Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Vetting Mega Sports Events Is No Slam Dunk

I’m a lifelong sports fan so I understand that decisions about sports, like other components of culture, often are emotional not logical, thus the term “fanatic,” I guess.

But when groups or communities go “big game hunting” as one Mayor termed it, in search of mega-sports events, the costs and benefits have to be weighted carefully by a destination marketing organization.

Unfortunately too many destination execs get caught up in the hype or they make or are cornered into making decisions based on “who’s asking” and “to go along to get along.” But that isn’t the role of a DMO. Our job is to provide communities, regardless of who’s asking, good, solid factual cost/benefit information.

Of course, this is much harder than it sounds. Many sports fanatics can’t take any scrutiny as this is thought to be criticism, so they typically form opinions without hard information. And the pushing and shoving often begins before any thoughtful analysis can be done. More than a few community officials and news outlets, for which sports can be big business, often become co-dependent with the hype.

There can be a lot of reasons for communities to host mega-sports events but two of the reasons most often cited, creating or rehabilitating community image and driving economic impact, are not guaranteed. Here are a handful of resources that any DMO with a destination contemplating mega-events should make sure are in the mix or resources used to vet the decision.

The first research I read was done by the researchers analyzing the impact on Göteborg, Sweden following a decade when that community hosted one mega-sports event after another to promote, shape and rehabilitate image. Any impact quickly dissipated.

The second was the book Major League Losers by an economist analyzing the realities behind the claims used to justify building major sports complexes for team owners. I guess the title gives away the findings. There is also one called Sports, Jobs and Taxes.

The third was an analysis by an economist at a Florida University looking at the impact of the a mega-sports-event on cities by comparing sales tax collections on the exact dates, the year prior, year of and year after hosting the mega-event. There was hardly a blip. The event displaced as much as it generated.

The fourth was a study of the Calgary Olympics which also found that any impact rapidly dissipated unless followed by mega-events within a year to 18 months.

Now comes an evaluation by the European Tour Operators Association that hosting the Olympics can hurt rather than help a country’s tourism economy in the long run for a variety of reasons.

There are many reasons to host a sports event but the decisions on behalf of a community are complicated. Regardless of who it might upset, a destination marketing organization executive must deliver the facts and probe behind the hyperbole.

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