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Getting the ball rolling

Madison mayor holds first meeting
to jumpstart new sports commission

Committee uncertain of who will guide the effort

"I’ve yet to see any other group that brings more numbers
to your
community. Bus tours are fine, but sports pay the bills."
– David Patterson, Terre Haute CVB

By Konnie McCollum
Staff Writer

(April 2007) – A group of handpicked local citizens met for the first time in March to explore the potential benefits and a course of action of creating a sports commission whose mission would be to lure spectator and participation sporting events to Jefferson County.

Madison Mayor Al Huntington

Madison Mayor
Al Huntington

Madison Mayor Al Huntington included his intentions of creating a sports commission as part of his future goals when he recently announced his bid for a fourth term as mayor. Other Indiana cities have experienced longstanding success with sports commissions, many of which have generated significant income for local businesses.
Madison, meanwhile, has been left out of the action because it has not had anyone lobbying for events or coordinating the activities with local parks, colleges, high schools and hotels. The newly formed group, whose members were selected by the mayor, hopes to change that.
“We have a great opportunity to expand on what we have to offer,” Huntington told the group of 13 people who attended the March 22 meeting at City Hall. Thirty people had been invited. “Sports tourism creates tremendous economic opportunities for the communities involved in the industry, but we have things to learn about how it all works.”
Linda Lytle, executive director of the Madison Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, said sports marketing brings in major revenue to a community and that Madison has a lot of future potential in that area. “When you bring people into a community, they spend money on food, gas, lodging and entertainment. Obviously, more people means more money,” she said.
Lytle added that the community will have to bring players from various sectors of the community together to look at what kind of budget a sports commission would need. “It will take some money and about two years to get this started, but once it gets going, it goes well,” she said.
She noted that in Terre Haute, Ind., two years ago, annual Innskeeper tax (a special tax hotels, motels and other lodging pay) was about $260,000 annually. This year, after their sports commission was formed and operating, the tax revenues quadrupled to $1 million.
Some sports commissions stand alone, but others are run by the city and some are managed by the local tourism office.
In an August 2006 cover story in the Roundabout titled, “Playing Economic Hardball,” research indicated that sports tourism is considered among the hottest trends in the tourism industry. Cities such as Fort Wayne, Columbus, South Bend and Indianapolis have benefitted from sports commissions. Many examples were presented during a session of the Hoosier Hospitality Conference in Indianapolis in March.
Officials representing Hamilton County, Bloomington, Columbus, Fort Wayne and Terre Haute participated in a panel discussion on ways for other communities to become involved in this fast-growing segment of the tourism industry.
Valerie Pena moderated a discussion that revealed how these sports commissions have generated thousands of dollars in their towns because of extended hotel stays, booms to local restaurants and hordes of shoppers in local stores during tournament weekends. What’s more, many of these events take place on weekdays, helping to fill hotels during their less busy times.
As an example, over a 10-year period, Terre Haute’s sports commission grew from $260,000 in revenue the first year to more than $1 million a year today. “Sports commissions are the hottest trend going today,” said David Patterson, executive director of the Terre Haute CVB. “I’ve yet to see any other group that brings more numbers to your community. Bus tours are fine, but sports pays the bills.”
Brian Hart of Hamilton County’s sports commission says his staff meets monthly with the local parks department to develop ideas and to keep the communication lines open. His commission is participant-based, however, the county recently played host to the LPGA’s Solheim Cup and is scheduled to hold the 2009 U.S. Senior Open and the 2010 BMW Open (pro golf).
“We looked at what we had instead of trying to build a new facility,” Hart said of his county’s initial foray into the sports business. He suggested that communities access local clubs – public or private – high schools, colleges and parks.
The panelists agreed that providing great hospitality to visitors will ensure repeat business by these groups of athletes, parents, grandparents and tournament officials. “You want to make it a positive experience, so when they leave your city, they want to come back,” said Churck Wilt of the Columbus Area Visitors Center. “
Columbus has hosted national age group swimming events since the 1950s and also hosts softball, baseball and soccer tournaments. Columbus is currently involved in a $120 million downtown investment that includes building a new sports and entertainment complex.
These communities have shown such enormous success and luring spectator and participation sports that now state officials have begun to take inventory of facilities throughout Indiana to promote to the nation, Patterson said.
All the panelists emphasized that communities wanting to “get in the game” to first take an inventory of available facilities, then playing to those strengths as far as attracting sports organizations to come in and hold their events. Often, it’s the entire package of discounted hotel rooms, restaurant coupons and other perks that wins over a tournament operator.
The panelists also suggested identifying any sports heros in your community who could network with people in the sports they represent.
“When trying to build up your network of people to support your own sports commission’s efforts, it’s important to take potential vendors and local officials to an event somewhere, so they can visualize for themselves the potential for your own community,” Patterson said.
Pena warned that the competition to land big events is tough and the initial cost of investment (tournament bid fees) is high, so it is important that everyone is working together to pull off a successful event. “You have to take care of your janitors, police, ambulance drivers and make donations to their organizations; it’s a long-term relationship with the groups you need to be successful,” she said.
Pena added that the best part of a sports commission for driving economic development is that “you can pick your soft weekends of the year and play into them, and control it.”
At the meeting in Madison, questions were raised about the organization of a sports commission, who would be in charge, what facilities are available and which sports the city should pursue.
Several people discussed events already happening in the community, including the NCAA Division III Cross County Championships that have been held at Hanover College, the USGA State Gymnastics Championships held each year, and a variety of ball tournaments held in Madison.
“We have a good base to start with,” said Huntington.
Dave Munier, director of the city’s Parks Department, said that while Madison is in a favorable position to attract softball, baseball and soccer tournaments, it would have to invest in some upgrades at the city’s facilities, such as lighting and more restrooms.
Huntington said an inventory will be made of all the tournaments and sporting events that already take place in Madison and every venue that can be used for attracting more events. He said the river would be a perfect example of a venue that can be used to attract fishing tournaments, which bring huge financial gains to the communities that hold them.
Galen Bremmer, executive vice president of the Madison Area Chamber of Commerce, said it will be important to keep good communication between the sports commission and the hospitality industry, including restaurants and hotels.
The meeting ended with a discussion on how to get the commission organized with by-laws and structure and committees and whether the new commission should become a member of the National Association of Sports Commissions, an organization dedicated to helping fledgling sports commissions get started.
In a March telephone interview with Diane McGraw, one of the founding members of the NASC and the newly hired executive director of the Greater Louisville (Ky.) Sports Commission, offered some advice for smaller communities just establishing sports commissions. “Organizers need to identify the right people and resources that will work together in the community, such as facilities people, sports professionals and hospitality businesses to build board.”
She stressed that professional experts in marketing and public relations are an absolute essential for any sports commission. “When I started in this business 25 years ago, I did not have experience in the industry; however, I knew how to get things done from my work in the entertainment industry.”
She also said organizers should look throughout the community for individuals who may have connections or contacts that can be used to attract events. For instance, she said to look for the parents of a professional ball player, or the grandparents of a former Olympian, or an athlete who attends some of the tournaments who can get a name or contact with which to start. Parents of local athletes can also be critical to the success of an event by recruiting them to work as volunteers.
She also noted the importance of the NASC for sports authorities just starting out. “The NASC, which has over 350 cities as members, offers advice and workshops for new commissions, so it is very important to belong to the organization,” she said.

• Editor Don Ward contributed to this report.
• Read RoundAbout’s profile of Louisville Sports Commission’s newly hired director Diane McGraw. Click to April’s “Kentucky Stories.”

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