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For sports, CVBs step up to the plate

Photo courtesy Columbus Area Visitors Center

Several years ago, Visit Eau Claire, the Eau Claire, Wis., convention bureau, approached Don Monroe about bringing U.S. Boomerang’s national tournament and its 70 competitors to the central Wisconsin city.

Given Eau Claire’s “Unexpected Wisconsin” brand and the city’s expertise as a host of wide-ranging sports events, the bureau thought the offbeat competition was a good fit.
And, as the CVB detailed its ideas and plans for the event, Monroe, of Tucson, Ariz., realized that Visit Eau Claire had hatched quite a plan for his 2007 competition.

“They had the vision of how it would go and … how they would help us make the event be the best it could be,” said Monroe. “They had the know-all and the wherewithal to pull off an event like ours and to get the spectators to come and see our competition.”

Eau Claire’s approach was different than what Monroe had experienced in other cities, where he and his volunteers had done much if not all of the tournament planning and legwork.

Visit Eau Claire’s innovative approach and its creative ideas for sponsors sold Monroe on the destination and he and fellow U.S. Boomerang competitors still rank the Eau Claire tournament as the best ever.

“Three-quarters of it had to do with how those people helped us and made it the most exciting and productive event it could be,” said Monroe.

Many factors go into a sports event’s choice of destination. A major factor, in many cases, is the destination’s willingness to pay a sports event’s bid fee, which can range from a few hundred to many thousands of dollars, depending on the event’s size and impact. Not all sports events have a bid fee, but many do.

Beyond writing a check, however, there are many in-kind services that CVBs are offering in hopes of luring more sports events to their cities. These extras, which include such services as providing volunteers to public relations consulting, explain why some cities, like Eau Claire, are doing a booming business in the sports market.

Here are other examples of the services CVBs are providing.

The power of people

Volunteers are a big part of most sports events, and small-town CVBs seem particularly adept at rounding up the troops to take registrations, man hospitality tents, meet teams at the airport and stuff goody bags.

Courtesy Columbus Area Visitors Center

When 200 cheerleading teams from Florida high schools came to the Silver Spurs Arena in Kissimmee, Fla., for the 2010 FHSAA Competitive Cheerleading Championships early this year, the Kissimmee CVB and the Osceola County School District lined up 200 volunteers to assist.
The bureau estimates that it has from 300 to 400 community volunteers upon which to call.
“Our services staff stays in touch with people who are willing to volunteer,” said Tom Lang, the bureau’s executive director.

The CVB staff does more than keep a list of names; they keep tabs on which volunteers are interested in which events.

“They know who would be most likely to want to volunteer at a cheerleading event and who would most like to work a rodeo,” said Lang.

Having those locals sit at tables and sign in athletes and teams is valuable, particularly to groups with no local team or chapter to head up the event.

“We have people on the ground that will make their job easier,” said Chris Aguilar, the Kissimmee CVB’s sales rep for sports.

Columbus, Ind., plunged into the sports event business seven years ago, and it also has a sizeable pool of volunteers to call upon.

Lynn Lucas, executive director of the Columbus Area Visitors Center, said the willingness of locals to volunteer is tied to community pride and Columbus’ reputation for innovative architecture.

For more than 50 years, volunteers have trained to be tour guides for those visiting the city.

Community pride plays a part
“One of our secrets is that we have been providing tours of the community since the 1950s because of the global reputation for architecture this community has,” said Lucas.
From that foundation of about 50 people has sprung a tradition of volunteerism in this town of 40,000.

About 100 people volunteer for the USSSA Girls’ Fastpitch World Series, which the town has hosted since 2004.

In Columbus, local volunteers handle usual tasks like registration and answering questions, but they also go beyond the norm.

The town’s best bakers fire up ovens and make batches of cookies for teams, delivering them in handy baskets.

They also serve as team ambassadors, with one volunteer assigned to each of the 80 to 100 teams that compete.

These volunteers make sure each team is in its proper place during opening ceremonies and leads the team into the opening ceremony. Volunteers sometimes sit with the team’s fans and cheer them on during games.

“One of the volunteer guides ended up being sort of a grandmother to the team and even traveled to another city to see them play the next year,” said Cindy Frey, assistant director of the visitors center.

Putting CVB staff on the team
Sports organizers find that working with a CVB can be like hiring extra staff — without signing a paycheck.

Courtesy Visit Eau Claire

Take, for example, Dan Ballou, sports marketing director of the Albuquerque CVB. In February, in advance of the NCAA Division II Indoor Track and Field championship, he spent part of his day unloading a truck filled with supplies for the tournament.

He placed the supplies in storage space he was able to obtain at no charge through one of his contacts.

Eric Zartler, senior sales manager/athletics, for the Lake Charles/Southwest Louisiana CVB, considers himself an extension of a sports event organizer’s staff.

“Clients have my cell phone number. Morning, night or weekends, they know they can give me a call.”

Many CVBs take an all-hands-on-deck approach when it comes to providing service when sports tournaments or competitions are under way.

At one baseball tournament, Ballou looked up to see a CVB co-worker, eight months pregnant at the time, picking up litter around the field.

That sort of service is why Albuquerque has a track record of repeat business in the sports sector.

“I would guess in a typical year, 50 to 60 percent is business that has been here in the past,” said Ballou.

“We have people from our staff sweeping out dugouts, shoveling mud if it rains, chalking fields, selling tickets. We service the heck out of it,” he said. “We don’t take it lightly, because we think service is so crucial to keeping people coming back.”

It’s party time
There’s nothing like the promise of a party to bring a sports event to town. Eau Claire, Wis., lured the Great Lakes Lacrosse League tournament by convincing its sports commissions and a local business, Off Broadway Banquet Center and Broadway Bowl, to host a party for competitors.

“We were brainstorming about how to get a bunch of college guys to vote to come farther north than they wanted to go,” said Michael Strubel, sports sales manager for Visit Eau Claire. “We gave them a little something extra.”

The promise of a barbecue dinner, cooked by the mayor, helped convince the 2011 USA Track and Field (USATF) Junior Olympics to choose Wichita, Kan., as its site.

Mayor Carl Brewer, a master barbecue chef, was part of the city’s contingent that included the Wichita CVB, the local track and field group, and Wichita State University. The group traveled to Indianapolis to present its bid, and Brewer promised that he’d cook a barbecue dinner for all volunteers, officials and the selection committee at the city’s Old Cowtown Museum if USATF chose his city. It did, and next year, he and other local master chefs will cook a meal for more than 200 people.

The importance of sponsors
When Strubel heard that U.S. Boomerang was looking for a location for its national competition a couple of years ago, he realized that a couple of Eau Claire businesses would be naturals as sponsors.

Courtesy Kissimmee CVB

One was the local Outback restaurant, part of a national chain with an Australian team. “They had never been a sponsor of this group when it was held in other locations,” said Strubel. “I was shocked.” Outback catered a lunch for the group.

The other was grocery chain Festival Food, which uses a boomerang as its logo. The grocery chain agreed to let Strubel borrow a 9-foot boomerang that was part of its signage. Strubel was unofficially dubbed the custodian of the big boomerang, and he made sure it was securely stored at the end of each day.

CVBs handle obtaining sponsorships in different ways. Some prefer to turn to third-party sales organizations.

“The Albuquerque CVB isn’t in the sponsorship-selling business,” said Ballou, “so if I have an event coming to town that needs to supplement its expenses by selling local sponsorships, we have entered into contract situations where we enlist the services of someone to sell to local sponsors.”

In other cases, bureaus point organizations toward sponsors that are a good fit. In Lake Charles, Coca-Cola has signed on to sponsor a national fast-pitch-softball series that is coming to the area. Coca-Cola was already a sponsor of the sports venue where the series will be held.

Being accommodating
Convention bureaus often help sports teams obtain the sleeping rooms they require. When larger tournaments come to Southwest Louisiana, Zartler makes a point to visit hotels and inform sales staff of the event and its needs.

By doing so, he ensures that teams have the room blocks they need near the sports venues they will be using.

Teams that are late qualifiers for tournaments can end up having to book rooms in hotels 40 miles from Columbus.

Lucas and her staff monitor occupancy in Columbus hotels and as rooms become available in town, they contact teams booked in outlying areas and help them get rooms in town.

The power of partnerships
CVBs can become even more powerful when they partner with other organizations such as local or state sports commissions. In New Mexico, Albuquerque CVB regularly works with the New Mexico Sports Authority to attract more sports business.

Courtesy Visit Eau Claire

In Columbus, the CVB and the local parks and recreation department work together to attract sports competitions to local venues. The parks and recreation department has garnered quite a reputation for the maintenance of its facilities, which in turn makes it easier for Columbus to attract more sports business.

“Each year, we will hear the teams and coaches talk about the maintenance of our facilities by parks and recreation,” said Lucas. “We’ve been told that they keep our fields in better shape than Disney.”

Spreading the word
Getting the word out about a tournament or a competition is important because it gets fans in the stands and puts players and teams in the spotlight.

Katie Harrington, public relations manager for the Lake Charles/Southwest Louisiana CVB writes news releases, makes calls to news media and sets up press conferences for sports events. She’s also gotten big-name players to do call-in shows for radio and television to help publicize sporting events.

Cindy Frey handles much of the media relations for sports groups that come to Columbus. Her communication efforts have expanded with the advent of social networking — this year she plans to use Twitter to communicate with parents who accompany the teams. The Twitter feed will supply schedule changes and other updates to the families.