Big Picture

This past mid-term election two of our community partners had initiatives on the ballot that would significantly alter the trajectory of their destinations into the future.  While one of these measures passed and one failed, there were takeaways from each campaign.  As we are often asked for our thoughts on how to identify long-term funding sources for our clients, we thought the lessons learned from last Tuesday would be helpful to our readership.  Here are our thoughts on how to shape the “big picture” in your communities, using the two examples noted above…..
The first initiative was a bed tax increase in Grand Junction, Colorado that would fund the sports commission there, increase the CVB’s marketing budget, and help the airport authority expand direct flight service to additional destinations.  Several years ago, our team helped the Greater Grand Junction Sports Commission to identify a potential funding source to help grow and sustain their young organization.  Through a discussion with the leadership of the Sports Commission and their partners, a bed tax increase was determined to be the best and most viable pathway to pursue. 
Politics is often at the core of any funding mechanism.  In the case of Grand Junction, there were several conversations taking place throughout town that were centered around a need for additional funding.  It was determined that the best plan for the community as a whole was to partner on a three-fold attack (sports, tourism, and air lift).  Aligning these community focused entities would give voters three different elements to latch onto, and would offer a much wider support base than simply running a referendum for only tourism (or only sports, or only the airport).  The endorsement of the sports, business, and hospitality communities allowed for the measure to generate positive buzz leading up to the vote.  The result?  Good guys 55%, naysayers 45%. 
Grand Junction’s Sports Commission was already on a solid pathway to success.  The passing of this measure and the funding source it will provide will only strengthen the organization’s ability to positively impact the community, all while helping two of their valued partners to garner additional resources that they would be unlikely to secure on their own.  In this case, a rising tide raised all boats.
In the second case, an initiative branded “Mesa Plays” was put forth by Visit Mesa and its stakeholders.  Our team worked with some of the nation’s top event rights holders to help craft what the facility would look like, and ultimately what economic impact a new “mega” complex in Mesa would generate for the community.  It was a long process, covering more than four years of work and a significant investment in political capital by the leaders of Visit Mesa.
In the end the measure failed, in our opinion due largely to two elements: (1) the ballot itself had three separate elements that all had to tally a majority of “yes” votes for the initiative to pass, and (2) there was really only one partner out front on the issue, Visit Mesa.  Unlike the example in Grand Junction, Visit Mesa was on its own for the most part.  Beyond some support from the Mesa Parks and Recreation Department, there really weren’t multiple stakeholder groups taking a leadership position on the project. 
Make no mistake, both of these projects were sorely needed to advance sports tourism and economic development for their communities.  Having worked on both of them, obviously we are biased in this opinion.  Looking back, what can we learn from these two projects?  Here are three best practice takeaways for you should your organization engage in a similar process in the future…..

  1. Collaboration is King – Engage as many strategic partners as you can along the journey.  The more like minded organizations you can tie to your vision, the better chance you have to get things done.

  2. Keep It Simple – While it was out of the hands of Visit Mesa, the ballot and its three separate questions was a major negative in getting their project to the finish line.  If you can have an influence on how these types of things are presented, keep it simple.  If it were one ballot question, we believe the Mesa Plays project would have passed.

  3. G.B.O.S.H. – To steal an acronym from our golf friend Andy Hilts, “Go Big Or Stay Home” (aka G.B.O.S.H.).  These projects were game changers for their respective communities.  If you don’t have the stamina to think big and put your neck out there, then you may as well stay out of the game.  Marc Garcia in Mesa and Jennifer Stoll and her leaders in Grand Junction put all their chips in the middle of the table to try and enrich their communities through sport for the long haul.  They are great ambassadors for their communities, win or lose.

At the end of the day, Grand Junction will grow their sports tourism efforts and Mesa will go back to the drawing board.  In both cases their leaders looked at the big picture and engaged their community stakeholders in dialog about the future.  As leaders in the sports tourism industry we all owe our constituents the same consideration – what can we do together that is bigger than just us?
Congratulations to Jennifer and Marc for all their efforts.  One thing I know for sure, that win or lose, these two won’t stop pursuing great things for their organizations and for their communities.  There is more to come from both of these leaders.  They set a great example for all of us out in the trenches.  Think big picture and enrich our communities for generations to come.