Picture this. You're sitting down for the big game after a long day at the office. Beer and hot wings in hand, you turn on the TV to cheer on your favorite team as they file out onto the court. Even on your flatscreen, the players look like ants, leaving you longing for a seat in the crowd instead. That’s when it hits you — where is this game being played, and more importantly, why couldn't it be in your destination so you could be front and center?
You’re probably not the only destination marketing organization (DMO) or convention and visitors bureau (CVB) employee that has thought this. With sports tourism continuously rising in popularity, it's time to start focusing on how your destination can draw in the big games.
We heard about one destination that has built a reputation as a hub for all things sports, so we decided to pick the brains of two staff members from Lincoln Convention and Visitors Bureau. Derek Bombeck, sales development manager of sports markets, and Derek Feyerherm, senior director of sales and operations, coached us on how the CVB became a champion of sports tourism.
Since we’re talking sports, let's start off with a statistic: on a given year, 70% of hotel rooms booked through the Lincoln CVB in Lincoln, Nebraska, are related to the sports market. “While we are definitely a meetings destination, sports really is our bread and butter,” said Feyerherm. He also pointed out that youth sports are just as important, if not more important, than the professional sporting events the destination brings in.
Here’s the full list of sports that Lincoln CVB accommodates:
If You Build It, They Will Come
So you might be thinking, “Why Lincoln?” Well, in addition to Lincoln, Nebraska, being located in the middle of the United States — easily accessibly by train, plane, or car — the destination also has a plethora of sporting event facilities available for booking. The Lincoln CVB website has a “Sports Facilities” section, where fans, visitors, and meeting and event planners can learn more about the spaces available for local and out-of-town tournaments.
The CVB provides a “Sports Planning Guide” to help those looking to hold a game or tournament navigate through the many options for venues. This will be especially helpful as the destination adds additional venues in the near future.
“As a destination, we knew we had great facilities. We have a long history of going out and identifying the people and events we want to bring in to help with community vitality and our economic development,” said Bombeck. “We’ve created so much interest in our community as a sports destination that now we have to identify where we need to build in the future to continue to support the events — like more baseball and softball fields and a convention center that could accommodate larger indoor sports.”
Nothing But Networking
The team at Lincoln CVB says they are not the real MVP — the relationships they have built with people in sports tourism have been the real kicker (pun intended).
“Relationship building is the primary focus of the industry,” said Bombeck. “Get to know your local basketball, volleyball, baseball, and softball clubs. Find out what venues you currently have that would be beneficial to host a state or regional event. From there, you just start networking, making the connections, finding out what RFPs are out there, and filling any gaps you may have in order to host more sporting events.”
Working with local sports teams, the CVB utilizes relationships to foster next-level tournaments. These connections bring in outside events that Lincoln CVB might not have been able to get if it wasn't for the relationships built on a local level. The events bring travelers to Lincoln, many for the first time, potentially inspiring them to come back for more.
Bombeck also pointed out that when you bring your event to Lincoln, you become the sole focus of all the community’s volunteers, media, and support. The community benefits from name and brand recognition, so locals fully support the sports scene. “Every time you see the court, the mat, or the arena advertisements on national television, you're seeing the word ‘Lincoln’ and our logo. All of those impressions are media you just can't pay for,” said Bombeck.
When asked for advice for other DMOs or CVBs looking to score big in sports tourism, Bombeck reiterated the importance of networking and creating additional partnerships that are mutually beneficial. Lincoln CVB has cultivated the following partnerships:
- Sports Nebraska — a collective effort on a state-wide level where partners work together to promote Nebraska as a destination for sports
- The Cities of the Big Ten — a network of Lincoln CVB’s counterparts across the Midwest and East Coast that bounce ideas off each other and share leads
So what’s next for Lincoln CVB? Recognizing the emerging trend of esports, Lincoln hosted their first esporting event last summer at Pinnacle Bank Arena.