Facility Management Focus
Partnerships Can Win Events for Your Sports Complex
by Robert F. Papich
If we build it, will they come to use it? The answer is: not necessarily.
Built in 1983 the Sportscore in Rockford, Illinois, was originally designed to house the Rockford Park District's soft- ball leagues and soccer programs as well as a place for boaters to launch boats into the Rock River. The 105-acre complex was designed for walking, jogging, bicycling, and fishing. The district's softball and soccer tournament program was small and sporadic at best for the first three to four years of operation. It was only after we had taken care of our league play that we began to try to fill weekends with tournaments of softball and soccer.
In 1995, every weekend from the first week of May through Labor Day a softball tournament (or tournaments) filled the eight-diamond complex at the Sportscore. After Labor Day weekend, Rockford will host five or more tournaments for a total of twenty-three weekend tournaments during one operational year. The softball tournament schedule is evenly split between adult and youth softball tournaments: adult men's fast pitch and youth fast pitch tournaments, all sanctioned by the Amateur Softball Association (ASA); adult men's and women's slo-pitch tournaments, all sanctioned by the United States SloPitch Softball Association (USSSA).
It is almost impossible to achieve this type of track record (in attracting local, state, regional, and national softball events to your facility) by simply staying in your community. It is necessary to attend local, state, and regional softball meetings as well as national conferences. It is only through this type of exposure that your community and sports complex begin to be recognized. Each national conference has its own way of picking locations for their regional or national tournaments.
It is extremely helpful to attend a national conference before tendering a bid for a regional or national tournament that your community would like to hold. By attending a national conference, you can see what other communities are doing to attract regional or national tournaments to their area and their complex. In other words, in order to be a bidder you need to be exceptionally well informed and prepared to work to attract that regional or national tournament to your facility.
The following questions need to be answered before bidding or trying to attract a major tournament to your complex:
• Should we have an exhibit booth at the national conference?
• Should we have a hospitality room at the national conference?
• How many people from our community should be there to work the exhibit booth or the hospitality room?
• How much money will all of this cost?
• Where will the money come from?
• Will the return on the initial investment be worth it?
• Will hosting this tournament in our facility enhance our local program?
• Does the tournament fit our sports complex?
• Are there too many teams for our complex host, trying to avoid playing ball at midnight or two o'clock in the morning without inclement weather?
Illinois Parks & Recreation * September/October 1995 * 23
The need to partner for a successful tournament is also very important. Partnerships with national sports sanctioning organizations, convention and visitors bureau (or CVBs), softball clubs, and volunteer organizations can lead to a successful softball tournament program.
Your area's convention and visitors bureau is a key starting point for hosting a successful state, regional, or national tournament. Like all partnerships, it takes time for everyone to work toward the same goal. The CVB can assist you with staff and volunteers for the national conference. It can also assist you in working with hotels on rates and housing for the teams. There are times when the CVB can assist by funding the booth or the hospitality rooms. They may be able to assist in getting gift bags from local area merchants and gift certificates from area restaurants for the teams. The CVB may also help in a major way through grant writing to assist in the financial operation of the tournament.
The Rockford Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, under the direction of Wendy Perks Fisher, has played an integral part in each of the presentations made for a major regional or national event. Without its assistance, we would not have been so successful.
A volunteer softball organization can help promote the sport of softball by gathering volunteers for the national conference to staff the booth, the hospitality room and the operation of the tournament. This allows the professional staff at the complex to concentrate on what they do best: the operation of the complex.
The volunteer group in Rockford is the Rockford Metropolitan Sports Association. This organization, founded by Ray Auman and Chuck Lockinger, promotes softball for youth as well as adults. From national clinics for boys and girls to a scholarship program, coaches clinics, umpires clinics and hosting tournaments, this organization continues to fund national tournament bids as well as promote the sport of softball to the local youth of our area. Successful youth softball leagues exist at two premier community centers—Ken-Rock and Harlem Community Center. Since the inception of the Rockford Metropolitan Sports Association, we now have more than twenty-two teams playing in a competitive softball league during the summer as well as travel teams, traveling to many of the area tournaments.
Another important partner is your local hotel/motel association. In Rockford, our first venture with the Rockford Hotel Motel Association resulted in the Sportscore and the City of Rockford receiving the United States Youth Soccer Region II Soccer Tournament with more than 140 teams from thirteen states. It took a trip to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a presentation to Region II at the national conference, and some lobbying to successfully lure this event to Rockford and the Sportscore. The trip, rooms, packets, and flights were all paid for by the hotel/motel association. From this small investment, the motel association was able to recoup this investment many times over. The Region II Tournament filled all the hotel/motel rooms in the Rockford area for more than five days.
Partnerships in the soccer area have also resulted in the Sportscore being able to host state and regional soccer tournaments. The Rockford Park District partners with the American Youth Soccer Association (AYSO), the Illinois Youth Soccer Association, Northern Illinois Soccer League, Illinois Women's Soccer League, United States Soccer Association, two major soccer clubs (Rockford United and Rock Run Express), and local high schools, both public and private.
Once you have attracted a tournament to your site, you must have open lines of communication between the complex and the sponsoring organizations. Everybody needs to know who is responsible for what and allow nothing to fall through the cracks that would impact the operation of your tournament. Oftentimes this means hours of meetings and telephone calls and letter writing. But to be successful, both for the complex and the sponsoring organization, these meetings are your road to success. Once you have landed a major tournament, your work has only begun. Just remember that the teams could be playing at another complex in another city.
In 1993, the Sportscore was ready to host the Rainbow Soccer Tournament with 110 teams coming to play at the facility. On the Thursday before the tournament heavy rains caused the soccer fields to take on water. By Friday, the first day of the tournament, three feet of water covered 80% of the complex. Thanks to Grounds Superintendent Steve Roser, his capable staff, and with the help of neighboring companies, we were able to construct ten fields all within one mile of the complex to host the Rainbow Classic. By being able to service the Rainbow Classic Soccer Organization, they were able to hold their tournament and be successful. It certainly would have been much easier to say "sorry, folks, we're under water and we have to cancel." A partnership means going the extra step.
In order to keep and attract major sporting events the maintenance of your complex must be well above average. Your complex must continually improve or events will certainly go to other locations. The Sportscore complex was voted the 1994 Soccer Fields of the Year by the Sports Turf Managers Association, an award that makes the staff and the Rockford Park District very proud.
For 1996, the Sportscore has already booked eighteen soft- ball tournaments as well as ten soccer tournaments under contract. Hopefully, at upcoming national conferences, both in soccer and softball, we will continue to be successful in enhancing our community's growth and attracting state, regional, and national events to the Sportscore in Rockford, Illinois.
Robert F. Papich is the Sportscore manager for the Rockford Bark District, 1401 North Second Street, Rockford, Illinois, 61107-3086, 815-987-8800.
24 * Illinois Parks & Recreation * September/October 1995