Courtesy Edmond CVB
Sports is a numbers game, and small towns are scoring points as they become hits with tournaments and competitions.
They have built pools and soccer fields, created incentives to attract competitions, established sports commissions and sales teams and developed home-grown competitions.
“Smaller cities have become more assertive and added larger staffs,” said Don Schumacher, executive director of the National Association of Sports Commissions (NASC).
They’ve also become more skilled in their approach to the market. NASC’s education offerings, particularly its certified sports executive program, are in demand. About 125 sports professionals have been certified as CSEs so far; another 250 are enrolled in the program, according to Schumacher.
Specialists in specific sports
A number of small towns have established a reputation as good competitions sites for particular sports.
Beaumont, Texas, for example, attracts some 40 softball and baseball tournaments a year. Each year in the Fox Cities area of Wisconsin, some 20,000 people attend soccer competitions.
In the past five years, 26 girls basketball tournaments at Court4Sports in Mason, Ohio, have brought 95,000 people — about 74,000 of them from outside the area — to the region north of Cincinnati.
There can be multiple advantages for a competition that’s held in a smaller market. For example, the event is likely to have a higher profile, says Schumacher.
“Any event likes coverage,” he said. “If you bring a youth event to Cincinnati, you are not going to read about it in the newspaper or see it on the news, but if you take that event to Hamilton County, Ind., or Overland Park, Kan., or Elizabethtown, Ky., you will.”
Services and incentives
Because small cities recognize the bottom line value of sports events — some derive as much as half of their room tax revenues from them — small towns offer services and incentives.
“They are building websites for events and doing live-streaming broadcasts so grandma or grandpa can watch,” said Schumacher. Many cities also have “opportunity funds” — monies that can be used to offset some of the costs of the events.
Creating their own events is often the way smaller cities build a name within certain sports.
For example, Edmond, Okla., has become known as a destination that’s adept at coordinating competitions for athletes with physical disabilities since organizers at the University of Central Oklahoma launched the Endeavor Games, a multisport competition, 12 years ago.
In the past, the event has attracted competitors from more than 30 states and several countries.
Two of the organization’s leaders, Katrina Shaklee and Eliot Blake, now work for the University of Central Oklahoma. In addition to U.S. Paralympics, a number of area organizations, including the Edmond CVB, support the games.
Building a reputation as a good host for a particular sport can be a decades-long process, as information about a city’s facilities and capabilities spreads from team to team and league to league.