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