Friday, February 15, 2019

5 Take-Aways from the 2019 National Sports Forum

I'm writing this week from the 3rd and final leg of my recent travels, at the home of the new Bob Stoops coached XFL team, Big D. This time I'm traveling for pleasure, to celebrate my sweet blue-eyed, red-haired niece's first birthday. Happy birthday Avery Claire!

But it was my second stop - Las Vegas for the 2019 National Sports Forum - I want to discuss today. While the conference caters to those more likely to work in the pro sports franchise/venue segment of our industry, I gleaned some wonderful insight with my sports events and tourism hat on. 

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Here are my Top 5 Take-Aways from NSF:

5. Our struggles are shared.

You know what I found out being at a conference with people from the pro sports world? They share many of the same struggles as us over on the sport tourism side of the street. They are searching for innovation, new revenue streams, best practices and relationships. It was refreshing to see and hear.

4. The death of sponsorship as we know it.

Out with traditional menu-offering style sponsorships and in with highly-focused, mutually beneficial "partnerships". I attended two separate sessions discussing this exciting shift in traditional thinking. Creativity is King. Learning about creative ideas and activation strategies from groups like 4Front, and new sponsorship effectiveness measurement methods from organizations like Hookit proved especially enlightening...and relevant to many in our lane. Times are changing folks, we must adapt.

3. Alternate forms of revenue bring opportunity for sport tourism.

Just hanging out on the track at Las Vegas Motor Speedway
The president of Las Vegas Motor Speedway was on a panel and commented that his venue operates more than 1400 event days a year - only a handful of which are NASCAR/NHRA/other sanctioned events. The rest are special events in a variety of their complex's spaces. Clearly, LVMS is just as much a special event venue, turning multiple events a day from weddings and meetings, to the NSF closing party.

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Lincoln Financial Field. Photo: NBC Sports
This approach was not unique. The special events director for the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field shared the same sentiment commenting that she sells more than 400 events a year at her complex. These event drive alternate revenue streams for teams and venues, but they also create an accessibility, a connection point, and likely goodwill for teams and venues. 

How does this take-away relate to sport tourism? Be creative! Talk to you non-traditional venue folks. They are looking for interesting and revenue-producing collaborations. Think about how you can partner to provide a unique setting for your next board retreat or an element of your next sports event.

2. Don't go to Vegas in February hoping for a warm-up from the blustery KC and CO cold.

Seriously. KC was 4 degrees. Vegas was a slight warm-up at around 40 degrees. And it flurried while I was there. Locals were saying it "snowed". I didn't burst their bubble. Funny thing was, there were still people laying out poolside at MGM Grand. They must've been from Kansas City!

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I swear, it was barely a flurry, but it was the talk of the town - that and the Golden Knights. Photo: Pace.Vegas

1. If we look hard enough, we can learn a tremendous amount from those who might not be in our specific field of practice.

The moral of this story is clear. There is no doubt it is important for us to continually learn from one-another in the sport events and tourism industry. But, if we make a conscious effort to take our blinders off, open our mind, and pull from a broader source of information - whether it's a conference like NSF or otherwise - we might just find some nuggets of solid gold to apply in our respective worlds. 

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Sometimes you can feel like a fish out of water pushing yourself to a new environment. But there is no growth without change.
At a critical and ever-changing time in our own industry, I encourage us to cast a wide net. As Brian Herbert said, "The capacity to learn is a gift; the ability to learn is a skill; the willingness to learn is a choice." 

Thank you to Ron Seaver and the National Sports Forum team for hosting an excellent event, filled with quality learning and a hospitable, family-like atmosphere. I would recommend this conference to anyone looking to expand their knowledge of the industry and meet some all-around great people. This is Stoll on Sports.

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Friday, February 8, 2019

The So What of Sports

Let's briefly talk about the "so what" of sports.

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What am I talking about you ask?

Fair question. Let me explain.

You see, I'm writing this post from the Kansas City airport on my way back to Colorado from a remarkable experience attending the WIN for KC Annual Women's Sports Awards Celebration. I was invited to attend by my dear friend and mentor (or as she calls it "truth teller"), Kathy Nelson, and I'm so glad I accepted the invitation because aside from the frigid cold of the Midwest, my short stay in town (slightly more than 24 hours) also reminded me about the essence of sport...the "so what".

Kathy's team hosted a packed house of more than 2,000 attendees to see a handful of KC community members receive awards. Yes, Holly Rowe emcee'd the event and Simone Biles participated in a pure, and lovely discussion, but there was so much more.

Photo: WIN for KC

In the sports world there is big money, big risk, big reward, plenty of self-aggrandizing, and an ever-increasing drive for commercialization resulting in sport being perceived as rather (or completely) elitist. Only enough room for the cream of the crop. Not on the "A" travel team? Sorry, you shouldn't be playing at all. No college scholarship? Out of luck. You had to watch the boring Super Bowl from home since you couldn't afford the $3k per ticket price tag? How embarrassing. News flash: the Super Bowl was boring, you didn't miss anything!

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See, even the players and coaches were bored. Photo:
These may be exaggerations to some extent, but I'd argue elitism is becoming an epidemic in sports.

In my simple mind, this mentality is the complete antithesis of what sport should be in our society.

The WIN for KC event provided a refreshing reprieve from sport as big business, and a 2 hour window into the "so what".

Does the KC Sports Commission recruit huge events for economic impact and brand perception? You bet. As most sport tourism entities do.

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It's all well-and-good that these marquee events, such as the 2019 USA Gymnastics Championships come to town, those are great and have a purpose, but it's what the sports commission does for the community - taking their impact beyond economic and brand and into the community that they work, live and play - that makes the difference.

In my dissertation research, I found that just shy of 50% of sport commission mission statements indicated a desired outcome related to socio-cutural leverage, or building a better community/quality of life, 66% reported desire for economic impact and about 53% concerned with brand awareness of their community.

This statistic shows that the impact of sports on the community through non-economic and branding efforts is imperative to these entities. It may be important enough to make it into the mission statement, but that doesn't necessarily mean communities succeed on making it a reality.

The team in KC has it right.

A young African American swimmer, an elite soccer player turned coach giving back to refugees, a legendary female pole vault coach who changed the standard in a sport, an amputee who got her life back with prosthetic running legs, and the legacy of women who perpetuated the vision for WIN for KC through serving as volunteer board chairs for the organization. These are the "so whats" that today's event recognized...the faces behind the mission.

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WIN for KC Camp, Photo: Kansas City Pitch
And you know what? The goodwill and value built in the community through these efforts more than likely drives the success of the economic and branding efforts KC also does so well. They are building ambassadors, funders, and culture. These efforts go hand-in-hand, they are not mutually exclusive.

The point here is, as sport event and tourism professionals we often stop at what we think is the goal line: driving economic impact and brand for our destination. But I'd encourage you to take a page out of KC's book, to look up, and consider the "so what" in your destination's efforts. You have to give to get. And the good work of bettering your community will not go unaccounted for in the other aspects of your business. After all, you live in your town too, so you might as well make the impact of your organization set the tone of community for your family and your kids' kids.

The essence of sport is not elitist. It's inclusive. It's a common bond. It's overcoming. It's uniting. It's confidence inducing. It's life changing. And it's for all.

Not surprisingly, the team in KC hit it out of the park today. Thank you for reminding me that sport, in its purest form, is about the "so what".

As JFK said, "One person can make a difference, and everyone should try." This is Stoll on Sports.

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