Dean Barber

Game On

In Corporate Site Selection and Economic Development on June 30, 2014 at 12:37 pm

Some years ago, I attended a professional soccer match in Germany.  It was a daunting affair, as I remembered that as I was walking to the stadium, I could hear an almost hysterical voice over a loudspeaker and an accompanying roaring chorus of massed voices.

Hearing that in German was a bit unsettling, as if I were about to enter the belly of the beast.

Once inside, it got crazier still. On the opposite side of the stadium from where I stood for the entire game (no one sat), worked-up fans shouted in unison and waved banners representing their team from some German city. My side waved their own flags just as vigorously and screamed their lungs out to show support for their team.

I have never been to an SEC football game that had as much electricity in the stadium as that event in Germany. And again, hearing it in German, a language I don’t understand, brought forth images of Nuremberg rallies of a very dark age.

The Passion

But these were just football (soccer) fans, albeit fans with a lot of passion. And that is what sports does – create passion.

It’s because of that passion, I will leap to my feet in front of a television from the confines of my home and shout like a possessed soul when my beloved University of Alabama Crimson Tide and/or the Pittsburgh Steelers score a touchdown. During such moments, my wife views me as a demented person needing professional help.

I’m convinced that were it not for that passion, Jerry Jones would not have built a $1 billion stadium in Arlington, Texas, the home field of the Dallas Cowboys. Were it not for the passion created by the game, the Cowboys would not exist, nor would the Texas Rangers be housed in nearby Rangers Ballpark.

Indeed neither team would even exist (nor would any team) were it not for the passion created by the game. 

I started thinking about the psychology created by sports while watching the World Cup on television. Soccer is currently my summer thing, as I am not sure I will be watching it much after the World Cup. But it has a hold on me now, and as it is being shown in many bars and restaurants across the United States, it must have hold on other people, too.

While watching, I’ve noticed that when the camera pans to the crowds in the stadiums, you see delirious people who have probably spent a goodly sum of money to be there. And they have come from all over the world.

That got me thinking about the economic development. Where there is passion, there is often money or commerce that comes with it. And it’s not just major league cities that can capture the magic and the bucks.

I’m going to tell you about three communities – Jackson, Tenn.; Joplin, Mo., and Sioux Falls, S.D. — where I have seen how sports has been leveraged into an aspect of economic development.

Jackson

I do not hold it against Kyle Spurgeon, president of Jackson Chamber, that he mailed a baseball bat to me, which potentially added to my wife’s already considerable arsenal of weapons that could be used against me. (To be fair, she has never turned a hand against me, but knowing that she has the tools at her disposal is a bit unnerving.)

The West Tennessee Healthcare Sportsplex is a baseball and softball facility encompasses 70 acres adjacent to the Jackson Generals Ballpark, home of Jackson’s minor league Seattle Mariners affiliate, Jackson Generals.

Built in 2007, the facility, which is visible from Interstate 40 , includes 17 fields used for regional and national baseball and softball tournaments, clinics and collegiate tournaments. The Sportsplex will have served several million young players and their families in the first 10 years of its life.

“From March to October on any given weekend, there are between 80 and 100 teams playing at the Sportsplex,” Spurgeon said. “Those teams mainly come from Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, Illinois and Kentucky. From an economic development and tourism standpoint, it’s bringing money into the community that were it not for the Sportsplex wouldn’t be there.”

Whenever Jackson gets a prospect visit from a company and/or site selection consultant, the local economic developers will include the Sportsplex and the adjacent double A stadium as a part of the community tour.

“It’s another selling point for us,” Spurgeon said. “Some of the companies that we have worked with are aware of the Sportsplex. It generates discussion. In traveling to Chicago or Atlanta or wherever talking to executives, if they have a son or daughter who have played travel ball, chances are they are familiar with Jackson.”

Jackson was recently recognized by the Tennessee Municipal League for a $50 million, state-of-the-art wellness center downtown, which really sets the community apart. I toured the newly opened LIFT (Living in a Fit Tennessee) last year and was most impressed with the 82,000-square-foot facility.

This truly is a quality-of-life community asset that can and is being assessed by the community. Certainly, it could be a viewed as drawing card in a site selection project if other aspects deemed important to the client company were present.

In short, people want to live and work in a place that is more livable, that offers certain amenities. Jackson is making a case for that.

Joplin

There is a subset of economic development which focuses on tourism, and Joplin, Mo., has narrowed the focus even further to sports tourism. It’s a similar tact taken by Jackson, with the exception that Joplin has a dedicated organization to that purpose.

The Joplin Sports Authority is a 501c3 not-for-profit group that does not own any facilities. Rather, it partners with host facilities and venues that includes Missouri Southern State University, Ozark Christian College, Joplin School District, Carl Junction School District, and the Joplin Parks and Recreation Department.

Surrounding communities such as Carthage, Mo.; Neosho, Mo.; Seneca, Mo.; Carl Junction, Mo.; Pittsburg, Kan.; Baxter Springs, Kan.; Miami, Okla., and Commerce, Okla., also contribute facilities for JSA events.

Joplin has a 4 percent hotel tax, with 3 percent going to the city’s the convention and visitor’s bureau, and 1 percent funding the sports commission. Its director, Craig Hull, is an unabashed advocate for the Joplin area, and bandies about such industry euphemisms as “heads and beds”; “torsos through the turnstiles”; and “cheeks in the seats.”

This past week, the Amateur Athletic Union held a national qualifying track and field championships at Missouri Southern State University in Joplin. About 1,800 athletes, ages 8 to 18, participated in the event, not counting the attending families.

The vast majority of the participants were from out-of-town in a regional qualifying event that includes Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas.

“We bring people to town, we get them to spend money, and we send them home with a smile, and we hope to get them back next year. That’s what sports travel tourism is about,” Hull said.

Hull estimates the direct economic impact of the event that ended Sunday to be between $800,000 to $1.1 million. That does not count an indirect effect that a “new dollar” by a visitor will typically re-circulate three times within the community.

“By the end of 2014, we will have had more than 15,000 athletes come through town, a town of 50,000 people with 2,000 hotel rooms. And we try to generate about 10,000 room nights a year,” Hull said.  “If we can take our $250,000 budget and generate 3 million in economic impact, we feel we have done a pretty good job. That’s a 12 to one return on investment.”

I think Hull nailed it. That is a good ROI.

Sioux Falls

The good mayor of Sioux Falls said in effect that we, a group of visiting site selection consultants, would be daft not to include his city as a finalist in any and all projects that would come to us.

As I was a guest in 2013, I did not break the news to him that it doesn’t quite work that way. Still, I was impressed by Mayor Mike Huether’s passion for his city. Besides, Sioux Falls has Slater Barr, an accomplished veteran economic developer. He understands.

One of the places that Slater took our group to was the Sanford Sports Complex. And let me tell you, it was one heck of a complex. Owned and operated by Sanford Health, a major health-care provider based in the Dakotas, the Sports Complex sits on a 162-acre campus that offers basketball, football, baseball, softball, hockey, tennis, volleyball, soccer, wrestling, you name it.

When we were there, we toured toured the Fieldhouse, an indoor sports facility with 62,000 square feet of indoor professional grade turf and state-of-the-art training facilities. We also worked through the Pentagon, which was then under construction.

The Pentagon will be the epicenter of the Sanford Sports Complex and the region’s premier sports facility. It’s a 160,000-square-foot facility that includes nine basketball courts — six high school regulation, two professional/college practice courts and the Heritage Court.

While the Pentagon features modern design and amenities, the Heritage Court at the center is a NBA/college size court with design features reminiscent of 1950’s/1960’s basketball. It’s just really cool. The Pentagon is the home of the Sioux Falls Skyforce, an NBA D-League team which has affiliated itself with the Miami Heat.

Barr says Miami Heat President Pat Riley has been to the Pentagon several times in the past year and that the facility is projected to eventually draw 1.1 million people per year. That will certainly a considerable direct economic impact, but it’s the intangible that may be of more importance.

“But I think the larger impact has to do with talent attraction and quality of life. It’s very important to us to keep our community growing, and statistics show that people tend to relocate to communities that they have already visited in the past that they have developed an affinity or relationship to,” Barr said. “Things like sports create that.”

It’s that emotional bond that sports can create for a place. It should never be underestimated.

I’ll see you down the road.

Dean Barber is the president/CEO of Barber Business Advisors, LLC, a site selection and economic development consulting firm based in Plano, Texas. If your company needs an optimal location for future operations anywhere in North America, we can help. If your community needs to improve its competitive standing, we can help. All requests for information are considered confidential.

If you liked what you saw here, invite me to speak at your next meeting.

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