SEP 2017

ConventionSouth magazine is the leading resource for meeting planners who book all types of events, conventions, conferences and group travel in the south.

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S E P T E M B E R 2 0 1 7 ⎜ ConventionSouth ⎜ w w w . c o n v e n t i o n s o u t h . c o m 31 The opportunity is not lost on destinations across the South. Many, such as Birmingham, Ala., and Winston-Salem, N.C., have long aligned their strategies to focus on the sports market, while other cities are ramping up efforts to appeal to and attract more sports groups. "We've been in this market a long time," said David Galbaugh, vice president of sports sales and marketing with the Greater Birming- ham Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB). "It's really been one of the key strategies to drive Birmingham in terms of tourism and des- tination marketing." Galbaugh credits a whopping 50 percent of the destination's event business to sports, covering everything from youth and collegiate sports to professional teams. And with wins such as the 2017 Senior Games, the 2018 Women's Open Championship and the World Games 2021, the destination is realizing no- table return on investment. Attracting 25,000 athletes and spectators over 14 days, the 2017 Senior Games alone generated a $35 million economic impact. Winston-Salem also has deep roots in the sports market, according to Christian Schro- eder, director of sales and services with Visit Winston-Salem: "It's a big part of our commu- nity for a number of reasons: we have some great facilities in the area and there's a true passion for sports throughout the community." Bonny Bernat, CSEE, Visit Winston-Sa- lem's senior sports and events sales manager, added that the region has benefitted from the community's passion for sports through private infrastructure investments for state-of-the-art facilities. "One thing that sets us apart from other destinations is that we have a wealth of resources backing sports in our region," she said. "The people here see the big picture." And that community support is paying off, as the city has landed some big events, including the 2018 NCAA Tennis Champion- ships. "In the case of tennis, we annually host the Winston-Salem Open that brings in over 35,000 spectators," Schroeder said. "Because we hosted that every year the last several years, it provided us the ability to build our sports resume, which led to our winning the 2018 NCAA Tennis Championships." Smaller Destinations Find Their Niche Destinations of all sizes are discovering their niches in the sports market and many event plan- ners find that Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities are a good fit for their needs, noted Bob Schuster, HTS, MMP, national director of meetings and events with CMP Meeting Services. "First-tier cities from a pricing standpoint gets a little tricky. And then the compression in these first-tier cities with other kinds of business can lend itself to a destination having less interest in the sports business unless it fits into a shoulder or a down time," he said. For these reasons and more, smaller destina- tions are investing in infrastructure and pulling out all the stops to attract groups. It's why Scott Mobley, baseball state director with the United States Specialty Sports Association, has held six Global World Series events in the Alabama Gulf Coast region, encompassing the cities of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. "The staff of the Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Sports Commission and the cities of Gulf Shores, Orange Beach and Foley have gone above and beyond for years, which has helped our Globals increase in par- ticipation," he said. Specifically, the sports com- mission holds a coach's meeting for each World Series event, hosts opening ceremonies at various lo- cations and even a Mom's meeting for softball to get area information to all the parents. "It's a long six weeks each summer, and the cities and their staff are with us from the beginning to the end," Mobley said. This kind of hands-on involvement is reflec- tive of the demands sports events can bring to a destination. Galbaugh pointed out that "one size does not fit all" when it comes to sports and destinations must be prepared to dig deep to address needs. "Depending on the sport, you could be talking about huge spectator events or small youth events," he said. "They are all very different and you have to treat them as such. At the same time, you want to make sure you are specific to what they need and find a facility that works best for them." Finding the right fit from both city and facility perspectives is key to pulling off the right ► MARKET SEGMENT REPORT: SPORTS EVENTS & COMPETITIONS Visit Winston-Salem annually hosts the Winston-Salem Open that brings in over 35,000 spectators. Winston-Salem Cycling Classic Fred Mallone/CameraworkUSAinc.

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