Guest Blog Post – The Sport of Branding For Economic Bounce

Guest Post - Michael Scott, editor of UrbanWebcity

Wine festivals, food and music events and marathons for amateur and professional runners are among the strategies traditionally employed by cities to brand themselves and boost civic vitality. But with the economic downturn continuing to impact job availability, real estate values, and local government tax revenues, economic development officials in cities across the nation are seeking a fresh portfolio of tools to jump-start their local and regional economies.

Enter the burgeoning field of youth basketball tourism, a recession-free industry that has a floor but no ceiling. According to the National Association of Sports Commissions, over 53 million traveling athletes participate in youth sporting events annually with an approximate annual economic impact of $7 billion.

Employed strategically, this form of sports tourism can result in a much-needed spending infusion for areas still in the throes of economic recovery. The benefits include hotel room sales, food and beverage purchases, event admission fees, and overall foot traffic and spending for a local business community.

Memphis, Tennessee offers a great case example of a city that has successfully capitalized on the recession-proof sports tourism market. During the 2013 Memorial Day weekend, 125 basketball teams engaged in a series of tournament games on six courts at the Memphis Convention Center. Due to its overwhelming success, planning is already underway for an expanded Memphis tournament in 2014, as well as in Virginia Beach, Atlanta and Little Rock.

Eric Perry oversees the Memphis-based Junior Sports Association, a national organization that organizes and promotes youth basketball. Perry knows firsthand the benefits that sports tourism can provide to a local economy; his association operated the highly successful Memphis tournament. “It is well documented that this event brings a big economic boost to the area,” says Perry. “Not only were all of the hotels in downtown Memphis sold out, but area restaurants and shopping venues received a significant amount of traffic as well.”

A major catalyst for Memphis in boosting its youth basketball presence was its new convention center, which hosted the event. Perry saw this as the perfect meeting place for participating teams traveling from regional areas. “Having all of the events under one roof as opposed to scattered throughout the state and region is advantageous.”

The basketball tourism movement continues to receive expanded awareness nationally as a tool for economic vitality. It’s rooted in a concept called “grassroots basketball,” – a niche focused on high school and middle school aged kids that compete on a regular basis at an accelerated level. Colleges and universities of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) are recruiting many of these athletes. Sports tourism often offers the first opportunity for these youths to move from community to college level play.

In 2011, the NCAA board of directors issued a ruling prohibiting sanctioned events such as basketball tournaments from taking place on Division I university campuses. The board argued that host campuses received somewhat of an unfair advantage in the recruitment of the prospective college athletes participating in the tournaments. Sensing the opportunity to capitalize on this shift in policy, tournament operators began to seek out alternative venues such as convention centers and recreation facilities to hold sports tourism events. Moreover, cities and regions began to recognize the immense potential of these events in driving consumer spending to their areas.

Jonathan Miller, President of the Colorado-based PlayNStay, a company specializing in portable sports flooring and tournament hosting solutions, says that this NCAA edict has given rise to a whole new paradigm related to sports tourism. “Tournament operators have now shifted to the use of portable courts in places like convention centers to replace the traditional arena settings that have been used for years on college campuses,” says Miller. “In turn, city leaders across the nation are now recognizing that this new sports tourism model can be immensely advantageous in terms of driving economic activity to their local economy.”

The magic behind these events are the portable courts, most notably the playing surfaces, all of which have evolved over time. This flooring is put down on a temporary basis in convention centers and other locales using the formula of one court for every 5,000 square feet of space.

To save costs, citizens and youth from host city communities are often asked to assist in installing the temporary flooring. They use materials that snap together like puzzle pieces, making the floors relatively simple to assemble and disassemble. In turn, these groups often receive money back from the tournament operator as a donation to their community or non-profit organization.

Miller cites Washington, D.C. as just one example of how this model can serve as an additional engine of economic spark for an area. This past July, D.C. hosted the U.S. Junior Nationals / Nike Girls Basketball tournament at the Walter Washington Convention Center. Known as one of the premier sports event organizations in the United States, USJN operates grade-based, team-oriented boys and girls basketball tournaments and events from grades 5 through 12. Thirty-five courts were used for the tournament, which attracted thousands over the course of the three day competition. The economic impact: thousands of hotel rooms were booked in D.C., Maryland and Virginia. These visitors created robust business for local restaurants, coffee houses, and retailers.

Chicago and Raleigh are two other cities that hosted similar tournaments this year, resulting in local revenues numbering in the millions of dollars. “What’s nice is that Convention and Visitors Bureaus in the cities where these events are held are often able to document the economic activity ensuing from the tournaments. This can go a long way towards justifying these events year after year,” says Miller.

In these cities, local businesses and retailers can help direct traffic to their locations through sponsorship opportunities. This allows businesses the opportunity to have their logos prominently displayed on the courts as well as through adjoining signage. “For many business owners, these types of promotional opportunities are too good to pass up,” says Miller.

One of the main advantages of this new tournament model is that all of the games are now held under one roof. This represents a huge win for all of the stakeholders involved. For parents, it’s often the convenience of having the event location within walking distance from their hotel. There are also the coaches who can now manage their expenses by not having to hop from venue to venue across distances to see the various athletes they are hoping to recruit. It also provides participating players with a single venue for showcasing their skills in the hopes of yielding a college scholarship.

Despite all of these benefits, the biggest gain may be the influx of spending tourists that stimulate local economies. Michael White, President of All-Star Girls Report, believes that effectively branded tournaments will continue to be a driver of economic activity to cities amid the economic rebound. His Deep South Classic has been held annually in Raleigh, North Carolina since 1999, and features over 500 college coaches in attendance and over 270 youth teams from 30 states. This attracts over 9,000 people to the area annually with an untold uptick in the local economy. Says White, “there is no doubt that the NCAA ruling prohibiting sanctioned events on college campuses will continue to represent a great branding opportunity for cities and regions that capitalize on these tournaments.”

Michael Scott is the editor of UrbanWebcity, an online community that examines the intersection between people and the urban environments in which they live and frequent. He can be reached at urbanwebcity.com.

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  1. […] “Wine festivals, food and music events and marathons for amateur and professional runners are among the strategies traditionally employed by cities to brand themselves and boost civic vitality. But with the economic downturn continuing to …”  […]

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