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?