Juli Anne Freidberg 0000-00-00 00:00:00
Very few would argue that the Southeastern U.S. is not ripe with sports activities. From the almost year-round amenable climate to its vast array of facilities, the Southeast plays and hosts almost every sport imaginable. Even so-called cold weather sports like hockey and figure skating have a presence in the Southeast. For most sports event owners, this region is a must. The Southeast offers such a variety of locations that choosing one could be considered overwhelming. But the region is also equipped with a variety of sports commissions and convention and visitor’s bureaus (CVBs) that provide event owners the information they need to plan the perfect event. To get that information, you just have to know where to start. Starting at the Top Some states, such as Alabama and North Carolina, have state-wide coalitions of local sports event directors and CVBs. Sports Alabama took shape because many of Alabama’s smaller communities didn’t have the budget to attend some of the industry’s larger conventions. These events, such as the TEAMS and National Association of Sports Commissions (NASC) conferences, are critical relationship-building opportunities for event owners and hosts. Today, Sports Alabama ensures that even the smallest community has a voice and a face. “We’d like to see the business come to any community in Alabama, so we look for events that are feasible for one of our communities and go after them,” says Don Dukemineer, convention sales manager for Huntsville/Madison County and Sports Alabama director. “It works because we all have the same goal. We support each other.” North Carolina’s Sports Development Office performs a similar function, but is part of the NC Department of Commerce. Kentucky and Florida, on the other hand, have sports organizations created, or hired, by the state government to bring home sports events. “The Commonwealth of Kentucky has set forth a model that other states are looking to emulate,” says Terry Hasseltine, Kentucky Sports Authority deputy executive director. “We have a real advantage because sports event owners know that the state is behind the efforts of all of our communities.” It’s a formula that seems to be working for Kentucky, which recently won the 2010 World Equestrian Games, an event that until now has only been held in Europe. The Florida Sports Foundation, a private, not-for-profit corporation operating under contract with Florida’s Office of Tourism, Trade and Economic Development, supports local sports commissions by awarding grants. The Foundation’s awards are based on the local events’ projected economic impact. In April, the Foundation awarded 23 grants totaling $100,000 to various sporting events across the state. How does the Florida Sports Foundation manage this kind of support? Sports fans. “We receive the proceeds from the sale [in Florida] of professional sports license plates – NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB,” says Nick Gandy, Florida Sports Foundation director of communications. “A portion of those plates supports sports in Florida, and we also give 10 percent to youth charities that are designated by each of those teams.” Going Local Industry buzz has it that Tennessee and Georgia are creating statewide sports councils similar to Sports Alabama, but that doesn’t mean their local sports councils are taking any time off. The Knoxville Tourism and Sports Commission (KTSC), for example, is one of f ive regular hosts of the AAU Junior Olympics. “[KTSC] itself has a lot of experience as a whole dealing with an event of that magnitude, but also the community really got on board,” says Jeffrey John, KTSC sports sales manager. “We have a core base of thousands of volunteers, and, of course, our facilities work well for an event like the Junior Olympics.” Atlanta is one of the Southeast’s largest markets and a key location for many sporting events, but it’s certainly not the only game in town. Georgia is rich with communities, such as Gwinnett and Cobb Counties, that are close to Atlanta’s amenities and whose sports commissions annually host a variety of events, large and small. Sports as Tourism Considering the Southeast’s mild winters, hundreds of golf courses, the Appalachian Trail and thousands of miles of coastline, lakes and rivers, it’s no surprise that sports are considered part of the tourism industry in many locations. In these states, sports-event recruitment is often a function of the state, regional or local CVB. In Mississippi, event owners can browse all the state’s sports venues on the Mississippi Division of Tourism’s Web site. Regional and local organizations, such as the Mississippi Gulf Coast CVB, offer event owners on-the-ground assistance and event management. “Our biggest assets in Mississippi are our hospitality and sense of community,” says Neal McCoy, Tupelo CVB sports development director. “We’re not going to have the biggest cities with the biggest markets, but we are going to have enthusiastic volunteers and media who will come out to your event.” Sports Tourism, as it is referenced, is growing in prominence in other states as well, including Virginia, South Carolina and Louisiana. The Gulf Coast enjoys a unique camaraderie, with CVBs all along the coast working together. “We work closely with our friends all along the Gulf Coast,” says Todd Whalley, director of sales for the Louisiana Northshore CVB. “In fact, we found ourselves hosting events for the Beau Rivage casino after Hurricane Katrina. I wouldn’t say it was a good thing, but the hurricane did help us all become stronger partners.” Hurricane Katrina helped many Gulf Coast communities become stronger sports event hosts as well. Since the hurricane, these communities have undergone tremendous renovations, and now they are home to some of the Southeast’s newest venues and hotels. Challenges and Champions The mention of Hurricane Katrina underscores the Southeast’s major challenge – summer weather. Always muggy and hot, sometimes rainy, and occasionally dangerous, the Southeast’s weather isn’t necessarily perfect year-round. But unpredictable weather only lasts a couple of months, and according to owners who have hosted events there, Southern service makes up for any risk. Premier Baseball held one of its seven national events in Louisiana’s Northshore last July. “We had chosen a location, but in February, the deal fell through. Todd [Whalley] picked the event up and did a fantastic job,” says Don Patty, treasurer, Premier Baseball. “We were playing out at the University of New Orleans when it started to rain. One call to Todd, and in minutes he’d come up with a plan. When we got to the new location, the entire place was set up.” The Azalea Trail Run, one of the U. S.’s top world-class races, is run annually in Mobile, Alabama. As a charity event, the Azalea Trail Run has to put costs at the top of its planning priorities, another benefit of taking your event down South. “Cost-wise, the Southeast is just a lot less expensive than other regions as far as supplies, housing and activities for participants,” says Peggy Olive, the race’s director. “We want a place where people can participate in as many activities as possible so they’ll stay the whole weekend.” USA Triathlon had a similarly positive experience with their recent event In Tuscaloosa, Alabama. “The weekend was called Tuscaloosa Tripalooza – four races in two days. To be able to pull that off, you need the support of the city and we definitely got that,” says Jeff Dyrek USA Triathlon’s national events director. “Our priority was to put on a great event that the participants, spectators and community would embrace, and we accomplished that.” Whether it’s cost, location, or the (mostly) ideal weather that appeals to you, the Southeast is clearly a solid stop on any event owner’s planning calendar. For more information, visit the NASC (www.sportscommissions.org) or any of the Southeast’s CVBs and sports organizations on the Web. SDM Knoxville – Go With a Proven Winner! Whatever the size and scope of the sports event, Knoxville has the facilities and planning services to make it successful and memorable. The cornerstone of the city’s extensive inventory of venues is the Knoxville Convention Center (KCC). The center has more than a halfmillion square feet surrounded by expansive outdoor lawns and festival areas and may be tailored for almost any event. In 2003, the facility transformed into a 60- lane bowling alley when Knoxville hosted 61,000 American Bowling Congress competitors for six months. Plus, the KCC hosted more than 17,000 youth in gymnastics, cheerleading, baton twirling, jump rope, wrestling and taekwondo competitions during the 2007 AAU Junior Olympics. Additionally, Knoxville holds a diverse selection of 7,500+ hotel rooms and popular attractions such as the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, the Knoxville Zoo and the Sunsphere. To learn why Knoxville is the destination of champions, please contact the Knoxville Tourism & Sports Corporation at www.Knoxville.org. Dothan, Alabama – Out to Win You Over This is the “Year of Alabama Sports” and Dothan is ready to play! The city’s Leisure Services Department commands award-winning sports facilities and regularly hosts acclaimed sports events and programs. Westgate Park is one of the most comprehensive recreation parks in the Southeast with its ball fields, tennis courts, indoor swimming pool, water park and BMX track, as well as the recently unveiled Rotary Miracle Field, a specially equipped baseball field for disabled children and adults. Westgate Softball Complex is well known nationally, having been awarded 26 national tournaments in its 18 years of operation. The Dixie Youth Baseball complexes at Eastgate and Westgate Parks are the finest in the Southeast and have hosted numerous championship events, including the Dixie Youth World Series. Westgate Tennis Center has won all three national awards for outstanding facilities: the USTA, the U.S. Tennis Court and Track Builders Association, and the Tennis Industry Association. They hope you’ll choose Dothan for your next sporting event – They’re out to win YOU over! Oxford, Mississippi Offers Premier Facility Oxford, Mississippi, home to the University of Mississippi, is renowned for its deep-rooted history, culture and charm. Now there is a new reason to travel to Oxford; FNC Park (formerly Oxford-Lafayette Fields) is slated to open in the summer of 2009 bringing new opportunities to local youth and travel teams from all across the South. Currently under construction, FNC Park will feature soccer, baseball and softball fields, as well as a BMX track and a walking course. Brad Freeman, planning and marketing director for the project said, “FNC Park will be one of the premier facilities in the Mid-South. We are all very excited about the park and the opportunities it will present to the City of Oxford and Lafayette County.” Oxford has more than 800 hotel rooms within five miles of FNC Park and has a vibrant downtown square with wonderful restaurants, shops and nightlife for traveling teams and families to enjoy. For more information please visit www.oxfordcvb. com. (www.fncpark.com is coming soon!)
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