Unified Vision

Last week at the National Association of Sports Commissions Annual Symposium, we were asked to facilitate session on “Optimizing Your Sports Tourism Destination.”  Along with our friend and partner, Jason Clement from Sports Facilities Management, we presented our keys for success in maximizing your community impact in the sports and events space.  While we touched upon various best practices for success, our entire presentation had one major theme that separates the great sports destinations from the not so good – Human capital.

The way we recruit talent (for our staffs, our boards, and our volunteer leadership), how we engage elected officials, the methods we use in onboarding new people, ensuring cultural fit, employing consistency of messaging and communication.  Yes, we offered up some tactical examples that the audience could take home and implement, but in the end no matter what matrix you use to measure success, it all comes down to people – Human capital.

While you can have the right people on the team and even have them all in the right seats on the bus (thank you Jim Collins), everyone needs to know what success looks like.  Sure, you can set room night goals, economic impact benchmarks, and event standards.  However, to garner full support towards those goals, you need the right people AND the right vision.  A unified vision that can easily be communicated to all your raving fans, so they too can effectively participate in the journey. 
One the way home to Arizona, I remembered just such an example of this unified vision.  Below is a story we penned in 2015, titled “Pop the Cork”…..
In 2002 we launched the Metro Denver Sports Commission.  As a new sports commission, starting from scratch, we spent quite a bit of time building bridges with community leaders to garner support for our cause.  When I arrived in Denver much of the groundwork had been laid.  We had the support of the tourism industry, economic development entities, elected officials, and many corporate leaders.  We also had the support of all of the area’s universities and the professional sports franchises – except one.  The Colorado Rockies were the one team that we had not yet approached for support.
At that time, former NFL player Keli McGregor had just taken on the role of team President for the Rockies.  Keli was very well respected in the community and proved over time to be a great leader of the franchise.  He was a collaborative person who did the right things for the right reasons.  He would be a great ally for the sports commission.
Our goal was to have all of the key players in Denver support the efforts of the sports commission.  That meant we had to convince Keli to jump on board.  We were able to secure a meeting with Keli – a meeting his assistant said could last no longer than 30-minutes.  When I arrived at the Rockies offices for the meeting, I saw a purple bottle on the receptionist’s desk.  When Keli’s assistant came to escort me to his office, we passed through cubicles, desk areas, and meeting rooms.  Each one had a similar purple bottle.  The in-house mailman passed us in the hallway, his mail cart had another purple bottle.  I wasn’t sure what the presence of these bottles was, but I was soon to find out.
Upon meeting Keli, I knew we were in good hands.  He was prepared, knew what the meeting was about, and what we were going to ask of him.  He was energetic and enthusiastic, and took the meeting by the horns from the start.  Keli also made one thing perfectly clear – the Rockies would participate, but not because all of the other teams were on board.  They would participate because it was the right thing to do for the community, and if the Rockies somehow benefited down the road, then so be it.  He was doing it for the right reasons, not for some ulterior motive or business purpose.
As the meeting progressed, we finally got to the issue of the purple bottles.  When Keli took over at team President, he realized there was no unifying goal or vision for the organization.  On day one of his tenure, he called all the employees into a meeting room, over 200 people in all.  He talked about his vision for success both on and off the field, with the end goal of getting to a World Series (something the young franchise had never done).  He gave each staff member a bottle of Champagne in the Rockies’ color – Purple.  Keli then explained to the staff that the goal was to look at that bottle every day, and with every decision they made, to take action that will get the cork out of the purple bottle.  The goal suddenly became something tangible, with small steps (daily) to get the bigger prize (a World Series and an open Champagne bottle).
When I left the Rockies’ offices nearly two HOURS later (I mentioned above the meeting was to be limited to only 30 minutes), I couldn’t help but think about Keli’s strategy.  He unified hundreds of his most important people, his staff.  They understood the team’s goal, and had a visual daily reminder about how they were to help the organization reach their end game.  The purple bottle.  It was brilliant, and proved successful over time.
Over the years, Keli led the Rockies to great prominence in the community and also in the sports events industry.  Along with Arizona Diamondbacks President Derick Hall, Keli championed the first ever stadium funded entirely by an Indian Tribe (Salt River Fields in Scottsdale, Arizona where the Rockies and Diamondbacks train each spring).  Keli’s vision landed the Rockies in their first and only World Series against the Boston Red Sox in 2007, to this day one of the bright spots in Denver sports history.  While the Rockies came up short against the Sox, they won the National League and made the World Series…..and popped the corks out of the purple bottles.
Keli passed away suddenly in 2010.  His loss is still felt today.  In looking back at the way Keli led with his vision of the purple Champagne bottle, we should think – as leaders, how can we unify our organizations?  How can we create a common vision, team unity, and drive others to row the boat in one direction?  What is our purple Champagne bottle?

Sticky Sports Tourism

“Those who say, ‘That’s the way we have always done it’ can be the most dangerous people in any company.”

-- Kevin Plank, Founder, Under Armour

Sports tourism professionals often times battle for “credit.”  Convention bureaus, sports commissions, and other DMOs often fight each other to validate their work and to scrap for limited community resources.  Room night goals, economic impact projections, ROI.  Everything that can be measured is often used to validate an organization publicly. 

Community leaders often stand in our offices asking for quantifying tangible results of our work.  Our elected officials and (yes) our bosses, don't want to hear “room nights are often hard to track” or “the event owners didn't deliver.”  It's on us to make our work understandable for them, and to translate our results into their language.

The biggest issue is that often times our community leaders have a hard time “touching” the economic impact that results from hosting events.  To garner the support we need to further our missions, stakeholders need to not only understand the positive occurrences around our events, but to then FUND future efforts to attract more events that positively impact our markets.

There is a great book by the Heath Brothers called “Made to Stick” that can help us in this area to make that connection.  The Heath Brothers are a couple of Stanford-Duke-Harvard professors that have studied human behavior and how to communicate to specific audiences in a meaningful way.  The main premise in “Made to Stick” is to deliver a message to your target audience that is VISUAL in a language (or picture) they can understand. 

Two examples of how the concept of “sticky” messaging has helped me are below.....

In the early years of my career in sports tourism, Tulsa was trying to build a new arena, which required a new tax to be passed by the voters.  We failed on two occasions, but once I was gone the BOK Center sprouted out of the ground (but I digress).....When hosting town hall meetings around Tulsa about the initial project, it was apparent to me that in 1999 there was a significant group of anti-tax citizens that wouldn't support our efforts.  The community didn't have the stomach to pay for a new development and entertainment district downtown.  It was my impression that they were only against our project because they couldn’t understand nor “touch” the economic impact it would bring over time.  Years later, I understood that our shortfall was in making the message “sticky.”  The Heath Brothers' book had not been published back then, but we tried anyway.

At that time in Oklahoma, the whole state had a serious road construction problem.  Specifically, pot holes.  There came a time in Tulsa that the city couldn’t repair the pot holes fast enough, and instead would put small orange construction cones IN the potholes rather than fix them.  You could play human Frogger and avoid driving your car into the holes, but the holes couldn't get filled.  You'd think it would be more efficient to just fix the pot holes, but it wasn’t, so orange cones it was.  While Frogger is a really fun video game, doing it with your car was less than enjoyable for most Tulsans.

As we continually hit the wall with citizens and elected officials about the arena project and the economic impact that would be generated by hosting events in the new downtown, I realized we had to make it tangible to our audience (aka - “sticky”).  I called the city manager in charge of the pot hole issue and asked him what it cost to fix a single pot hole.  He said all-in, about $60.  From there forward I used the $60 number to talk about how each event we were going after would result in X number of fixed pot holes (Y million dollars of direct visitor spending from an event divided by $60 = X potholes fixed via the event). 

In testing this message with a local Rotary Club it resonated IMMEDIATELY.  The orange cones they understood, the sales tax revenue from hosting an NCAA championship, they couldn't comprehend.  Pot holes was their language, so we had to translate our message into their vernacular. 

While we didn’t win the vote on the project, we made significant headway, and I learned the lesson of “sticky” messaging.  This lesson helps me today in delivering the right information to the influencers around me in a meaningful way.

Another example of this tactic was when we revamped the Phoenix Sports Commission in 2008.  We realized early on that the organization needed a major facelift in the community.  Leaders in Arizona didn't know what our organization was about and what our value proposition was.  They did however understand ROI and how an investment in sports tourism could be measured in economic impact.  In early 2009 we launched a campaign called the “$100,000,000 Mission.”  The object of the 24-month project was to land grass roots sporting events that would generate a NEW $100 million in direct visitor spending.  The mission only included events that if the Sports Commission wasn't involved would have never come to the greater Phoenix area.  So our value proposition was defined, it was transparent, and community leaders could understand the target.  It was “sticky” to them. 

As the mission moved along, we updated the community early and often.  As we landed each event, we didn't just issue a press release, we issued a messaging statement that talked about where we stood (our running total) on the “Mission.”  We held ourselves accountable to the community, and as we moved the ball down the field on the project, people got on board.  Influential people.  People with resources and connections.  People who could take the Sports Commission to the next level.

Over time, the organization got noticed and became an asset to the Phoenix community.  And when we crossed the finish line on the “Mission” we thanked the community for the investment that had been made for the organization to get there.  We also began messaging the financial return of the “Mission” project.  Community leaders understand ROI.

Had we not employed a “sticky” concept, I'm not sure we would have achieved what we did.  The NASC named the Phoenix Regional Sports Commission the Large Market Sports Commission of the Year in 2012, just four years after our reorganization.  The board of the Sports Commission changed dramatically.  It became bigger, stronger, and more influential.  Through their support, our events had more muscle and the organization more stature in the community.  It all started with one transparent and tangible goal that people could understand and get their arms around, and the organization evolved from there.

What are your community leaders saying to you?  What don't they understand about your efforts in the sports tourism and events space?  What is keeping them from supporting you publicly and privately?  Do they understand your value proposition?  How can you change the dialog into their language to make your message stick? 

Find your orange cones and message them early and often.

© Huddle Up Group, 2018


Shining Stars

Once upon a time, I started a little holiday tradition that become known as the “Schmieder Foundation Dinner.”  This event was normally at a divey Italian joint, and the attendees were our staff, interns, and their spouses/dates.  I paid for this annual event out of my pocket rather than bill it to the sports commission, thusly the event bore my name.

One year at the dinner, one of our past interns we had invited to join us said, “We (the intern team) don’t know why you treat us so well.  You look out for us more than the other people we have worked for.”  They then asked, “Why?”  My response was simple, “Because I may ask you for a job someday.”

My response drew some laughter and a few eye rolls.  However, in 2008 it actually happened.  A former intern of mine was working at the Phoenix Sports Commission when there was a staffing change.  He called me in Denver, and also told their Board Chairman that I may be interested in moving back to Arizona.  The wheels were set in motion, my career path changed, and our family’s trajectory was altered in a very positive way.  All due to an intern that we looked out for years earlier.

Another example.  My wife Sharon has a vast background in restaurant marketing for national chains.  At one time she was working for one of the largest seafood chains in the country, reporting directly to the CEO.  That CEO took a similar path in how he helped his staff grow professionally.  He supported them at every turn, and helped his team get to where they wanted to be professionally, be it in his organization or somewhere else.  When my wife asked him about it one day, he had a similar response to the one I gave my intern, “I help my people because down the road they may be able to help me when I need it.”  Guess what.  A few years after Sharon had left the company, that CEO was looking to transition, and his resume landed on Sharon’s desk.  The CEO had helped her, so she did everything she could to help him. 

The takeaways here are pretty simple…..

·       Promote your superstars.

·       Invest in them.

·       Give them opportunity, with your company or somewhere else.

There is an old saying, “Be careful whose toes you step on today, they might be attached to the ass you have to kiss tomorrow.”  Better yet, how about “Be good to those around you today, for they will return the favor tomorrow.”

It doesn’t cost much to give people the support they need to thrive.  Create an environment where your followers can grow now, and they may change your life’s path in the future.  It has worked for me in a profoundly positive way.  And even if something like that doesn’t happen for you, why not promote your stars anyway to see how great they can be?

Buying Power

"On a recent drive, the radio station I often listen to in Phoenix plugged their newest promotion, called “13K a day”.  The promo involved the station giving out $1,000 at 13 different times during the day.  The money was given to the 13th caller once a certain song or jingle played.  Basically, the station was trying to “buy” listeners to stay tuned in and not channel surf when commercials come on.  This got me to thinking….. 
Isn’t this the same thing CVBs and sports commission do with incentive money and bid fees?
Destinations seeking to land more sporting events have been “buying” business for decades, and while the bid free trend has changed over the years, incentive money in the form of “grants” to sports organizers is still prevalent.  Going back to the radio station promotion, do you think there are better ways to be relevant and keep your listeners tuned in?  Same question for sports organizations.  Can we take our grant or incentive funds and be more strategic?  Can we put those funds to work in a way that would give our communities greater economic return?  Can we leverage our community leaders to make our dollars go farther and land even more events? 
Of course, the answers to all of these questions is yes.  Here are two examples how…..
During our time in Denver, we partnered with the University of Colorado and the Denver Broncos to submit a bid for the Big XII Football Championship.  As a small stand-alone sports commission at the time (we didn’t have the luxury of bed tax dollars to sustain ourselves), the price tag on this event was quite high.  The event had sold out in prior years, and the conference office had crafted the RFP to include a guarantee of (you guessed it) a stadium sell out.  As the hosting entity, we had to guarantee the Big XII that every ticket would be sold, or cover the funds for each vacant seat.  In this particular year, that was a $4.9 million guarantee – way out of the sports commission’s league.
This event was important to our local partners and the community at large, so we had to figure out a way to get in the game.  Our solution was to go to area business leaders and ask them to backstop the ticket revenues for the game.  We had seven partners each agree to take on 1/7th of the risk with us.  That is, each partner committed to take on up to $700,000 worth of risk.  In all reality the risk was much smaller, but the possibility of a cash call for a one-seventh share of any unsold tickets was real.  We would work to get all the tickets sold, but a bad match-up or inclement weather could impact our ability to achieve a sell-out.  What was in it for the partners to take on this risk?  A “free" sponsorship. 
Our pitch was that this event was good for Colorado and the Denver community, and if we sold out, we would only bill the partners for the tickets and suite inventory they wanted.  If we fell short of a sell-out, they would indeed get a cash call for their share, but if we did sell every ticket, they got a free ride as a local partner for the game.  The Big XII signed off on this unique arrangement, and we submitted our bid.  In the end, we were not selected to host that year, which would have played out well had we hosted (the University of Colorado won the Big XII North and would have played in our game).  Even though we didn’t have to execute on this plan, the model gave us a structure to work with in the future, and also delivered some connectivity with new partners we had not worked with in the past.
Here is one more example of creative finance in sports…..
In 2001 a group of people in Tulsa started exploring a bid for what was then called the Women’s International Bowling Congress (WIBC).  Our LOC had the right make up of people to win the bid and execute the event, a nearly 6-month long bowling festival.  The biggest challenge was to come up with the bid fee, which was north of $375,000 at the time.  A big amount for a big event.
Our local bowling proprietors would benefit the most from hosting the event, as their centers would be filled with competition and practice time for nearly half a year.  Since they had the most to gain, we asked them to participate in the financial piece of the bid (rather than simply asking the city, CVB, or our sports commission to write a check – none of which would do so alone).  If we were to win the bid, we would have four years before we actually had to host the event and pay the full bid fee.  We did the math on how many “lines” (or games) would be bowled in our area’s centers between the awarding of the bid and when the payments were due to the WIBC.  We determined that if the bowling centers would add a nickel to each line, we would have the funds needed to cover the bid fee.  A simple nickel.
The proprietors agreed, and once we won the bid to host, they started collecting the extra nickel.  Every quarter they remitted the sum of the nickel increase to the sports commission.  We put it in the bank to use each time a payment deadline came (the payments were spread over four years).  The event was a huge success, but it took some creative thinking, and a unique funding model to get it done (we believe we were the only city to ever have the bowling proprietors pay the bid fee for this event).
There is always a unique way to get something done, beyond just writing a check.  Sit down with your main stakeholders and think outside the box.  Figuring out what’s in it for everyone around the table may help you determine a different model for success.

Logos are Lame

Superstar author-blogger-speaker Scott Stratten recently released his new book, titled “UnBranding.  It’s another epic volume of 100 brand best (and worst) practices.  In the early chapters, Scott tackled the topic of logos…..And why they don’t matter.

Scott’s premise is that people do business with those that they trust to deliver superior customer service, great products, and solid value, regardless of the company’s logo colors, design, etc.  I believe this to be uniformly true.  There is no better example than in the Schmieder household where we do business with Amazon daily, and I’m not even sure they HAVE a logo do they?  If so, I hadn’t noticed.  But Amazon delivers (literally) a great product mix, at good prices, right to your door (I once ordered a lawn mower from Amazon on a Sunday and it arrived later that same day – awesome).

To take this logo thing a step further, I would say that in nearly every case, people don’t do business with a person or company because of their mission or vision statements either.  Most of the mission and vision statements we see are long worded drivel that is trying to be all inclusive.  Very few really tell the reader what the company does specifically, and trying to quantify success is nearly impossible.

Raise your hand if you have ever spent time at a “strategic” planning retreat to define your mission and vision statements.  Right, that is just about everyone, and if you haven’t, unfortunately sometime in the future you will get roped into such a session.  Most often, the result of these wasted hours is a couple paragraphs that are all inclusive of EVERYTHING your organization might touch, now and into the future.  Rather than go through this exhausting exercise, we offer a different approach – build a Scorecard.

The Scorecard (or “Thematic Goal Process”) is something we have borrowed from author/consultant Patrick Lencioni.  Here is the premise:

1.     Define what your company is all about.  Two sentences tops.  Define your DNA.  What are you and your team all about?  If you don’t know, this is a GREAT exercise to chat up around the office, and also ask your clients to give you their take.

2.     Identify your short term “Rallying Cry”.  This is your main goal for the near term.  It could be for a month, a quarter, but rarely longer than a year.  What about your organization needs your immediate attention to support the definition you set forth in item #1?  Revisit this at every staff or leadership meeting.

3.     List the 3-4 things you have to do to achieve the goal in the short-term.

4.     List the 3-4 things that have to be tended to over the long-term to keep the company viable (goal or no goal).

5.     Keep this “scorecard” visible, and rate your progress on each short and long-term regularly.  Lencioni suggest reviewing this scorecard at every weekly staff meeting.  Use red-yellow-green color codes for items that are in need of help (red), on track (yellow), or complete (green). 

This process is pretty simple, and quite effective.  Below is a link to Mr. Lencioni’s process and a sample scorecard (you can also e-mail me directly and I can share with you some examples that we have constructed in the past).


As you can see from this process, there is nothing about logo creation, or mission statements, or visioning exercises, or branding initiatives.  The process is about blocking and tackling the big issues and focusing on the right things as a unified team.  No flowery worded paragraphs with no real meat to them hung on the wall.  This is getting down to business, which is what we should all aspire to every day.  Companies that are constantly rebranding and reorging are just avoiding the real work they should be focusing on.

Forget the 4-hour strategy sessions.  Cancel the annual retreat.  Sit down at the table with your team, build a one-page scorecard, and stay laser focused on the issues at hand.  Conquer that first goal, and move on to the next one. 

Look, nobody is saying logos and some direction aren’t important for your business.  What we ARE saying is that people often spend way too much time on these things and avoid the really important tasks at hand. 

As the famous author and speaker Simon Senek says, “People don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it.  And what you do simply proves what you believe.”  Leave the time sucking exercises to someone else.  We have too many important things to do that matter to our stakeholders.  Identify the goals, and let’s go to work.

Get the Message

Our team at the Huddle Up Group has worked with more than 50 communities and sports organizations on strategic planning initiatives.  Inevitably, we find that the organization’s stakeholders don’t have a good understanding of its mission, or the value that the entity drives back to its stakeholders. 
In the case of CVBs or sports commissions, community leaders as well as elected officials often don’t understand the tourism or economic impact the organization delivers to the destination.  In the case of event rights holders, it is often true that the membership holds a belief that only elite athletes matter, when in most cases it’s the younger athletes in the pipeline that make their sanctioning body thrive.
While this challenge in stakeholder messaging is quite common, a significant amount of education needs to take place to turn the tides.  Below we offer three (3) actionable items to use in enhancing your messaging to both internal and external stakeholders:

(1)  Value Proposition – Create an education campaign to roll out both internally and externally.  This quarterly road show would be presented in a 60-minute coffee workshop (or webinar) format.  The organization’s staff would present on the value of their work in the sports and events marketplace.  Using measurable data points is recommended, such as economic impact, number of new athletes brought to the sport, etc.  The first of these meetings each year should be held with the organization’s staff and board (internal) to ensure the entire family is singing from the same “song sheet.”  Additional presentations should be made to various external stakeholder groups (examples: chamber leadership, civic clubs, high school athletic directors, hoteliers, restaurant association, sports venue managers, club leaders, elite athletes, members, etc.).  It is important to reiterate that the staff utilize outside supporters (example: a board member) as partners in the delivery of these meetings in order to give the presentation some volunteer driven validation.

(2)  “6&6” Lunches – Where the education campaign noted above is aimed at larger community groups, we also recommend a program to reach smaller and often times more influential individuals.  We often recommend to our clients the creation of a quarterly “6&6 Lunch”.  These lunches employ six existing stakeholders (examples: a board member, athlete, or sponsor) to each invite one guest from the business community (six stakeholders, six guests, “6 & 6”) to attend an informative luncheon on the importance of the organization’s work.  A major key here – these lunches are purely to educate more potential supporters, not to put an ask on them.  Educate key leaders now, ask for their influence later.

(3)  Trumpet Successes – In all cases where the organization is involved in the successful production of an event or program, it should become a priority to trumpet that success.  This can be done through traditional channels, such as a press release, and also through new media outlets.  Further, where a significant milestone is reached (such as an anniversary or record athlete registration at an event), it is critical to use that platform to promote the good work of the organization.  In any case, the information sent out should include specific data points where possible, and ideally would be more “story telling” than press release in order to be relevant to all stakeholder groups.  What we mean here is that you need to relate the message to the audience in a way that makes an impact on them.  Instead of citing the economic impact of an event, talk about how many police officers that money could pay in a given year.  Instead of talking about the record number of teams that participated in a tournament, talk about how many players and fans there were and compare that to a “sell out” of a local stadium or entertainment venue that could be filled by that many people.  The key here is to talk to people in a language they understand, and that language may not be economic impact or room nights or an athlete head count.

The goal of any organization is to be viewed as the "go to" entity that people want to work alongside.  In order to achieve that status, the organization needs to be able to define its goals, measure its work, and communicate their successes.  Define what a win looks like, and when you hit the target, communicate victory to your stakeholders in a language that they consider relevant, and in a forum that they trust. 
© Huddle Up Group, 2017

Business Savvy

What does your business car say about you?

This probably seems like a silly question.  You likely would respond, “My business card has all my contact information, the name and logo our company, that’s about it.”  In all reality, the business card, as archaic as they are in today’s tech society, say quite a bit more than that.  They are the front door welcome mat to you and your company, and as we all know, first impressions matter.

We have surveyed hundreds of event rights holders specifically asking them what they look for in a host community.  You may be surprised at their answers.  Sure, great venues and financial considerations can impact their decision making, but for the long-term health of their events, there are many other elements at play here.  After all, they are choosing a dance partner for their event, which might be the most important decision they make each year (for themselves and their athletes, coaches, families and fans).

Back to the business card question.  So what does yours really say?  As you think that through, let us tell you what event rights holders do NOT want it to say.


On several occasions, we have presented our findings on the best and worst practices in the sports tourism and events industry, and the use of the word “sales” as a job description is at the top of the “worst practice” list.  Event rights holders are making a buying decision for their product (their event), and they are trying to choose a host they can partner with that will help them deliver the best event they have ever had.  Rights holders we have surveyed, and those that we have consulted with, to a person say that when they are presented with a business card with “sales” in the title, they fear that the person is only concerned with “heads in beds” and not the actual event execution itself.

In reality, we are all in sales, whether you think you are or not.  Everyone is selling something.  So the culprit here isn’t the role of a sales person, it’s putting that sales mission on your sleeve that could be s detriment to your efforts to land these coveted sporting events.  Going back to the buying decision these event rights holders are making, think about it this way.  The NASC has doubled in membership over the past decade (it doubled the decade prior to that as well).  There are more cities playing in this space than ever before, so the rights holders have more options today than in the past.  If your message to them is that capturing as many room nights as possible is the ultimate goal, they can move on to any number of viable communities.  Destinations that can most likely offer them the same bid package you can, and would put the execution of the event first, and the heads in beds on the back burner.

We have presented on this topic over a dozen times across the country, and the inevitable question that comes is this, “You are saying not to worry about room nights, but we are measured on our total room night goals and bed tax collected, so what are we to tell our boards back home, that room nights are not important?”  Our answer is simple, we didn’t say room nights don’t matter, however if you LEAD with heads in beds to an event rights holder, expect them to move on to another dance partner.  What we would tell your boards and stakeholder groups is this: If you covet sporting events as much as the event rights holder does, and you help them deliver a fantastic event experience, they are more able to award multi-year bids, and renew in a shorter time frame than virtually any other tourism industry in existence.  Further, if you really invest in offering a top-shelf result for your event partners, they may even want to talk about a permanent site situation for their event (think Omaha with the College World Series, Williamsport for Little League, Hutchinson Kansas for NJCAA Basketball, Tulsa for the BMX Grand Nationals). 

As you can see, you don’t need to be a large metro market destination to play the long-game.  But the long-term vision starts with the simple things today.  Revamp your “sales” positions to reflect a sports savvy event professional that is out to partner with event rights holders on the event first, and worry about room blocks later.  Here are some options some of our clients have used in this transition (instead of “Sports Sales” for instance, all can be used interchangeably with director/manager/coordinator):

·       Director of Sports Development

·       Sports Manager

·       Director of Sports & Events

·       Sports Marketing Coordinator

·       Events Facilitator

·       Director of Sports Marketing

·       Sports Operations Manager

·       Senior Sports Director

Not a client of ours, but a great one from Redland (CA), how about “Sports Commissioner”?.....  THAT title certainly says something more robust than “sales”.  No matter which path you take, anything that sends the rights holder a message that you are in it for more than just room nights, you will be better served in the sports market over the long haul.

Game Changer

One of the great fictional characters of all time, Captain James Tiberius Kirk of the Starship Enterprise, hated losing so much he actually changed the rules of the game.  For Star Trek fans, you will remember the tale of the “Kobayashi Maru, No Win Scenario.”  In the television show and later in the movie series, the Kobayashi Maru was a training exercise in a flight simulator for future leaders of star fleet command.  The exercise is programmed by a computer to offer the captain (in this case Kirk) zero possible outcomes of success.  Basically, the ship crashes and the crew dies no matter what the captain does, thusly a “no win scenario” (the Maru was so popular with Star Trek fans it even has its own Wikipedia page).

Our fearless Captain Kirk, having failed the test on numerous occasions, became the first and only person to ever defeat the Kobayashi Maru.  On the eve of the exam, Kirk changed the program to offer a winning outcome.  While he was reprimanded for essentially cheating on the test, he was also commended for creative thinking.  Kirk changed the game.

As tourism professionals, we rarely encounter “no win scenarios”, but we can still learn from William Shatner's character.  We must always look for winning opportunities to change the playing field and slant the outcome in the favor of our destinations.  Here is one real life example I have seen that achieved a game changing outcome.

In 1999, the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) had 16 teams and was the country's first collegiate super conference.  That year a core group of members from the WAC left to start their own league, known as the Mountain West Conference.  The departure of these members presented some challenges for the WAC, and an opportunity for our sports commission in Tulsa.

The University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV) was part of the group that left for the new conference.  UNLV at the time was the long running host of the WAC basketball championship.  With their departure, essentially the history of the event, its sponsor support, and the arena it was played in, moved to the new Mountain West Conference along with UNLV.  The WAC had to find a new home for their marquee event, and replace the financial loss of its title sponsor.

The WAC issued an RFP to all of their members, including the University of Tulsa.  The RFP was for two years.  Seven schools, some with their DMOs and sports commissions, put forth bids.  Our bid in Tulsa, with the University and the Sports Commission as partners, was very unique in three ways.  One, we brought a title sponsor to the table as part of our bid.  If the tournament was played in Tulsa, the title sponsor would commit cash and other resources to support the event.  We changed the game.

Second, our title sponsor put terms in the agreement that the tournament would need to be in Tulsa for three years rather than the two that were in the RFP.  That too changed the game.

Lastly, in putting together our presentation, one member of our team asked what turned out to be a very important question, “What is the order of presentations for the seven cities, and how long does each have?”  The answer was we (Tulsa) were last of the seven cities to present and each city got an hour.  That meant the athletic directors and administrators would be in a hotel conference room ALL DAY covering the same information over and over.  We anticipated that by the time we got in there, they would be zombies.  We had to change the game for them to take notice of our bid.

When we entered the presentation area, in lieu of suits we were wearing tuxedos and tennis shoes, and the four of us that presented came in whooping and hollering and throwing Nerf basketballs all over the room.  We got their attention, we had fun with it, and we charged up the audience.  We opened our presentation by saying (essentially) “we appreciate the time you have spent in this room all day, and we want to respect that.”  We used less than half our time, hit the key points, and then had one of our community leaders ask for the sale.  He did so by saying, “I'm a volunteer, here to invite you to our city.  We are up here in these costumes which I get is odd, but we wanted to really grab your attention, knowing you have been here all day.  Costumes or not, one thing I can tell you about the people in Tulsa is that they are VERY good at what they do and this will be the biggest event in our city when you are there.  Thank you for your time, we'd love to have you in Tulsa.  I hope you can use the time we left for a well-deserved break” and we walked out. 

The WAC awarded us the tournament for three years when the RFP only had two up for bid.  At that time it was a big deal for our destination.  We changed the game, and the WAC leadership responded positively.  There are opportunities for our destinations like this to change the game every day.  Where the opportunity presents itself, let's be like Captain Kirk and create winning scenarios even when one doesn’t appear to exist.

Bowled Over

At an industry conference recently, a discussion began about the college football playoff and its impact on the various bowl games around the country.  The playoff seems to have created a culture of the haves and have nots, one that is even more pronounced than the prior system (the Bowl Championship Series or BCS).  If you are in the playoff rotation to host one of the semi-finals or the championship game every few years, you are financially secure.  If you are on the outside looking in, every year can be a struggle.

Here are some negative trends in the current bowl game system as it stands today:

·       Funding Challenges – Multiple bowl games obtained certification from the NCAA the past few years, yet didn’t actually hold their game for financial reasons.  The most notable of this group was Austin.  A soft sponsorship market for these second-tier events is likely responsible here, which has also impacted some long-standing events including the Independence Bowl in Shreveport among others.

·       No Thanks – Several high-profile players have declined to play in their team’s bowl games in order to avoid injury ahead of the NFL draft.  This list in 2016 included two first round picks in Christian McCaffrey of Stanford and LSU’s Leonard Fournette.  If the marquee players don’t play, marketing tickets to the bowl games affected can be a challenge.

·       Big Brother – There are some games that are sustainable only due to their relationship with another, larger, and more lucrative bowl.  The Fiesta Bowl and its smaller Cactus Bowl is an example of this scenario.  It’s likely that these smaller secondary games wouldn’t be possible without the backing of their more successful big brother bowl games.  In addition, ESPN owns and operates no less than 14 bowl games, many of which needs the deep pockets of Disney (who owns ESPN) to keep their doors open.  Lastly, there are several events that are wholly subsidized by a state or federal tourism office in what is in all reality a television time buy to market their destinations (see Hawaii and the Bahamas).  We don’t believe any of these scenarios will last the test of time.

·       TV – The same entity that once made bowl games popular (television) now threatens to kill them.  The in-home television experience is so good, that it rivals the live game entertainment value in the minds of many.  Put on top of that the price of tickets, parking, food and beverage, and the hassle of getting in and out of the stadium on game day, and staying home to watch the big game sounds much more appealing.

The old bowl game model is obviously broken.  The days where a local nonprofit group formed a bowl game, negotiated with two conferences on financial guarantees, worked to find a media rights partner, and sold tickets to help raise money for area charities – are likely over.  After all, any business that doesn’t evolve as the market changes around them, will parish.  However, there is some hope.

There are some rather progressive bowl game models being tested that could change the post-season landscape for college football.  These games have flipped the financial script by putting the onus on their partners more so than in the past.  Specifically, these bowls are asking the conferences to buy their spots in these games (rather than the bowl game guaranteeing the conferences dollar amounts for their participation).  In addition, there are games that have moved to streaming their contests, rather than making what is essentially a time buy on a traditional television network.  These two examples provide a titanic shift to the traditional bowl game model, and could be a market disruptor in the near term – think of what Uber did to the taxi cab business.  There are likely more model changes coming (how about tying marketing partner’s advertising fees directly to tickets they can track as being sold directly by their work, rather than just cutting them a check for “marketing”).

So you may say, “Well, we don’t run a bowl game, this doesn’t apply to us.”  To that I would reply, “Oh, but it does.”

In grass root sports, the day of bid fees and room rebates as primary revenue streams for event owners are limited – and sometime soon, will end.  More CVBs and sports commissions are creating their own events and are relying less and less on the bid game.  What does that mean for event rights holders and NGBs?  It’s likely your model needs to evolve, or you may be putting your events and organization at risk.

As our industry continues to advance itself professionally, there are more and more people that are educated and experienced to a point they can challenge the status quo.  These industry leaders don’t mind taking on an entrepreneurial endeavor in order to forgo the traditional bid-in event.  We see the industry growth in the created events area, and in the “incubating” of new events by CVBs using their local promoters.  Movement is afoot.

Bottom line.  The sports market is changing.  Our industry is evolving.  Where will you be five years from now?  Ten years?  Take a step back and look at your business today.  Can you revamp what you are doing today to be even more relevant to your stakeholders tomorrow?  Then why not start now, and avoid getting bowled over?

Culture of Dad

As many of you know, my wife Sharon and I recently adopted a baby boy.  Brock has been with us since just after his birth, and is now coming up on nine months old.  As a first-time dad, it has been interesting watching Brock evolve (he is now walking with the assistance of a toy cart).  While new parents often talk about when they learn to crawl, walk, and start making words, the most impressive part of our son’s development has nothing to do with any of those things.  It’s how he reacts to failure.

My wife set the tone early with Brock.  When he pulls himself up to his feet and subsequently has an epic crash down to earth, we don’t rush to his side to coddle him.  We actually cheer.  He knows that clapping is a good and happy thing.  Our reaction to his stumbles, falls, and tumbles are most often met by Brock with a smile.  He is looking to us for a reaction, and when we celebrate his falls with a positive response, he mirrors us and does the same.  Very seldom is there a fall accompanied by a screaming and crying baby.  Those happen sometimes sure, but they are quite rare.  Brock has taken signals from us and has made our reaction the norm for himself.  Which leads me to think, what would youth sports be like if parents and coaches took this path with their young athletes?

Some examples for your consumption…..

·       A referee misses a critical call at the buzzer, costing your daughter’s team a chance at victory.  The most common reaction is to yell at the referee about the call.  What if you said nothing?  And when it was time to console your daughter, you pointed out a few other close plays: a 50-50 ball, a missed free-throw, an untimely turnover, each of which could have ensured victory.  You might be giving her a more global perspective, and one that can serve her better when future losses come.

·       The coach of your son’s team makes a tactical error, and the opponent uses the mistake to steal victory.  Confronting the coach about your displeasure would be very common in this instance.  What if you simply shook his hand and told him it was a tough game, and that the ball will bounce his way next time.  Look at the standard we would be setting for our kids with this far more positive reaction to what they probably feel is a life-changing loss.

·       Your son has a less than stellar game, including turning the ball over in a closely contested game.  The turn over leads to the other team’s winning basket.  I’ve seen parents and coaches in this situation berate the young athlete, and ask them rhetorically “why did you do that”?  What if our reaction was a hug and a softly spoken “we will get them next time son”?

Several years ago, while playing in an international golf competition, my father came out to watch me compete.  The main goal of this event for me was to make the 36-hole cut to play in the main match play draw in the ensuing days.  My father had not seen me play much in competition, so it was kind of cool to have him out there, and of course, I wanted to play my best for him.  I needed a strong round to make the cut having played poorly on day one.  My round got off to a good start and I held it together for 17 holes.  On the 18th and final hole before the cut, I three-putted for a bogey, likely assuring that I would miss the projected cut by one shot.  When I got to the side of the green, generally dejected, my dad put his arm around me and said, “It’s okay son.  You played great.  Let’s go grab a beer.”  Later that night at dinner with the others in our traveling party, my dad told stories of almost every hole and how well I had played and how proud he was of my effort.  He never mentioned that last missed putt at the 18th hole.

My father passed away a few years ago.  I will never forget his response that afternoon (our company is in part named after him and that day).  I was really upset at myself for not closing out my round strong and achieving my goal that day.  I hope that when it’s my turn to be there when Brock fails, that I will be as strong as my father was with me, and that my young son will remember that he always had a positive role model in his corner.  Even when he falls.

So You Still Have a Blackberry

Last week we talked about creative promotion.  This week we take on the issue at the other end of the continuum – prehistoric marketing tactics.  Or as author Scott Stratten would put it, “UNmarketing.”
Those that know me know that I loved my Blackberry.  It took me years to replace it with a smart phone.  Once I did make the switch, my life got a lot more productive.  I am constantly asked by clients, family, and friends, “What took you so long?”  Which led me to think, what are our clients doing today that they know deep down isn’t working? 
Here are some things we see in the sports tourism marketing space that should get a second look…..

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The Powers of Three

Leadership is the most studied subject matter in industry.  There have been thousands upon thousands of studies conducted on the traits that “all” great leaders possess.  Of course, not every leader is cut from the same cloth, which is what most of the academic research inevitably concludes.  Even within disciplines (like rights holders, sports commissions, convention bureaus, or national governing bodies) there are numerous styles of leadership that have proven successful.
If you have worked with Huddle Up Group in the past, you will know that we build our recommendations and activation plans around what we call the “Powers of Three.”  We present our clients with three major initiatives, with no more than three action items for each initiative.  We believe that in nearly all cases, focusing on more than three deeply rooted strategies will lead to diluted efforts (and results) in too many areas.  Most often, by taking action in the three areas that need the most attention, all of the small issues disappear over time.  Limit the areas of emphasis, stay focused, and increase positive results.
Applying the Powers of Three concept to the vast subject of leadership could lead to a very diverse list of responses.  We offer our view here.  Our opinion on the three most important traits for great leadership in the sports tourism and events industry include:

1.    Collaboration – We believe that teamwork and the ability to work with others is THE single most important trait to successful leadership.  If you are reading this publication, you likely work in sports tourism and events.  Our industry is a team activity.  There is no place on earth where collaboration is more important than in sports, whether in a team game or in hosting a national championship. 

2.    Passion – If you don’t have a passion for what you are doing, try something else.  Leading anything with a lack of enthusiasm is difficult, even for the most accomplished professionals.  Most people punch the clock every day to go to jobs that they look upon as a way to make a living.  We have the opportunity every day to work in and around sport.  The mere fact that we get paid to do things others would volunteer to do is proof that we are truly blessed to work in this industry.  Bring passion to your work and make the most of every opportunity to lead. 

3.    Positivity – Okay, so “positivity” isn’t a real word, but we all know it when we see it.  Having a positive attitude towards a person’s surroundings, especially when things look dire, serves as a great example to those around us.  Who do you want to lead your organization/event/team when the chips are down?  When things get tough, do you want the person who sulks or becomes a negative influence, or do you want the person who smiles and says, “We can do this, let’s go”?  It’s a rhetorical question, but I’d suggest you choose the latter option.

Former General Electric CEO Jack Welch once said, “Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself.  When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.”  No matter where you are in life’s leadership continuum, you are either being impacted by others or mentoring someone yourself.  And it’s likely that you are doing both simultaneously.  While Welch offers great perspective, we believe we are all leaders and followers -- at the same time. 
It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking “I’m not the director (or CEO) so I don’t lead anyone.”  We all lead someone, even if that is only oneself.  So whether you subscribe to our proposed Powers of Three, or to Jack Welch, or to one of the thousands of other leadership models, one thing is certain: we have the ability to lead those around us in a very positive way.  Sometimes you may realize that you are leading others, sometimes you might not.  But we must all be cognizant that our actions speak on our behalf.  Working well with others, showing great passion, and exhibiting superior enthusiasm are but three ways to lead.  You have your own style, your own Powers of Three.  Identify them, enhance them, unleash them, lead with them.

Measuring for Success

One of the most common questions we receive from our clients or when we are speaking at industry conferences is, “What is the best way to measure our success?”  Most often, this question is posed by a CVB or sports commission and is in the context of how to measure their sales efforts.  The most common measurement criteria used is, of course, room nights.  But is that the best method we have to evaluate if we are winning or losing?
Author Seth Godin once said, “Measurement is fabulous. Unless you are busy measuring what’s easy to measure as opposed to what’s important.”  We feel room nights may be measuring what Godin says is “easy.”  Historically, room nights are the most used method, and many in the tourism space don’t really use any other measurement metrics.  That said, there are challenges with actually documenting total room nights for events, especially in the absence of a hard and fast “stay and play” policy.  You might say, “If we don’t use room nights, then how do we solve the measurement issue in order to satisfy our bosses, boards, and other stakeholders?”  We would say, "Change the benchmarks."
Here are some samples of what our clients use to measure their success – that are not room night based.....

  • Out-of-Town Registered Participants – This is one of the best numbers to use in evaluating how many people are likely actually visiting your destination.  Very few athletes travel to tournaments alone, the only question you have here is what multiplier number can you use to attach to each participant.  There is data out there and many of the event rights holders track this number at their championships.
  • Stalls Sold – This one is specific to the equine industry, as each horse (or steer or cow, etc.) generally has 3-4 people attributed to it in order to carry out their grooming, training, riding, and related show activities.  This method can often also be applied to race team type events as well as aquatic activities such as a dragon boat race.  These types of events basically have a pit crew that goes along with the star of the show, be that a horse, a boat, or a race car.
  • Out-of-Town Registered Teams – Similar to the two options above, while you may not be able to locate all the rooms picked up for an event, we don’t know of many teams that travel with just a few athletes.  Determine the average number of participants per team, survey them to identify how big their overall travel party may be, then multiply it out by the number of teams.
  • Economic Impact – If you can’t track the rooms, then track the money.  This is actually often easier to compute than chasing room nights.  Use the NASC or DMAI tool, plug in the participants and the other known data points you have, and determine a number.  The other great thing about using economic impact is that historically, you can use your total impact numbers from year to year to tell a great story to your stakeholders and to arae media (example: "This year our CVB’s sports department brought in over $12 million in direct visitor spending which took us over $100 million since our inception six years ago").

There are many ways to measure success.  Room nights are hard to track, and are a major time suck to even try to gather the data.  We suggest you have a hard conversation around how you want to evaluate your work.  Success can come in many different forms – not just room nights.

Experts Chime in on Stay and Play Programs

Our industry has debated the positive and negatives of rebates, commissions, and “Stay and Play” programs for the better part of two decades.  There is real passion behind the opinions of hosting organizations and events rights holders on the pluses and minuses of these programs. 
As this dialog seems to have no end in sight, we decided to ask some of the industry’s top professionals their thoughts on three questions relating to Stay and Play programs.  There is a lot of material here, so without further ado, here are their abstracted responses…..

Question #1 -- What are the positive outcomes from implementing a "Stay to Play" policy?

  • Room consumption can be tracked more efficiently.
  • Rebates can be validated and collected more efficiently.
  • Automated reporting for both the event organizer and the traveling parties helps with effective management of room blocks.
  • Hoteliers know ahead of time how man rooms they can count on booking.
  • Rebates help the event organizers cover tournament costs.
  • Enhanced visitor experience with the selection of quality properties that provide solid service to guests. 
  • Group (discounted) pricing.
  • A full “travel experience” can be created, laying the foundation for a great overall tournament atmosphere. 
  • Being able to move business to partner hotels is attractive to hotels especially when you don’t have performance. 
  • Gives the hotel a sense of security.
  • Limiting the number of hotels per event maximizes the value of the program.
  • Better concessions for tournament providers with larger room block commitments.

Question #2 -- What are the negatives/challenges in implementing a "Stay and Play" program? 

  • Communication of the reasoning for the policy to your teams and coaches.
  • Chasing after rebates.
  • Stay to Play can be seen as a money grab.
  • The participant must be given a compelling reason to participate.
  • Stay to Play room rates are often not the lowest rates even at the participating hotels.
  • Inflated costs to participants due to the addition of rebates and commissions.
  • Teams/families might not get to stay with a preferred hotel or brand.
  • Budget conscious people are not able to search out to find a hotel that best suits their needs.
  • Lack of enforcement of the policy can lead to a lack of trust and credibility by participants towards the hotels and event organizers.   
  • educed freedom of choices for participants.
  • Teaching your team to positively present stay to play to your clients.

Question #3 -- What advice (or alternative program ideas) can you offer to people considering a "Stay and Play" initiative?

  • Find an experienced third party to help with the program’s implementation.
  • Balance the program so the solution is mutually beneficial to the guests, hotels, and the event.
  • Modify the program to improve it from one year to the next. 
  • Don't get greedy with the rebate and concessions, to be successful the program needs to be a partnership.
  • Establish your policy, make it well known to the participants, and stand firm.  The first few years will cause some painful discussions and decisions.
  • Research as much as possible so that if you commit to a Stay and Play program, you can stay committed and not reverse directions.
  • Require that your hotel prices are the lowest obtainable to cover a team during your event.  Individuals may get a lower rate on-line, but no one should be able to take care of an entire team via that route.
  • Establish a minimum number of rooms required to be booked per team per day.  Make this number reasonable to allow for a small portion of parents or even players to book outside the block.  While this isn’t ideal, it will save a lot of situational decisions that may need to be made.
  • Establish a reward or giveaway/incentive program for teams that book inside the block (such as a prize for a team that books the most rooms, or a value add item such as a discounted entry fee or a special t-shirt for those staying in the block).  This “Loyalty Program” will prompt the teams to book in the block whenever possible.
  • For some events you may want to offer a buyout option to not use the host hotels, or offer two tournament entry fees – a higher one if the team stays outside the block, and a lower one for those confirmed inside the official block.
  • Work to create the full “travel experience”, not just another weekend tournament.  Ensure the consumer sees the value in attending your event.
  • Serve as a model partner with the hotels you are working with and the venue(s) where your event is taking place.
  • Give the participants the power of choice.  There are some organizations that use a Stay to Play model, but present it as “Stay and Save.”

We hoped you liked the summary of this lightning rod topic.  If you have any additional thoughts to add, we would love to hear them!
Our special thanks to industry leaders Judy Spring, Maggie Frantz, Tom Pingle, Matt Libber, Sean Hardy, and Mike Hill’s team at Hilton for your contributions to this article.

Super Sports Partnerships: The 5 C’s

One of our favorite books at the Huddle Up Group is Patrick Lencioni’s “Five Dysfunctions of a Team.”  Of the five issues cited by the author is a lack of commitment.  In life, in sports, or in any valuable endeavor, absence of commitment to the end goal will most certainly lead to failure.
I’ve been fortunate enough to see Mr. Lencioni speak in person on this topic.  He often times sprinkles sports stories into his presentations, and also in his books.  Knowing he has an affinity of sorts for sports (Bay Area teams mostly), the commitment dysfunction got me thinking.  What are the most important things to consider when building partnerships in the sports tourism and events industry?
With a tip of the cap to Mr. Lencioni, we offer you our “Five C’s for Superior Sports Partnerships”…..

1.      Collaboration – Any leadership theory will offer up a list of key attributes for success.  For us, collaboration is #1.  No great feat can be achieved alone.  Partnering with others is hard to teach and even harder to learn.  Collaboration is more of an art form than anything else.  Some people inherently have the gift, some don’t.  Like anything, you can work to improve a skill, however this is the toughest one to learn and to truly be great. 

2.      Commitment – As we noted earlier, without a unified pledge to the end goal by the entire team, success will be unreachable.  The keys here are knowing the destination (goal) and when to arrive there (timeline).  If everyone agrees on those two things, you can then map out a game plan to get there together.

3.      Communication – As Lencioni’s theory points out, open and honest communication within the team will generate trust, which in the end will lead to superior results.  We often times recommend that communication times (with work teams, peers, mentors, family, etc.) be regularly scheduled just like you would a staff meeting.  Block time in your outlook calendar to specifically reach out to your partners.  Don’t put it on a to do list, it will always get put off.  Block the time, and make the connection.  It’s better to make sure everyone is on the same path along the way than it is to unravel something and start over.

4.      Creativity – One of our favorite questions to ask our partners is, “What is a home run for you?”  What we mean is, once the basic goals are agreed upon, what other stretch goal or major initiative would the partner like to achieve someday.  If you have an idea of what the grandest of plans looks like, you can share that vision with your partner.  As you move along the primary project’s path, if the home run is attainable, you may be able to get creative and obtain it along the journey.  By asking the question, you can open the playbook to creative thinking to reach the larger goal, and likely secure that partner for life.

5.      Competition – In a famous gangster movie, the main character said, “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.”  This applies to your competition as well.  The more you know about what they are doing and what goals they have, the more successful you will be when you roll out your own initiatives.  One key element here is to have a good feel for how your competition will respond when you make a move.  If you were to raise your event’s entry fees, what will the competing event do with theirs?  Should your destination decide to ban paying bid fees, what will your neighboring CVB or sports commission do?

Fictional character Gordon Gekko once proclaimed, “The most valuable commodity I know of is information.”  This applies to great sports partnership as well.  Information sharing is critical to each of the Five C’s noted here.  We need information to collaborate, to set goals we can commit towards, to communicate knowledgably, to be creative, and to evaluate our competition.
Successful sports partnerships require a sharing of information to generate any level of relevant achievement.  If you can create a culture of sharing and trust, you can achieve the Five C’s, and set your organization up for sustainable long-term success.

State of Affairs

We are often asked about state tourism alliances.  Which ones work well, which ones don’t, and why.  During my tenure with the Phoenix Regional Sports Commission we had a very successful statewide group.  The Arizona Sports Alliance included the sports commission, and five CVBs from across Arizona.  We worked quite well together and accomplished a lot, due largely to the players that were involved.
As we look around the country today, it seems that for every successful state or regional sports tourism effort, there is one that isn’t working.  So we asked some of the top professionals in the industry to offer up their thoughts on the best and worst practices for sports tourism alliances.  Here is what they said…..

Best Practices:

1.      Funding – Two themes came up repeatedly on the topic of funding.  The first was the ability of state alliance members to pool their budgets and extend the reach of the limited dollars available to most DMOs.  Second, having the financial support of the state tourism office is critical.  Some state tourism offices offer matching funds for marketing, sales trips, convention booths and other sports marketing programs.  The common theme here is that the state alliances that don’t have backing from the governmental level most often struggle to sustain themselves.

2.      Information Sharing – The ability of alliance members to pass leads to one another is a critical function of successful sports tourism groups.  Should one member of the group get a lead that doesn’t fit their destination, they can pass that lead to an alliance member whose venues or organization fit the event better.  An alliance offers the opportunity to keep all leads in the state, even if it doesn’t land in the original community that came across the opportunity. 

3.      Spreading Duties – An alliance allows for different members to take on specific duties that benefit the entire group.  Instead of one person having to wear many hats, various sports marketing tasks can be shared.  One member may take on social media, one can plan the next sales trip, another can handle trade show planning, and one could lead the creation of the next collateral piece.  We all have enough on our plate, sharing the work load can help us be more effective over time.

Worst Practices: 

1.      Disconnect – Successful alliances need to be on the same page with their state tourism offices.  In cases where the state tourism office isn’t in harmony with the members of the alliance, successful sports marketing is nearly impossible.  This would include cases where the state tourism office’s funding programs don’t support the sales and marketing efforts of the alliance.  For instance, in the early days of the Arizona Sports Alliance, the state tourism office didn’t pay for outbound sales trips, but would fund inbound FAMs.  It took a few years, but we eventually convinced them to modify their policies to allow for us to sell the state in a way that better fit the sports market (through outbound sales missions to Colorado Springs and Indianapolis).

2.      Repetition – Don’t get stuck doing the same thing year after year.  The best state alliances change their marketing tactics, alternate the people in leadership roles, and continue to evolve over time.  To be successful, refine the game plan, double down on what works, and eliminate what doesn’t.

3.      Trade Shows – Shared trade show booths are common for state alliances, however, they often create significant challenges.  If there are too many destinations trying to bide for attention of the event rights holders, the booth experience for the event decision makers can be overwhelming.  Also, if one alliance member wants to sell their destination beyond everyone else and compete with other members within the booth, rights holders can become confused and frustrated.  As one of our experts offered, “No one destination is bigger than the collective TEAM.”

We hope these examples help with your statewide partnerships in the future.  Our thanks to Ben Wilder, William Knox, Terry Hasseltine, and others who shared their thoughts on this critical topic.  Look for the Huddle Up Group at DMAI and Connect Sports.  We look forward to crossing paths with all of our friends and partners soon.

Special Advisory

In our consulting work with CVBs and sports commissions we are often asked about the use of advisory boards.  More specifically, our team is commonly tasked with restructuring an existing advisory group that isn’t adding a lot of value to the primary organization.  Underutilized advisory boards are so common, that we offer below some best practices in getting the most out of these volunteer groups.  Here are the three most common issues that we find in underperforming advisory boards, and how to handle them…..

1.      Lack of a Defined Role – The initial intent of advisory boards is often to engage a segment of the community to assist in your organization’s sports tourism or event efforts.  However, if the volunteers that are recruited to support your efforts are not given a specific task and the means/support to achieve their goals, they often become inefficient, and in most cases, dormant.  If you have an advisory board and their meetings have tuned into reporting sessions from staff to the board, it’s likely that your advisory group doesn’t know how they can add value.  When revamping or creating an advisory board, be very specific as to what you are asking of them.  Keep it simple so they can easily remember and communicate to others what their roles are on the organization’s behalf.  We recommend limiting the advisory board’s roles to no more than three focus areas.  Examples could be: (1) fundraising, (2) community promotion, and (3) gaining support from area elected officials.  The simpler their role, the more likely the advisory board members can deliver the goods.

2.      Insufficient Support – Even if the advisory board has defined goals, the group will also need resources to achieve its mission.  This likely would include staff support to follow through on leads or to provide timely information where needed.  It could also include financial resources to purchase assets or invest in a new program or concept.  Similar to a sponsorship where you want to allow for funds to activate the sponsorship itself, you have to budget resources to be available to the advisory board to spark their work.  We recommend that when you budget time and funds for advisory board meetings (such as a quarterly lunch), also be sure to budget an additional amount to use when the board opens the door to a key opportunity for your organization.

3.      Lack of Consistency in Communication – In nearly every case where we find a disjointed advisory board, the lines of communication between the CVB/sports commission and the advisory group have been broken.  That is, there are not routine and regularly scheduled platforms for communication in place such as a quarterly meeting, or a monthly e-mail update.  It is critical to have a regularly scheduled outreach program with your key volunteers.  Without one, they will likely spend their time and resources elsewhere.  Further, where solid communication practices are in place, be sure to use those touch points to point out what success looks like for the advisory group.  As an example, if the advisory board’s primary goal is to generate new sponsorships, you could use your quarterly lunch meeting to thank an advisory board member for landing a new $5,000 partnership from the XYZ Corporation.  The more they can see what success looks like, the more likely they are to effectively support your organization.

These three issues are the most prevalent we encounter when dealing with existing advisory boards.  They are also the three things you should avoid when creating a new advisory group in the future.  Give them a specific task, support their work, and regularly communicate what success looks like.  Do these things and our advisory board members will become staunch advocates for the work of you and your organization in the future.

Consistent Change

We were recently invited to Virginia Beach to deliver a one-hour keynote speech on the national sports tourism landscape.  Our audience was made up of largely hospitality industry representatives from the region, along with several elected officials, area attractions, and sports organization leaders. The presentation included the top ten trends we see in the marketplace today, as well as several “worst practices” relating to destination marketing in sports tourism.  Finally, we talked about the primary characteristics destinations can emphasize in order to deliver superior customer service to sports groups.

The session was very interactive, including a lengthy question and answer period.  The most lively portion of the back and forth between speaker and audience was about the future of their destination.  What areas did we feel they could exploit in the future?  What sports would be hot commodities in the coming years?  Our answer was simple, but also complicated.....The only constant in the sports tourism and events world today is – CHANGE.

Sports organizations, whether a host community, rights holder, or a National Governing Body, need to be on the lookout for opportunities that today may not exist.  The sports market we know today will be different tomorrow.  How different?  It’s hard for anyone to predict the future, however here are some examples of things that have changed in our industry over the past ten years:

  • If you correctly predicted that Quidditch would become an actual sport, complete with an international and national governing body, go to the head of the class.  Founded in 2010, US Quidditch has over 4,000 members and conducts a nine event national tournament series.  Thanks Harry Potter!
  • E-gaming is exploding across the world.  Major brands such as Turner Broadcasting are investing hundreds of millions of dollars into this emerging market.  Is it a game or a sport you ask?  ESPN is dedicating time on its various platforms to cover E-sports, including broadcasting live tournament play.
  • There are over a dozen specialty runs or dashes that didn’t exist seven years ago (Color Run, Diva Dash, Color Vibe, etc.).  Founded in 2012, Color Vibe conducts over 300 races per year totaling more than 1,000,000 participants since its inception.  In the hyper competitive culture that we live in today, when did untimed social races become so popular?
  • In addition to the more social running events, an entire industry of obstacle course races has emerged since 2005 (Warrior Dash, Spartan Race, Mud Run et al).  In 2014, Shark Tank investor Mark Cuban purchased 25% of the Rugged Maniac Race Series for $1.75 million, giving the franchise a $7 million valuation.  Not bad for a company that was only founded four years prior.
  • One of our past clients hosts the US National Kubb Championships each year.  The 2016 edition is nearly sold out with 128 teams competing from all around the globe.  Never heard of it? Check out www.usakubb.org.
  • USA Pickleball is a member of the Association of Chief Executives of Sport (ACES), which is largely made up of Olympic and Pan American member sports.  Pickleball is also one of the fastest growing sports in the country.  USA Pickleball’s membership has more than quadrupled in the past three years.  Could we one day see Pickleball players going for the Gold?

Add to these examples more emerging sports like cornhole, longboarding, dragon boat racing, and ultimate and the point is easily made – the only guarantee for the future is continual change.  So what does this mean for us as sports industry leaders? We recommend three tactics for dealing with change:

1.      Talk about it.  All the time.  Make time for discussing change on meeting agendas.  Ask people for their independent viewpoint on the work of your organization.  That crazy guy in accounting may have an interesting thought to share, we just need to ask.

2.      Engage outsiders.  Just like cross training in different sports, bring people to the table that are from other (non-sports) disciplines than yours.  They will have a unique perspective on the world, and most likely on your business as well.

3.      Put someone in charge.  When a new concept comes to light, we must empower change agents to follow through on them.  That means giving them the time and budget to make something great happen.

Author, speaker, and leadership expert John C. Maxwell once said, “Change is inevitable.  Growth is optional.”  So how will you handle change?  Wait for it, or create it?

Pass You By

Those that know me know that I’m not a coffee drinker.  My morning routine usually starts with a trip to the gym, followed by a diet Dr. Pepper to fulfill my morning caffeine craving (fountain only of course).  Recently, my routine was altered with a few morning calls along with a late lunch meeting in Scottsdale.  My routine was slightly altered, which leads us to today’s Huddle Up topic.

The unusual call and lunch schedule put my normal stopping place for my diet soda out of the way.  With that in mind, I had to sort out where I would stop for my diet DP.  Since I prefer the fountain, and taking into account that diet DP isn’t a staple fountain soda for many places, I’ve learned what convenience stores in our area have it and which ones do not.  In calculating the route from our home office to my lunch meeting, I determined that there were three places that I could stop and grab my beverage of choice.  There were two Circle K stores and one Quick Trip along my route.  Which one to choose?  That was easy…..

Of the three options, the place I stopped was the furthest away from my starting point.  To get to the Circle K I chose, I would pass another (newer) Circle K as well as a Quick Trip (as many people know, I am a huge Quick Trip fan).  So why did I pass by my favorite store and also the Circle K that is newer and closer than the one I ended up visiting?  The store I chose has Gary.

Gary is the guy that runs the counter at the Circle K on Indian School Road in Scottsdale.  I’ve stopped into that location well over a dozen times and Gary seems to always be there.  What is great about Gary is that he is full of energy, always upbeat, and he welcomes every customer like they were a regular.  I passed by two other stores, one that was part of the same company, just to see if Gary was there.  More so, to see if I could tap into Gary’s energy and to honestly, enjoy getting my fountain drink and have a positive experience that would carry over to the rest of my day.  As usual, Gary was there, greeted me at the register like we were long lost friends, and he made a rather mundane transaction enjoyable.

This leads us to the big idea for this week.  Would your customers pass by your competitors to get to you, even when the other choices may be easier and more convenient?  Think about the culture Gary has created.  Generally speaking, convenience stores are not a desirable place to be.  Due to timing, they are often a necessity.  Most often, not only do the customers (you) not want to be there, neither do the people working in the store.  So how does a convenience store break through the clutter?  Find a Gary and put them out front, ASAP.

There are many ways to become a Gary.  Exemplary customer service, an engaging and energetic personality, or a kind and humble demeanor.  Any way you get there, you can levy a positive environment for your clients that turns a rudimentary transaction into a desirable one.

So that said, let’s revisit the question.  Would your potential customers pass by your opposition to get to you?  If so, awesome!  If not, what can we do as leaders to make it so, and become a Gary?