Over the past 11 years, our team at the Huddle Up Group has worked with over 350 destinations across the United States. Most often we are tasked with developing a long-range strategic plan to attract more visitors to a community through sports. This is most often done through hosting competitions and tournaments at the amateur level, which requires a large amount of attention and analysis of the area’s sports venues. Facilities are key to attracting and retaining top-tier events that drive economic impact and overnight hotel stays to a destination.
As we evaluate facilities, we have to take into account several factors in what the existing assets can do for sports tourism. Does the tourism bureau or sports commission have access to book events into the current facilities? From a regional and national standpoint, are the existing facilities tournament ready today? If we were to enhance an existing venue asset (or develop an entirely new one), what attributes are necessary to make the facility of tournament quality? Is there a sustainable funding source in place, or available, to pay for facility upgrades and/or new developments? That last one we will come back to in a moment.
This evaluation and benchmarking process requires a lot of data crunching, competitive set analysis, and a look at what events are out there that would fit a tournament ready facility in a specific community. It’s a bit of science and research along with some visioning work to land on the right venue mix that would deliver the best return on investment for the destination. Even with the greatest game plan and intent, it’s the funding element noted above that often derails the train. But there is hope…..
In our experience, no matter how large or small the destination, the ones that get facility projects to the finish line are those that have a unified voice between tourism and community use. The communities where economic development (tourism) and parks and recreation (community user groups) can “lock arms” together most often find success. Yes, we are a tourism focused company and that is the lens that we look through in leading these facility projects. However, if we are to be successful, we can’t lose sight of the fact that with new or enhanced venues, our kids will get a better place to play too.
From a political will standpoint, it is rare for one entity to be able to generate the amount of support they need all by themselves. That is, tourism entities find it hard to drive facility development without including local user groups and sports clubs. Similarly, these local sporting groups will find it hard to garner the support they need to push these venue initiatives forward without additional political capital from other agencies (such as tourism or economic development). Those that can lock arms and have a unified voice have a much better chance to be successful than those that forge ahead in silos.
Engage the community in the process. Build relationship bridges with as many like minded entities as possible. Lock arms to find a collective pathway to success. By intentionally employing these tactics, victory lies ahead, facilities or otherwise.