Planners To Watch in 2009
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The sports event planners featured in this spotlight have garnered attention in the industry for their ability to recognize and rise above the various challenges of running sports events, for their innovative and creative approaches to planning and executing sports events, for their ability to inspire others, for their dedication to their jobs, and for their passion for sports—for providing opportunities for thousands of youth and adults to compete in the sports they love as well.
As director of college showcases for Elite Sports College Showcases, J.D. Bancroft organizes “showcases” and camps in 18U fast-pitch softball that allow college coaches to recruit top athletes to their programs. Bancroft said the greatest satisfaction in planning sports events is providing a great atmosphere for players to earn a college scholarship that allows them to continue to play at the next level and also to receive an education that is paid for. Given the high costs of travel, he said he would
provide free hotel rooms to coaches if he had an unlimited budget. “Most colleges are on a small budget. Helping with their room costs would be a huge benefit and encourage more of them to attend.”
Butch Cassidy, event director for Exclusive Sports Marketing, organizes triathlons, duathlons, marathons and beach volleyball events in several Florida locations. As he strives to be “the greatest event director of all time,” Cassidy takes a hands-on approach to event management—creating his own grassroots marketing and doing the event set-up and take-down himself.
Las Vegas Events President Pat Christenson organizes 50 events a year, and he said it’s most important to him to improve on each event from the previous year. “It doesn’t have to be by leaps and bounds, but each event must improve annually. Improved return on investment is our biggest focus.” He feels this will be especially important in the economic downturn. “Events will need to adjust and provide more value.”
Having organized sports events for 20 years, Ann Cody, director of partnerships and public policy for BlazeSports America, said she would advise newcomers to “take risks and take on responsibilities that challenge [them] to grow.” She describes BlazeSports America events as a “transformative experience” for newly disabled athletes rediscovering their athletic abilities and for spectators watching Paralympic sporting events for the first time.
Chet Collier, executive director of the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon, manages and relies on a staff of 5,000 volunteers who “give freely of their time and resources” to run events that honor the 168 people who died in the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City. In the marathon’s third year, Runner’s World magazine named it one of the 12 “must-run” marathons in the world, and it has raised more than $1 million for the Oklahoma City National Memorial Foundation in just eight years. “Build a quality management team,” Collier said. “Nothing can replace talent.”
John Counts, assistant state director for the Virginia state chapter of the National Softball Association (NSA), helps run 25 tournaments with 20 to 150 teams each year. The biggest challenge of planning events is managing the logistics and communication of so many teams, but the appreciation of the participants makes the long hours worth it, he said. “Listen to your clientele. They are the ones who will help you grow your business.”
Also with NSA, Thomas Devlin, vice president, once organized a youth fast-pitch tournament with 587 teams. He said he would devote more money to opening ceremonies if he had an unlimited budget. “This is when players can have fun before they get down to the serious business of trying to win a championship.”
Disney Sports Attractions Soccer Manager Patrick Dicks, who created the Disney Soccer Showcase in 1997, said the most joy in his 17 years in the sports event industry came when the showcase went from an idea to an actual event. “Finding the right mix of expertise is critical. Surround yourself with professionals who understand the vision and task at hand,” he advised.
As director of operations for World Sports and Marketing, Bob Doughty organizes nine-12 wakeboard and fishing events a year, with 80-150 participants each. He builds relationships with local representatives because they help him understand the rules and policies of each city, he said. “Think of each sports event like it was in your own backyard. How would you want it done?”
Fran Dowell, executive director for Senior Softball USA, plans approximately 60 tournaments a year for more than 30,000 registered players on roughly 2,000 teams. During a tournament last August, she was one of five people to respond to an emergency situation after someone at the tournament suffered a heart attack. Dowell credited the life-saving moment to the organization’s policy requiring automated external defibrillators at all playing sites. “Ten weeks later, the person who survived the heart attack was the guest of honor at the opening ceremonies for the Phoenix World Championships.”
All Sports Productions President/Event Director Bruce Dunn is holding clinics and adding events for the entire family in an effort to attract more participants and spectators to his running and cycling events. Given an unlimited budget, Dunn said he would put more money into “first impressions—inflatable arches, more banners and more professional finish lines.” He believes sports events will weather the down economy because people will always be interested in being active and looking and feeling good. “Sports events are cheaper than vacations and have more obvious return on investment.”
Patrick Eaken, director of the National Amateur Baseball Federation’s (NABF) college division, tries to create the best experience possible for players competing in the organization’s annual College World Series, held four of the last five years in his hometown of Toledo, Ohio. “First and foremost is making sure we have quality umpires and facilities and that the playing environment is top-notch and equal for all teams,” he said, adding that he hopes to establish Toledo as the permanent site of the NABF College World Series.
As executive vice president/COO of FLW Outdoors, Kathy Fennel oversees approximately 230 bass and walleye fishing tournaments a year for more than 90,000 participants. In 2007, FLW Outdoors awarded the first $1 million prize in professional bass fishing. She said she is proud to be a part of an organization that has “transformed tournament fishing from a regional pastime to a mainstream televised sport enjoyed by millions around the world.”
As commissioner of the North American Hockey League, Mark Frankenfeld takes a “positive, proactive approach” to planning the organization’s three Future Prospects tournaments and other events. “My goal is to help as many kids as possible develop into good hockey players, good students and good citizens,” he said. “Helping open doors for these young men is what’s most important to me.”
Mark Hanken, senior vice president of sports for Special Olympics Oregon, has helped organize local and statewide events ranging from 100 to 4,000 participants and coaches. He tackles time management and financial issues through good communication, delegating tasks, recruiting good volunteers, and developing cash and in-kind sponsors who “believe in our mission and find additional reward in having some of their employees volunteer at our events. We have a huge return rate from year to year with our key volunteers because they have such a good time.”
LIVESTRONG Youth Triathlon Series Coordinator Suzanne Henslee has served in positions ranging from race director to marketing coordinator. She believes sports will always endure and that industry professionals must maintain its integrity, promote it with enthusiasm and present it with fairness. “For participants and spectators alike, it is our responsibility to send them home with a value, either intrinsic or tangible, that is commensurate to the value of their investment,” she said.
As president of Joseph Volleyball Camps, A.J. Joseph helps run four to six volleyball tournaments and two to three camps each year. His advice to other planners is to recognize that different communities have different expectations of sports events. “We tried to start a two-day event in Colorado Springs using a similar model for an event in Florida,” he said, “but it wasn’t nearly as successful because the teams in Colorado Springs were used to one-day events and didn’t turn out in the numbers we had anticipated.”
Eric Keaton, public communications manager for the Pasco County (Fla.) Office of Tourism, said he has suggested that organizers of various events in Pasco County partner together to market the destination in an effort to “cut advertising costs and improve credibility of events through a consistent approach,” and he believes the recession will cause organizations to focus on quality instead of quantity of events in 2009.
Oklahoma City Boathouse Foundation Executive Director Michael Knopp helps organize a variety of rowing, canoe/kayaking and boating events for the Oklahoma River in Oklahoma City. He said he would advise other sports event planners not to limit their events by following blueprints in the sport and instead asking questions and bringing in fresh ideas to enhance the sport, like the foundation’s new “Corporate Rowing Challenge” and “Corporate Dragon Boating.”
As director of Nationals at Cheer Ltd., Scotti Marshburn organizes the Cheer Ltd. Nationals at CANAM, the North Carolina High School Athletic Association State Invitational Cheerleading Championships and the Soffe Spirit Holiday Classic Open Championships, which involve almost year-round planning. “Part of being a great planner is to know you cannot plan for everything ahead of time,” she said. “Plan to the fullest, but be ready when something doesn’t work out perfectly.”
Michael “Twig” McGlynn, managing director of Lake Placid Soccer Centre Inc., has been in the sports event industry for more than 30 years. After a computer malfunction during a 3-D presentation of the 2006 FIFA World Cup Trophy Tour by Coca-Cola in Brazil, McGlynn flew 24 hours round-trip to Miami and back to pick up a replacement part so the presentation could resume—connecting the tour and Coca-Cola with soccer fans in 35 countries on five continents in 100 days.
Fred Phillips, CEO of DLT Event Management Inc., produces 25 triathlons, duathlons, and running and cycling events with 100 to 1,700 participants each year. To reduce labor and travel costs, Phillips uses specialized equipment that makes event set-up and take-down easier and “packages multiple events into a single weekend to spread the travel and labor costs over a greater number of participants.”
To Alexandra Rheinheimer, vice president of Horse Sports by the Bay Inc., creating a quality horse show that delivers a return on investment for participants, spectators and sponsors brings the greatest satisfaction. “I hope that I, along with my team, have done the very best job possible, no matter what the size of the event budget.”
Metro Tennis Associates President Robert Sasseville organizes junior tennis tournaments in Georgia and Nevada that are sanctioned by the U.S. Tennis Association. Ensuring a fair playing environment for each player is the most important aspect of an event, Sasseville said, and he would put more money into “attracting highly qualified on-court officials” to correctly interpret and enforce the rules of tennis. “Focus on those you want to attract. Financial reward will be the measure of how well you serve.”
Janis Schmees, executive director of the Harris County-Houston (Texas) Sports Authority, believes hosting sports events requires an attitude of service to be successful and that the “biggest challenge of being a sports event planner is balancing the needs of nonprofit sports organizations while creating a healthy stream of revenue for our community stakeholders.”
As director of sport performance for the University of Central Oklahoma, Katrina Shaklee organizes a variety of events, including games for disabled athletes. If given an unlimited budget, she would devote more money to purchasing the special equipment that disabled athletes need. “These men and women are tremendous athletes and have great potential…and purchasing a large number of chairs, prosthetic running legs, etc., would be a fantastic opportunity for them.”
John Wieck directs a youth basketball tournament the first weekend in June in Toledo, Ohio, for the American Youth Basketball Tour. The Toledo tournament has attracted nearly 100 teams in some years, and Wieck encourages participation by scheduling the tournament when the local Triple-A affiliate is playing so the kids can watch the team play. “It’s always about the kids,” he said.