April 21, 2014

Sports Business

Scoring Points

Charlotte Crane | 10/1/2010

AT&T USA diving national championships in Tallahassee
Tallahassee hosted AT&T USA diving national championships last year. [Photo: Christy Baldwin]
For the local, regional and national organizations that sponsor Tallahassee’s non-collegiate sporting events, games are serious play. For the leaders of the Tallahassee Sports Council, a division of Visit Tallahassee, they’ve become serious business.

As the city’s business leadership seeks to broaden Tallahassee’s economic base beyond government, the council has become a key player, spearheading efforts to capitalize on the city’s sports infrastructure by recruiting all manner of events and sports-related activity to town. Key selling points? A supply of university sports facilities — and hotel rooms — that otherwise sit mostly empty when school’s out and the Legislature’s not in session. “We have tremendous venues; we’re the state capital; we have four seasons,’’ says Sports Council director Brian Hickey.

Brian Hickey
Hickey
According to Sports Council records, those sporting events bring in 45,000 visitors annually who book some 25,000 hotel room nights and contribute a $25-million average annual economic impact.

“In the old days, we called it putting ‘heads in beds,’ ’’ says Bill Hagen, Wells Fargo senior vice president for investments, who’s been a Sports Council board member since it was organized in 1989 and has chaired the group five times. “A lot of events are totally not related to Tallahassee — but we’re a community that supports sports,’’ Hagen says.

Cases in point: Last year’s AT&T USA diving national championships. Some 1,300 athletes took part in the AAU track and field national qualifier in June. Next August, the city will host the USSSA Black American Softball World Tournament, expected to draw 150 adult teams.

Bernie Waxman, associate athletic director at Florida State University and this year’s Sports Council chairman, says council members keep Tallahassee in mind when scheduling events. “If we can bring in an event a little different and interesting to the community, we’re willing to give a little seed money,’’ meaning small grants.

2008 Southeast Sports Festival in Tallahassee
The 2008 Southeast Sports Festival was held
in Tallahassee.
[Photo: Visit Tallahassee]
This month alone, Tallahassee will host events encompassing baseball, basketball, volleyball, cross-country racing, a USA Triathlon, gymnastics and Soap Box Derby races with competitors from as far away as New York and Chicago — all that in addition to four collegiate football games to be played at the town’s two universities.

With Tallahassee steeped in sports, Hagen says the council finds plenty of volunteers when it needs them to help out. “It’s easy to do it if you love what you’re doing. The community embraces sports.”

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