The Greater Columbus Sports Commission aligns all the players

The Greater Columbus Sports Commission, which celebrates its 15th anniversary this year, has learned as it has grown — especially in times of difficulty.

For example, in 2012, the Sports Commission hosted the largest event it had to date, the USA Volleyball Girls Junior National Championships. In the first three days of the 10-day event, Columbus was hit with 36 hours of storms, which knocked power out in 20 hotels.

“Everybody just jumped right in. It was a holiday weekend; it was July 4th weekend, and it was a Friday night at 10 p.m.,” says Executive Director Linda Shetina Logan. “You have a crisis plan, and then you activate it, and the first three people don’t answer. It’s like ‘OK, well, this is going to be a long night.’”

Logan started calling the utility company and hotels in Dayton and Mansfield, while reaching out to college campuses to try to find dormitories and cots for the athletes and families that were displaced.

“USA Volleyball will never forget how we came to their aid for some cause of nature that we weren’t able to control, at a moment that was our big audition,” says Bruce Wimbish, director of marketing and communications. “If that would have gone wrong and not been handled well, the years after that would not have happened the way they did.”

Because of going above and beyond, USA Volleyball also wasn’t hesitant about sharing their story with other sports national governing bodies. Columbus’ reputation spread.

On the same page

Not only has the Sports Commission become larger with more staff and reach, it also is a more sophisticated competitor for events.

That’s partly due to infrastructure. Logan has seen tremendous growth on the sports facility side as well as more hotels and more daily, direct flights.

“Some of our competitors used to view us as: ‘Oh pesky Columbus, every now and again, they may land one of the big ones,’ to now thinking of us as more of a formidable competitor,” she says.

Her team also no longer has to stop selling when helping host a large event; they can keep the pipeline moving.

While the Sports Commission’s primary objectives — economic development, raising the city’s profile through sports and quality of life, remain the same, what has changed is its approach to fulfilling all three sectors.

“We’ve gotten a lot more sophisticated on how we do it,” Logan says. “We want to rally the community and get them more engaged.”

You don’t want to spend your time just trying to attract people from outside your region, she says. The local community needs to buy tickets, be volunteers and act as ambassadors to welcome visitors.

The Sports Commission keeps raising the bar, and its latest coup was landing the NCAA Women’s Final Four for 2018.

Wimbish thinks the Sports Commission’s success has come from strong community alignment.

“We don’t have a huge national advertising budget, and we really rely on visits to sell Columbus,” he says. “That’s what people see.

When I come to your city, it’s so easy to have my event here because everything is in alignment, everybody wants the same thing, they say the same messaging, they have the same talking points — and that really resonates with our clients.”

It’s critical to get the sports facilities, hotels, restaurants, airport, public transportation, elected officials and public and private sector leadership aligned, so you can pull together quickly and cohesively, Wimbish says.

Maximize opportunities

Today, there’s something called the Columbus model being discussed in the sports commission and convention and visitors bureau sector, because while cities bid against each other for large events, they also share best practices.

Sports commissions and CVBs have different funding models and types of events they go after, even though they have the same goals of economic development and image building.

“We’re all like snowflakes. There’s no two that seem to be alike,” Logan says.

The Sports Commission in Columbus goes after two types of events: large events like the women’s Final Four, as well as participation sports. New Orleans’ sports commission, for instance, might only go after the Super Bowl and the men’s Final Four, and they’ll leave participation events like USA fencing, table tennis and volleyball to the CVB.

“We’ve found that in a city like ours, our model really suits us well, and some other cities have taken note, like Pittsburgh,” she says.

Louisville follows a similar model, and Logan and her team have even found a way to use that to their advantage. If the two are bidding on similar events, they might tell the governing body: If you pick Louisville for 2020, Columbus can take 2021.

The Sports Commission has a 20-year calendar, Logan says, so it’s always working behind the scenes to maximize opportunities.
Wimbish says the next goal is to become part of the rotation for national events.

“That will be our next big step, as a destination, is to show the rest of the country and all of our peers that not only did we get it for the first time, but we got it the next time it was available, also,” he says.