Keeping annual events fresh and relevant

Thanks to large bodies of water such as Lake Tuscaloosa, wakeboarding is easily accessible.
Thanks to large bodies of water such as Lake Tuscaloosa, wakeboarding is easily accessible.

While some sporting events are often a once-in-a-generation hosting opportunity such as the World Games, the Olympics, and The World Cup, others call the same venue their home for multiple years. If a destination is lucky, sporting planners will often make the decision to call said destinations. and venues home. While major sporting events often produce a large economic impact, smaller and more “down-home” events are just as consistent. However, annual events also present a huge challenge—keeping the event fresh, interesting year after year, and drawing in visitors from the same crowd as previous years.

Keeping it ‘fresh’

Stan Adams with Visit Tuscaloosa says to keep things interesting during his list of 30 or so annual events per year, he utilizes new facilities, restaurants, and more when planning.

“For us, we have got a lot of new developments when it comes to facilities. We raised our sales tax one percent right before COVID-19, which helped us create Elevate Tuscaloosa.”

Elevate Tuscaloosa is a City of Tuscaloosa initiative to invest $500 million dollars over the next 30 years into projects. Adams says the project will help the sports tourism market by, “providing the resources our community needs to move towards an experience-based economy and remain an exceptional place to live, work, and play. That’s kind of giving us the opportunity to build better facilities that these events can come to year after year and see the developments. We have tried to improve a lot of our facilities, and additionally, some of the added value nearby said planned facilities is tapping into a lot of the new businesses that have kind of come to town and creating partnerships with them.”

Whether the facilities include a brand-new bowling alley, park, or restaurant, Adams says Tuscaloosa is trying to “partner with a lot of our new businesses in town to give people a better all-around experience,” says Adams.

Luke Gilliam with Visit Casper in Wyoming says the mid-sized market CVB is doing the same thing with a downhome twist when it comes to their soon-to-be 20th annual Casper Marathon and College National Finals Rodeo (CFNR) in June.

The Casper Marathon, which annually revenues anywhere from $250,000 to $1 million, has become an event that is tied to Casper and its people. The Collegiate Nationals Final Rodeo revenues nearly $2 million each year and has become an event where people not only want to see the show but want to see Casper and its people.

“We realized a few years ago that this marathon was the only Boston Marathon qualifier in the state of Wyoming. Not only did it have the backing of several 50-state clubs—organizations for people who wish to race in every state—it also had the support of Wyoming itself. We bought the rights to it and changed the marketing, logos, and more to show off Casper. We wanted the materials to show a big downtown celebration and showcase the heat of the summer and the cool of the night. This also allows
us to, in turn, gain more sponsors since the race has a hyper-local focus,” Gilliam explains.

“Our pitch to the potential local sponsors every year is we want to make sure that everyone understands the economic impact of every event that comes to town. We take that information to the businesses and tell them the event is coming whether they participate or not. We show them the economic impact that the event will bring to not only the hotels, but all the small businesses who are looking for a boost in sales,” he says. “We then tell them if you want to be a part of that and help it be even bigger, here are some of the ways that you can do that. Then we give them the option of a sponsorship donation, providing a service, or providing a product that they can sell at the event. At the end of the day, the data is always what we use because we know what the event will bring. We want to continue to tout that we are developing our destination not just for visitors, but also for locals. Thus far, knowing the economic impact year after year has been a helpful tool.”

Gilliam says the Visit Casper marathon committee has “really done a great job” of assisting the community and vendors who take part in the event.

“Afterwards, it is somewhat like a big party. This is Casper coming together to say ‘Hey, we are glad you are in town and hanging out in the city, here are some things that we want you to know, and here is how we celebrate you as an athlete,” he says.

At the end of the race, there are plenty of people waiting at the finish line with free food and drinks, creating a welcoming environment.

Utilize local

Biking along the Tuscaloosa riverfront is a popular past time in the area.
Biking along the Tuscaloosa riverfront is a popular past time in the area.

Another way to keep things interesting is to utilize local surroundings, which Gilliam says is easy to do when you live in a picturesque mountain town.

“For us with the Casper Marathon, especially if you go anywhere and you run a marathon, it’s the same distance—the same goes for a half marathon. We really wanted the route to be something where—when you turn a corner—you get a beautiful view of Casper Mountain, downtown, or the North Platte River. We really make sure the route highlights some of the more visual aspects of Casper.”

For Adams, while Tuscaloosa is home to the University of Alabama, where a man named Nick Saban controls most fall tourism, it is something much more and something he wants everyone else to know as well.

“When you look at our downtown prior to 2007 when Saban started coaching, there was nothing. While he has helped tourism most certainly—there are now a plethora of restaurants, shopping centers, and more lining the downtown area—we must think how we can fall back on this after he decides to retire.”

According to Gilliam, the best way to keep up this momentum is through sports tourism.

“Through COVID-19 and [all the way back to] the recession in 2008, we have learned that youth sports in general are truly foolproof. We are so much more than football and the university. While those are great, the events not related to the university are just as amazing. We have the Black Warrior River, facilities, and so much more than that in our back pockets,” Gilliam says. “Now, we have events such as the T-Town Throwdown—a play on the name “Title Town”—volleyball tournament. What began in March 2020 with 60 teams has now grown to host more than 150. We also host the Bama Rama and the Crimson Classic which are popular, USA Gymnastics-sanctioned tournaments in the state. Last year we began an event called the Tuscaloosa Gauntlet, our version of a tough mud race, that had more than 350 competitors. This year we are aiming for nearly 600.”

Looking ahead

The Collegiate National Finals Rodeo is one of the most popular sporting events within the rodeo sector.
The Collegiate National Finals Rodeo is one of the most popular sporting events within the rodeo sector.

“We tend to host a lot of state and high school tournaments per year. Marching band, volleyball, wrestling, basketball, track, field, and more combine each year to make us around $14 million in economic revenue. We also just hosted the Beard and Mustache National Championships in November which was an incredible event. We were so honored to host them, meet people from all over the country, and see amazing facial hair. Within the next few years, we are looking to host them annually or semi-annually. In 2024, we are going to be opening an indoor sporting facility that will be the only one of its kind in our area. We will be able to host events on a size and scale that we have never been able to host before. We are hoping to see regional and national events here in addition to our local ones.”

“The Tuscaloosa Enhancement Fund has been set up by us to help aid planners in securing bidding fees to offset facility costs. The fund is a key marker in making sure people come back every single year. What works for somebody may not work for everybody. In Tuscaloosa, we know this. We try and do everything we can to help you. We have an annual revenue of nearly $30 million with the majority of those being annual events, so it speaks for itself.”