the ball rolling
mayor holds first meeting
to jumpstart new sports commission
uncertain of who will guide the effort
"Ive yet to see any other group that brings
to your community. Bus tours are fine, but sports pay the bills."
David Patterson, Terre Haute CVB
(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
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
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
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. Whats more, many of these events
take place on weekdays, helping to fill hotels during their less busy
As an example, over a 10-year period, Terre Hautes 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. Ive
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 Countys 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 LPGAs 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 countys 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,
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, its 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 commissions efforts, its 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
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; its 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 citys 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 citys 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
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
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
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 RoundAbouts profile of Louisville Sports Commissions
newly hired director Diane McGraw. Click to Aprils Kentucky
Back to April 2007 Articles.