. How Major Sports Events Are Raising Destinations’ Meetings Game | Successful Meetings

How Major Sports Events Are Raising Destinations’ Meetings Game

How major sporting events motivate destinations to improve their meetings infrastructure

sports meetings 2018

Major sporting events can be a boon to their host destinations. Indeed, a recent study of 12 European countries found that hosting an event like the Olympics or FIFA World Cup gave a significant boost to the level of life satisfaction among their populations. It didn't matter whether the home team did well in the event -- just being a high-profile host was enough to boost the national mood.

The same could also be said about major sporting events and their effects on meetings. Cities that host an Olympic Games, Super Bowl, or Final Four championship not only raise their profile, but raise their meetings offerings -- growing hotel inventory, improving infrastructure, and building entirely new venues that visiting corporate groups can utilize before, during, and long after the big game.

Exhibit A: The just-concluded Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. To prepare for the massive gathering, the country enhanced a number of existing venues and constructed all-new ones, including the new
Alpensia Sliding Center and Olympic Plaza in Pyeongchang, along with a new ice arena and pair of hockey centers in neighboring Gangneung. It also wrapped up infrastructure enhancements such as a new expressway and an extension of the country's high-speed bullet train.

"Meeting in Pyeongchang has been greatly enhanced by the Olympic Games," says Steve Yong, executive director of the Korea Tourism Organization of New York, describing the destination as a local favorite among Koreans, famous for its ski resorts in the colder months and its beaches and water sports in the warmer ones. "Now the region is much more accessible to foreigners and locals alike, while preserving the area's natural beauty. The transportation system, the new crop of restaurants and hotels, all add to the area's draw during the Olympics and beyond."

The "and beyond" is key. Critics have raised concerns that the large-scale builds involved in such major events can leave destinations in debt with unused venues, worries that have been expressed about Pyeongchang, and only time will tell. But there are plenty of cases where such major investments have proven beneficial for planners. That's been the case in Houston, which last year hosted the Super Bowl and made a number of improvements to its convention center core, including a large-scale renovation of the George R. Brown Convention Center that included a new event space on the front porch of the facility that ties in to adjacent Discovery Green park.

"The renovation had long been planned, but having the Super Bowl as the ultimate deadline certainly helped," explains Janis Schmees Burke, CEO of the Harris County--Houston Sports Authority.

During the event itself, the enhanced convention center and adjacent 1,000-room Marriott Marquis Houston created a contiguous downtown environment that "could sustain the 'seen and be seen' atmosphere of a Super Bowl," as Burke puts it. It also allowed for dynamic venues where hundreds of thousands of visitors could take part in the public NFL Live and Super Bowl Live events, live-music stages and other events in the downtown area for a nine-day period around Super Bowl LI to draw people to the experience. But more important was how the investments have helped to make Houston a more attractive destination for planners bringing groups to the city months later.

"The infrastructure and improvements, while great for the Super Bowl, were part of a long-range plan to help position Houston for the future," says Burke. "Hosting Super Bowls and NCAA Final Fours allows the larger public to see a city's improvement in action. It also generates confidence in meeting planners and travel groups that our city can handle events on the largest scale."

Of course, it works both ways: It was the city's investments in its infrastructure, including the addition of the Marriott Marquis hotel and Avenida Houston entertainment district that helped the city to land the Super Bowl to begin with.


Los Angeles Upgrades
Major sporting events have similarly provided Los Angeles with clear deadlines as it moves forward on major enhancements throughout the city, in its downtown and beyond. L.A. will be hosting the Super Bowl in 2022 and -- more significant when it comes to citywide infrastructure development -- the Summer Olympics in 2028. Though 10 years seem a long way off, the city's leaders have seen such an all-encompassing, high-profile moment as a focal point for a decade of major improvements.

"We look at these events as a great way for people to see the new L.A." says Kathryn S. Schloessman, president of Los Angeles Sports & Entertainment Commission. "Obviously these are great for visibility and for attraction of other people and groups adding on meetings and things like that, but it's also been a way to spur development in transportation and hotels."

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has laid out a "28 by '28" plan to have 28 transit projects completed by the 2028 Olympics. These include the Crenshaw Light Rail Line connecting to the airport, as well as a Purple Line extension to Westwood and the UCLA campus, where the Olympic Village will be based. The city passed Measure M, which lays out plans to raise $120 billion over the next 40 years to build the city a "21st century transportation system," as Schloessman describes it. Using funds from that, Metro will accelerate a number of projects.

Next month will see the opening of Banc of California Stadium, home to the Major League Soccer team the Los Angeles Football Club, and boasting a number of meetings spaces including the Sunset Deck (with views of downtown and the Hollywood sign), the exclusive Field Level Club, and expansive Founders Club. Come 2028, it will also serve as an Olympic venue. Also coming up: The former Hollywood Park Racetrack will be converted into the Los Angeles Stadium and Entertainment District at Hollywood Park, adding 300 hotel rooms, a 6,000-seat performing arts venue, and, anchoring it all, the 70,000-seat open-air stadium that will be home to the NFL's Los Angeles Rams and Los Angeles Chargers.

Part of this effort is a $5.5 billion people mover that was supposed to debut in 2028 and will now be completed by 2024 in anticipation of the big events coming. The city currently has 66 hotel projects in the pipeline.

These developments have planners of major events excited to bring groups to the city.

"The Olympics is going to propel L.A. to build on what they have already," says Tim McGuinness, vice president of global trade expositions for International Council of Shopping Centers, which hosted one of its major annual conferences in Los Angeles in the fall of 2017. "It's only going to provide more and better facilities and enhance the downtown. You're going to see further growth on the hotel side and restaurant side. Retail and residential will pop up more. You're going to see more producers and organizers who are going to want to bring their event to the city."

He says this after having been already impressed with the changes the city's downtown had gone through in recent years. It had been several years since the ICSC, which represents shopping-center developers and retailers, had held an event in Los Angeles, and rather than the empty, slightly dangerous downtown he had experienced previously, McGuinness last year found the area to be bursting with options for the group.

"It's just a night-and-day transformation of the whole downtown scene," he says. "When I went there prior to our event a year before, I was so thoroughly impressed with the energy and development, the amenities of the downtown area. You felt safe, you could navigate it nicely, and everything was fairly close. From a meetings standpoint that's very important. I especially like the downtown's walkability and ease for getting around."

Competitive Edge
Columbus, OH, offers a different illustration of how major sporting events can spur meetings growth in a city. After unsuccessfully bidding on the 2013 NHL All-Star Game, in part due to the city's lack of hotel inventory, the city saw a rapid expansion of its offerings, in particular the completion of the Hilton Columbus Downtown convention center hotel, offering 32,000 square feet of its own meeting space as well as 532 additional rooms for groups visiting the city. The Greater Columbus Convention Center underwent a $140 million renovation to its interior, expanding by 32,000 square feet and connecting to five adjacent properties including the Hilton and Hyatt Regency Downtown.

"Our mayor worked with the community to build the Hilton Columbus Downtown, and once that hotel was built, we bid and won the Women's Final Four," which held its games in the city this past January, says Brian Ross, president and CEO of Experience Columbus. "If it wasn't for the Hilton convention hotel, the Women's Final Four wouldn't be here. Once we had those convention hotel rooms to support the center and the arena, we could get new business."

The enhancements have also attracted the Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA), which will hold its annual convention in Columbus at the end of this month.

"The Greater Columbus Convention Center, the site of our convention, is only steps away from Nationwide Arena where the NCAA Women's Final Four will be played, as well as multiple hotel properties in which our attendees will stay," says Jack Watford, director of communications for the WBCA. "All are within walking distance of numerous restaurants and a great entertainment district. We could not ask for a more convenient and inviting footprint for our convention and our member coaches who will attend."

The city is far from done with its enhancement efforts, though, with further plans underway to improve connectivity, add more inventory to the downtown, and continuing its airport renovation. Ross says that the city hopes to get another 500 to 1,000 convention hotel rooms in the community over the next two to three years.

"I believe that when people see Columbus is hosting these big marquee events, it really does add to our profile and image, and people say, 'If that event's in Columbus, then my convention will fit there as well,'" adds Linda Logan, executive director of the Greater Columbus Sports Commission. "It checks a lot of boxes, whether it's the size of the arena, convention center, the footprint of the downtown, the easy access, or the volunteers who can be mobilized -- all those things come into play when someone turns on the TV and says, 'Hey, the Women's Final Four is in Columbus.'"

The coming months will see major events following suit, including AmericanHort's Cultivate '18 show for the horticultural industry, and next year's American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) Annual Meeting & Exposition.

Atlanta, which will be hosting the Super Bowl in 2019, has been doing some major updates of its own. According to William Pate, president and CEO of Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau, the completion of Centennial Olympic Park's $27 million capital improvement campaign will enhance the visitor experience through updates in the park including to the Fountain of Rings Plaza and Southern Company Amphitheater, new event space, and an addition of more than three acres of green space.

"Fans will be able to enjoy the festivities planned for the Super Bowl in and around a newly renovated park," says Pate.

Several new hotel properties will also be wrapped up, a few within walking distance of Mercedes-Benz Stadium. SpringHill Suites by Marriott Atlanta Downtown, Canopy by Hilton Atlanta Midtown, AC Hotel by Marriott/Moxy, and Curio Hotel by Hilton are all scheduled to open by the end of this year.

"Hosting the Super Bowl shows potential conventions that we are able to execute citywide and large-scale events with ease," says Pate. "Our collaborative hospitality industry gets the opportunity to show how well we work together to pull off high-caliber events. A spotlight is shone on our city's accessibility, through Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and MARTA, to the walkability of our convention and entertainment corridor."

But even more important, for meetings groups, will be the advantages it offers for long after the teams have left town.

"The great thing about these new improvements is that they are built to appeal to conventioneers, leisure travelers, and sports fans," says Pate. "We're constantly working to refresh the destination for returning guests while increasing destination appeal for groups that have yet to come to Atlanta."
   
Questions or comments? Email [email protected]
  
This article appears in the March 2018 issue of Successful Meetings.

Tapping Into a Big-Ticket Event
Holding a corporate event during an actual game or sporting contest is an enriching and exciting experience. While major sports events can enhance a city's meetings offering before and after game day, if the budget is there, bringing a group to a destination as one of the big games is happening, is hard to beat. That's been the experience of Valerie Bihet, founder and owner of the Vibe Agency, who has planned more than 300 events and incentive trips in New York, L.A., and throughout Florida's east coast in just the past three years, with clients such as Santander Bank, Coty, Dior, IKEA, Cartier, L'Oreal, and Montblanc.

"Sports events are always very interesting and very attractive for any company or groups, because I think they give a different feel to the city," says Bihet. "With any events we are doing in Miami or New York City, we are always trying to integrate sporting events. We may go to a basketball game or football game -- and for clients from Europe, attending something like this is especially interesting because it's different for the European market. It enhances the experience of the destination."

She notes that for events like the Super Bowl or Tour de France, there are more issues that need to be taken into consideration because the "city will be transformed by those." If you want to hold your event during one of these big-ticket gatherings, you must plan the event far in advance unless you are a major sponsor, or costs can get prohibitively expensive.

"If you don't have the budget to be there at the same time, find a way to surf on the wave of the excitement -- plan your event a week after but have it held in the places where the events were just happening," Bihet suggests. "If you plan your conference on the same weekend, have a huge projection screen and make the theme relate to the game so even if they aren't in the city, they can see it."

She gives the example of a multinational group that was visiting the U.S. during the World Cup. Knowing this was something many of the European attendees would not want to miss, Bihet made arrangements to project the soccer games on a huge plasma screen during part of the event.

When working with a hedge fund group that rewarded clients with a trip to the Super Bowl in Miami, Bihet planned the event that centered on game day. Visitors arrived Friday night, had Saturday night for activities and enjoying incentive activities throughout Miami, then attended the game on Sunday.

"What did it add? Team spirit, the culture not just of Miami but of New Orleans (which was playing that year) and people had this exclusive feeling that they were the lucky ones," she says.

Competitive Edge
Columbus, OH, offers a different illustration of how major sporting events can spur meetings growth in a city. After unsuccessfully bidding on the 2013 NHL All-Star Game, in part due to the city's lack of hotel inventory, the city saw a rapid expansion of its offerings, in particular the completion of the Hilton Columbus Downtown convention center hotel, offering 32,000 square feet of its own meeting space as well as 532 additional rooms for groups visiting the city. The Greater Columbus Convention Center underwent a $140 million renovation to its interior, expanding by 32,000 square feet and connecting to five adjacent properties including the Hilton and Hyatt Regency Downtown.

"Our mayor worked with the community to build the Hilton Columbus Downtown, and once that hotel was built, we bid and won the Women's Final Four," which held its games in the city this past January, says Brian Ross, president and CEO of Experience Columbus. "If it wasn't for the Hilton convention hotel, the Women's Final Four wouldn't be here. Once we had those convention hotel rooms to support the center and the arena, we could get new business."

The enhancements have also attracted the Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA), which will hold its annual convention in Columbus at the end of this month.

"The Greater Columbus Convention Center, the site of our convention, is only steps away from Nationwide Arena where the NCAA Women's Final Four will be played, as well as multiple hotel properties in which our attendees will stay," says Jack Watford, director of communications for the WBCA. "All are within walking distance of numerous restaurants and a great entertainment district. We could not ask for a more convenient and inviting footprint for our convention and our member coaches who will attend."

The city is far from done with its enhancement efforts, though, with further plans underway to improve connectivity, add more inventory to the downtown, and continuing its airport renovation. Ross says that the city hopes to get another 500 to 1,000 convention hotel rooms in the community over the next two to three years.

The Greater Columbus Convention Center
recently wrapped a $140 million renovation
and expanded by 32,000 square feet
The Greater Columbus Convention Center recently wrapped a $140 million renovation and expanded by 32,000 square feet

"I believe that when people see Columbus is hosting these big marquee events, it really does add to our profile and image, and people say, 'If that event's in Columbus, then my convention will fit there as well,'" adds Linda Logan, executive director of the Greater Columbus Sports Commission. "It checks a lot of boxes, whether it's the size of the arena, convention center, the footprint of the downtown, the easy access, or the volunteers who can be mobilized -- all those things come into play when someone turns on the TV and says, 'Hey, the Women's Final Four is in Columbus.'"

The coming months will see major events following suit, including AmericanHort's Cultivate '18 show for the horticultural industry, and next year's American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) Annual Meeting & Exposition.

Atlanta, which will be hosting the Super Bowl in 2019, has been doing some major updates of its own. According to William Pate, president and CEO of Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau, the completion of Centennial Olympic Park's $27 million capital improvement campaign will enhance the visitor experience through updates in the park including to the Fountain of Rings Plaza and Southern Company Amphitheater, new event space, and an addition of more than three acres of green space.

"Fans will be able to enjoy the festivities planned for the Super Bowl in and around a newly renovated park," says Pate.

Several new hotel properties will also be wrapped up, a few within walking distance of Mercedes-Benz Stadium. SpringHill Suites by Marriott Atlanta Downtown, Canopy by Hilton Atlanta Midtown, AC Hotel by Marriott/Moxy, and Curio Hotel by Hilton are all scheduled to open by the end of this year.

"Hosting the Super Bowl shows potential conventions that we are able to execute citywide and large-scale events with ease," says Pate. "Our collaborative hospitality industry gets the opportunity to show how well we work together to pull off high-caliber events. A spotlight is shone on our city's accessibility, through Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and MARTA, to the walkability of our convention and entertainment corridor."

But even more important, for meetings groups, will be the advantages it offers for long after the teams have left town.

"The great thing about these new improvements is that they are built to appeal to conventioneers, leisure travelers, and sports fans," says Pate. "We're constantly working to refresh the destination for returning guests while increasing destination appeal for groups that have yet to come to Atlanta."
   
Questions or comments? Email [email protected]
  
This article appears in the March 2018 issue of Successful Meetings.