“If you build it, he will come.” These words were first overheard by Kevin Costner’s character Ray Kinsella in the movie Field of Dreams, and subsequently led to the construction of a baseball field in an Iowa cornfield and the arrival of the 1919 Chicago White Sox. Outside of the big screen, sports tourism facilities do not achieve their goals in a one hour and 47-minute time frame, especially ones involving revenue generation. The journey from vision to financial success involves a great deal of resources, collaboration and coordination from a variety of stakeholders, and the expertise of many parties.
Since 2003, Sports Facilities Advisory, LLC (SFA) and Sports Facilities Management, LLC (SFM) have helped industry-defining facilities such as Rocky Top Sports World and the Hoover Met Complex reach their revenue goals through a time-tested and proven process for accomplishing the fundamental components of sports facility development. Through our work in over 2,000 communities nationwide, we’ve grown to understand the environment in which a sports tourism venue is most likely to succeed.
Below are the eight factors that have the biggest impact on revenue generation. We will also provide tips for achieving a favorable outcome given these factors.
Sports Tourism Facility Feasibility
First and foremost, can your community (city or region included) support a sports tourism facility? While having a vision is the first step, it’s critical to assess whether there’s enough people in an area that will utilize the proposed sports facility. At SFA, we produce feasibility studies for communities to answer these questions. The feasibility study assesses the viability of the initial concept, in part, by providing a market assessment and a competitive analysis. For example, if you are considering the construction of an indoor sports facility that can host large basketball tournaments, it’s important to understand how many youth basketball players are in the planned location and what facilities your venue would be competing with for events. You should understand what amenities your competition offers as well as what drives events rights holders to select one venue over another.
Within the feasibility study, SFA produces a financial forecasting document called a Pro Forma. The Pro Forma analyzes all aspects of your market, including your product offering and construction and start-up costs to provide a five-year revenue projection. The Pro Forma also arms you with the information necessary to right-size your concept to better position it to reach your goals.
Sports Facilities and Political Will
Is the political climate favorable for the development of a sports tourism venue? City officials primarily work to meet the concerns of their constituents. With cities facing so many issues, it’s critical that they feel that a new facility is aligned with the public’s desire. If citizens see value in the new venue, local decision makers will champion it in order to stay in their favor.
To garner political will, several critical actions must be taken. This includes building a project team that’s not only experienced with the technical aspects of facility development, but one that can build a case for a sports tourism venue through data and includes people who have worked extensively with stakeholders. You must use data to show how the sports facility will enhance the economic, social, and health outcomes of the community. Partnerships must be established with individuals who can influence others to support the facility development. Finally, it’s crucial to meet directly with individuals who are opposed to building a sports facility. It’s important they have the opportunity to voice their concerns in an orderly fashion. Their input is valuable and can even enhance the development process. To learn more about building community support for recreation and sports facilities, read Five Steps to Address Community Support for Your Sports, Recreation, or Parks Project on the ICMA blog.
Building for Large, High Quality Events
The size and type of facility you develop matters. In order to attract large, high profile tournaments, you must produce a sports tourism facility that not only supports it but has features that make it standout from its competition. For example, to host a basketball tournament, 6-8 courts are standard. More courts are better. Regional baseball tournaments require at least five fields. More fields are required for national tournaments. Seating capacity is a factor as well. The larger the scale and more popular the tournament, the more seating is required.
It’s also important to consider that there aren’t as many large-scale events as there are smaller events. Smaller events can be lucrative as well. Your facility doesn’t have to be the largest in your community, but it does have to possess amenities that make it stand out. The quality of the playing surfaces, seating, locker rooms, and meeting rooms are essential. The non-player experience is important as well. Youth athletes often come with families. The sports tourism venue that includes features such as Wi-Fi, lounge areas, quality food, or a family entertainment center has an advantage over the competition. For more information about the emerging needs of youth sporting event attendees, check out The Evolution of the Soccer Mom.
Successful sports tourism venues are well-run ships. While it won’t happen overnight, it’s important to strive towards this. Several processes must be conducted in order to make the customer experience seamless for athletes and attendees. It’s critical that these processes involve best practices for items such as customer service, equipment maintenance, safety, and that financial tracking is implemented and continually maintained. This means great attention must be paid to the hiring and training of new staff. While it’s critical to find employees that not only embody your vision and are highly skilled, it’s equally important to provide effective training. This is an integral part of the pre-opening phase of facility development and is a determining factor in your facility’s success. To learn more about the critical components of operational success, check out our article, The Sport Facility Owner’s Manual.
The reality is that with the continued growth of the sports tourism industry, your facility must be able to differentiate itself from others. Unique branding that establishes a venue’s place in the market and engages its audience is a key part of revenue generation. Your brand should be the embodiment of your mission and your facility’s unique qualities.
While specific strategies may vary, several branding components are standard, including your website, social media, and media relations. Successful sports venues weave clear, consistent, and compelling messaging throughout, and ensure that the promise they make to consumers is a captivating one.
Branding goes beyond logos and brand colors. It also includes the physical experience, signage, the entrance, employee apparel, and how the staff interacts with athletes and attendees.
Built for Multiple Events
Sports facilities must be able to generate revenue during non-peak times. The most successful ones do just that. While the size of the venue is a factor, so too is the flexibility of the space. While basketball courts that can be used for volleyball is an easy association, consider non-sporting events as well. Can your facility host conventions or meetings? Can multiple events be hosted simultaneously? Additionally, there’s an emerging number of new churches looking for space. This and other groups help keep the lights on when you aren’t in tournament season.
Supported by Surrounding Businesses
Sports facilities that have achieved financial success are supported by a community of businesses that meet the needs of event attendees. At the heart of sports tourism are visitors who pour money into the local economy via hotel stays, meals, entertainment and travel necessities. There must be businesses in place to meet the needs of these visitors. However, their presence isn’t simply enough: they must provide an enjoyable, creative, safe, and easy experience. Fun experiences are often what define a sports tourism destination and can be leveraged to garner future events.
Amenities for Non-Participants
Finally, it’s critical to consider families who attend events with young athletes. To assume that they are going to be locked into the action taking place on the field is erroneous. Simple ideas, such as offering free Wi-Fi, sitting areas with TV’s (away from the action), or even a play area can be beneficial in keeping families occupied during long tournament days. For example, at Cedar Point Sports Center, a climbing area provides a fun and interactive break from watching the game. These features and others, like family entertainment centers, turn sports tourism venues into standout destinations and are more likely to draw repeat visitors.
The SFM Network has become the largest network of sports tourism venues in the industry by utilizing the best practices in facility operations, branding, and customer service. To achieve consistently incredible results for your sports facility, contact us or call us today at 727-474-3845.