Keep it Simple, Execute & Keep The Fire Burning

By Jon Schmieder

A special contribution to SportsEvents from our editorial advisor, and founder and CEO of the Huddle Up Group.

This time of year, college football fans are rooting for their teams, mostly in the “Big 5” conferences, to make the “big four” playoff, in hopes of making the final two to vie to become the one. While my father-in-law’s school from Tuscaloosa has another great chance to be in the final two or become the one, my school – Arizona – does not but I digress … . My father was a football coach for many years. When I was an aspiring junior college basketball coach, he taught me was to keep the playbook simple. Define success, make the game plan basic, over-prepare and on game day, execute. A great formula for sustainable success. If you have ever worked with our team at the Huddle Up Group, you know that we believe in the “Powers of Three”: focus on three main business areas (or pillars) and back up each of area with three blocking-and-tackling execution elements to deliver the goods. Three main business objectives, each with no more than three action items behind them. Keep it simple and execute. (Thanks, Dad!)

Traditionally during the holidays, our team gathers to look ahead and develop a list of 10 industry trends we see on the horizon in the coming year. It’s a great exercise but for our purposes here, let’s focus on the “Big 3” in sports tourism and events. Below are the three major trends in our industry that our team recommends adopting and for which to develop strategies and then plug into the pillars of success within our organizations.

The New

Our country is littered with myriad quickly emerging sports products. The membership of USA Pickleball has grown seven-fold over the past five years to more than 28,000 strong. Colleges are offering scholarships for e-gaming. Drone racing has its own national league. BMX racing is the fastest-growing sport in America, according to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association, and more than 30 universities offer scholarships for BMXers today. Cricket and Australian rules football have opened offices in the U.S., does he mean the governing bodies? Cricket and Australian rules football have opened offices in the United States looking to build an infrastructure here. Have you heard about “kubb”? It’s another sport that’s growing domestically that you may hear more about in the coming years. The Scripps National Spelling Bee is bidding out regional championship sites. Ultimate Frisbee, Quidditch are also on the rise. The sports and event landscape is changing by the day. Entrepreneurs and host cities can jump in at any time with a new concept that can shift the marketplace, either by creating their own events in partnership with these new sports and events or by creating new sanctioning bodies. If you have a vision, our industry likely has room for you to realize it. In addition, while our industry has proven to be immune to market trends and insulated from down economies, we shouldn’t get cocky. Our country’s next generation is into sitting on their couches and playing video games and the generation that follows that one will likely have fewer kids than any generation in our lifetimes. In the coming years, we’ll need to be agile in order to move with market trends. In 10 years, today’s college Quidditch player may well be a single person with less intent to have kids, let alone those who will play bat-and-ball sports. Our traditional sports “pipeline” is becoming more narrow, which means sports organizations – both host communities and event rights holders – need to be aware and be ready to pivot to a different way of thinking when participation rates start declining.

Facility Development

Five or 10 years ago, if a CVB or sports commission leader stood in front of their board and said, “We are going to use tourism tax funds to build a sports facility,” they likely would have been walked out of the building. Today, nearly every destination we work with (and some NGBs) have used hotel or restaurant taxes to build sports facilities that drive tourism. This reality has evolved from a no-no to a feasible strategy, especially in jurisdictions in which the local parks department and/or the high schools and colleges won’t partner on hosting events. As the facilities race is at an all-time high, we believe this practice is here to stay. The competition for facilities to support our industry seems to have no saturation point in sight as communities continue to propose, fund and build large multi-sport complexes each year. By using tourism-related funds to build tourism-related venues, CVBs and sports commissions can take control of their venue assets to drive overnight stays first and offer enhanced places for local teams to play second.

Passing the Buck

Non-profit organizations and their operations are being looked upon with more and more scrutiny: how they deploy resources, how they protect their athletes, etc. When things go bad, governing entities usually look for someone else to serve as the scapegoat. The repercussions of this new sports tourism and events industry we all live in is this: industry leaders need to be both 100 percent transparent in daily activities but also overly cautious in how organizations transact business every day. This applies to athlete safety both on and off the field, fiscal responsibility and related processes and, in the end, to be the best custodians to all of our stakeholders, whomever they may be. In addition, if you see something you think is bad, you now have to point it out, even if you are not sure it’s a bad situation. That is the world we live in now. Where things don’t look right, we must take action. As industry leaders, we cannot put ourselves or our organizations in positions in which we jeopardize our existence, our careers and, most importantly, those we serve. (If you have not received SafeSport certification, you should pursue it. It is very likely everyone in our industry will be asked to be certified soon, so go to safessport.org and go through the program. It’s free and offers great insights into the day and age in which we now live). We work in the greatest industry in the world: sports. While trends come and go, certain elements of our industry drive us every day:

  • Sports align youth, community and family more so than any other facet of our society. All day, every day.
  • In the sports world, there’s no greater gratification than watching kids learn about teamwork through competing in tournaments or introducing underserved kids to new sports through camps and clinics you create.
  • For those of us who are former athletes, where better can we be part of a team and continue to compete than in sports tourism and events?

I’m now one of the elder statemen in our community. More than 23 years into this journey, I can’t believe two things: 1) I can’t believe I have found a way to get paid to work in and around sports for this long and 2), I can’t believe I’ve been blessed enough to work with so many passionate sports industry professionals like you for more than two decades.

Keep it simple. Execute. Keep the fire burning.

Have a great start to your new year!

Jon’s Note: While the first team we coached at Pima College had its struggles, once we put the three pillars program in place, the next class set school records for wins in a season, wins for a class, and myriad other school records, all of which stood from 1997 until this past year when our faithful Pima Aztecs made the National Final and crushed a few of our marks. Shout-out to Coach Brian Peabody!)

About the author

Jon Schmieder is the founder and CEO of the Huddle Up Group LLC, an award-winning sports tourism industry consulting firm based in Phoenix, Ariz. Jon can be reached at jon@huddleupgroup.com. For weekly best-practice articles, sign up for the Monday Morning Huddle Up at www.tinyletter.com/jonschmieder.