SPorts destination organizational structure

Executive Summary

There has never been more competition in the sports tourism industry than there is today.  There are more destinations active in bidding to host events than at any time in our country’s history.  Today, there are over 550 destinations that are active members of the National Association of ports Commissions.  The growth in competition is almost exclusively in the form of small and mid-market CVBs that have entered the market over the past decade.  This growth of host destinations give the event rights holders more choices, and more leverage, when they make buying decisions on where they place their events.  Add to this the growing trend of communities using tourism generated tax dollars to build bricks and mortar facilities to attract more events; it is obvious that the arms race is at an all time high in our industry.

To effectively compete in the sports tourism market, Sports Destination Organizations (SDO) have to build well thought out and sustainable organizations to serve as the foundation to attract and/or create events that drive economic development to their communities.  Successful sports tourism destinations take on many forms.  The key question for today is this:

“What business model will serve the community best in continuing to attract and host tourism driving sporting events in the future?”

There is no one size fits all model that will guarantee success in the sports tourism market.  What works on one community may not work in another.  Further, what model serves well an SDO today may not be the right model tomorrow.  The most successful model will be one that embraces the DNA of the community and takes into account the positive assets that are present there.

On the following pages our team at the Huddle Up Group (the “Consultants” or “Consultant Team”) has benchmarked the best sports tourism destinations in the country across the three more common structure types:

  • Stand Alone Sports Commissions

  • “Dotted Line” Sports Commissions

  • “Blended” Sports Commissions 

Please note that we use the term “Sports Commission” generically to represent the sports tourism effort for a destination.  That is, for the purpose of simplicity within this document, even if the sports tourism entity that is marketing a community is a DMO, CVB, or government agency, we use the term “Sports Commission” interchangeably when talking about these different business models.


The Consultant Team’s process included, but was not limited to, the following:

  • Conducted stakeholder interviews by phone or in person with groups that represent the models listed previously.

Anatomy of a Sports Commission

The modern sports tourism industry has had a positive impact on numerous communities across the United States.  In almost every case, the sports tourism effort (be it through a sports commission, CVB, DMO, or government entity) has a uniqueness to it that works well in their community.  While no one structure can be successful in all situations, there are some commonalities among the highest performing sports commissions, no matter what model they implement.

The Consultant Team analyzed a dozen of the highest preforming SDOs in the country.  Each was individually interviewed through a senior level executive either in person or by phone, with times ranging in length from 30 minutes to two hours.  The Consultant Team posed questions that lent an emphasis to the following areas:

  • Organizational Incorporation

  • Board Structure

  • Event Portfolio

  • Organizational Challenges

  • Suggested Organizational Changes

  • Funding Models

  • Staff Sizes (Full-time and part-time)

  • Marketing Allocations

  • Largest Organizational Expenses

Sports Destination Organizational Structure Report

In order to be able to compare “like” organizational structures to then offer commonalities in best practices, the Consultant Team classified each community interviewed into one of the three most common models used in the sports tourism industry today:

  • Category #1– “Stand Alone” Sports Commissions

 These sports organizations are completely autonomous from any other organization.  They are not part of (nor managed by) the local CVB, the city, county, chamber of commerce, or any other entity.

  • Category #2 – “Dotted Line” Sports Commissions

These sports organizations operate autonomously, however the local DMO/CVB is a large funder and has major strategic influence on the organization.

  • Category #3 – “Fully Blended” Sports Commissions

 These sports organizations are completely owned and managed by the DMO/CVB or sit within a government agency, which provide the organization funding and oversight.

In order to protect confidential information, some generalizations on the interview responses have been made in the following benchmarking summaries.

Learn More


In any market the opportunity to continue to grow sports tourism exists.  However, there are more communities targeting the sports market than ever before.  In order for a destination to grow its relevancy in this niche market, the main Sports Destination Organization must deploy a structure that would allow it to build bridges with key players locally in order to pave the way for a broader community impact in the future.  Concurrently, the SDO must maintain or develop regional/national partnerships based on the resources they have in their area.  By forging this path, the SDO will position itself as a strong player in the sports tourism industry. This will be able to provide value to its stakeholders in a meaningful way year over year.