If you see a convoy of family vans full of athletic teenage girls driving around Kent looking a little lost this weekend, wave hello, roll down your window, offer directions to Dix Stadium at Kent State and smile knowing that a bunch of sports tourism money will be spent in Kent as we’re hosting the state girls high school rugby tournament. Bringing money into Kent from outside of Kent is an economic formula that works. There’s nothing wrong with recycling our own money around in Kent but spending someone else’s money is always better and that sound you’re hearing is the sound of our economy growing ever so slightly from the new cash being spent here. This is exactly what we had in mind when we created the Kent Sports Council in partnership with Kent State University.
We’ve been working with Kent State Athletics (so please be sure to give Laing Kennedy and Pete Mahoney a pat on the back for making this possible) and Professor Mark Lyberger of the Sports Management Program at Kent State for over a year to create a Kent sports tourism council. The Council is not a new concept, other cities have them and they’ve been able to use them to attract new sporting events into town, which as I said earlier injects new money into our economy which is good.
Anyone that has kids playing sports today knows the pressure of having to get your kid on the AAU team or in the lexicon of today’s parental circles on the “traveling” team. It didn’t earn the nick-name traveling team by chance — they travel a lot. I’ve traveled with my kids all over northeast Ohio and actually next weekend we’ll be in Dublin Ohio spending the night in a hotel and I’m sure lots of my money in their local economy — which is good for them, bad for me and Kent.
Our thought was, if the reality of youth sports today involves travel, why not get them to travel into Kent to play. Thanks to the amazing Kent State sports facilities we’ve got first rate, premier fields and gymnasiums to use to host the events. It’s always considered a big deal for youth sports to actually get to play on the High School field so you can imagine the excitement that comes from getting a chance to play a championship game in the MAC. When you’re 14 years old it doesn’t get any better than that.
Seeing the opportunities to capitalize on these great facilities, we got together to combine the Athletic Department’s interest to get more revenue miles out of their facilities with the Sport’s Management Program’s desire to teach students how to plan and host sporting events. We researched other city models and we developed our own mission, vision and organizational structure that took on the form of a Kent sports tourism council.
Forget about the fact that we haven’t actually invited local sports dignitaries to serve on the Council’s Board (which by the way will be coming soon so if you have any good recommendations let me know — they should be people that are well connected in the sports community and can leverage those connections into bringing more events to Kent). So even though we’ve don’t have Council members appointed yet the staff has been getting busy. Our team of interns (including football star Jack Williams, former woman’s basketball star Lakia, and track stand out Phil Rickaby) got organized, started planning, developed a logo, registered a name and started knocking on sports events doors.
We were on the short list for hosting the statewide Ohio Buckeye games last year but the event sponsors decided to defer the event until 2009. We put a lot of work into attracting the Buckeye Games so it was discouraging that the event didn’t happen but it did force us to get out there to start counting all the fields we have, how many miles of track we have, how much apparatus we have, how many gyms we have, etc. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about:
Armed with a great inventory, great fields, and some good discounts, we had a chance to make a pitch to land the Ohio Highschool Rugby tournament and we got it! It’s not a huge event (around 200 girls which probably means another 300 or so parents) but it is a first event for our team and we’re really excited about what we think we’ve got started.
The one thing I learned in my last city is that the community can make or break these tournaments. Obviously the reason people come is the games but the reason they come back is the experience they had while in here. What people remember is how friendly the residents were when they asked directions. How nice the restaurant staff and service station attendant were. How hard it was to find parking. With all that in mind Main Street Kent and the Kent Chamber are putting welcome packages together for all those visiting athletes and their parents to help them know where to eat, sleep and be merry on this trip.
Games are won and lost but first impressions can last forever so we really want to put our best foot forward to make this tournament is a huge success so that everyone will want to come back next year and the year after to spend their money here again. That’s how reputations for being a great sports city are built. Please help build ours this weekend.