30 individual gold medals from the state championships and several team state championships, but the community is not aware of how successful they are,” she said.
According to the experts, a sports commission could aide in finding and securing the sites for the gymnastics championships that are held here each year, find volunteers to help and secure suitable room accommodations for gymnasts and their families.
Madison Area Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Linda Lytle said that she met with Madison Mayor Al Huntington and the Madison-Jefferson County Industrial Development Corp. (MIDCOR) more than a year ago to discuss the idea of developing a local sports authority.
She said that at this point, however, the idea has not gone any further than that discussion, and that any sports commission would have to be a join effort between the CVB and the city.

Swimmer

Swimming is among the many amateur
sports that some Indiana towns have used
to lure large athletic events to their area.

She agreed that a sports tourism program would be beneficial to the county simply because of seeing the amount of money sports events bring to other communities. After attending a conference on the issue two years ago, Lytle said, “Research indicates revenue generated from sports events is far more than what many tourism programs bring in.”
MIDCOR Interim Director Bernard Murphy, who was not a part of the past discussion about a possible sports authority, said he did not know anything about plans in Madison to create a sports commission. However, he did agree that it would certainly be something to look into and consider. Murphy acknowledged that sports events could help attract more people to the city, and they could also attract business or individuals to relocate here after simply visiting for a sports event.
MIDCOR Board President Matthew Forrester, also president and CEO of River Valley Financial Bank, said, “We need to keep an open mind and explore all possibilities because ultimately those possibilities present economic opportunities for our community.”
Madison has some excellent venues in which to hold sporting events, local officials say. These include Hanover College, local high schools’ sports fields, the Ohio River, the city’s Rucker Sports Complex, Clifty Falls State Park, local golf courses, and the county’s 4-H Fairgrounds. Equestrian events, more cross country events, youth soccer and youth ball sports, wrestling, fishing tournaments, boating events and golf tournaments are among the sports that marketing experts could consider pursuing to attract large events.
“This is something that we need to look into more, because if we don’t, we are going to be left behind while our neighboring counties land these large sporting events and capture the market,” Lytle said.

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