Somewhere in Arkansas the crack of a baseball bat, the tick of bicycle gears and the patter of running shoes ring out over the treetops. Picking up speed like a mountain bike roughing the trails of the Ozarks, sporting events bring a bundle of excitement and economic impact to Arkansas cities. Whether it’s Little League baseball tournaments for 8-year-olds or a mid-autumn 5K, Arkansas communities seek out the chance to play host to sports competitions.
Arkansas’ centralized location offers robust advantages in recruiting and maintaining relationships with sporting groups. Convention and visitors bureaus from Harrison to Hot Springs are focusing on bringing these events to the Natural State.
“These groups want a location that’s easy to reach for everyone in the surrounding areas,” Kalene Griffith, president of the Bentonville CVB, said. “The fact that we are about the same distance from a few major cities around this region of the country makes my job a lot easier. It’s just something that attracts people here.”
Trade shows are held to offer sporting groups and cities a chance to connect and collaborate. Each city on average meets 60 to 80 different groups and, from there, narrows the options it thinks best fits its community.
“We target events that are a good match for our community and events that make sense economically,” said Steve Arrison, CEO of the Hot Springs CVB. “We take into consideration facilities, location, cost and other aspects.”
Time is of the essence when considering the options each event brings to the table. An extensive amount of time is spent planning and organizing events both big and small.
“Depending on the event, we start organizing events several years out,” Arrison said.
Large events take a substantial amount of time to plan, taking into account the priorities of the group and ability of the city to accommodate those priorities.
Bentonville’s Griffith said, “We’re working now on a couple of cycling events that will be held in 2013 and 2014. We have to have enough time to get things ready for them and let them get ready for us.”
For cities such as Harrison, the impact of sporting events is felt throughout several economic sectors.
“Sports events are a major part of our tourism economy,” said Terry Cook, executive director of the Harrison CVB. “We estimate that for each person staying overnight for an event, they spend $100 per day.”
Not only does hosting sporting events bring immediate economic stimulation to a city, but long term it offers publicity and marketing opportunities.
“Promotion of the city is beneficial, and we can see its merits through print and electronic coverage,” said David Russell, sports sales director of the Little Rock CVB. “We can utilize that exposure to educate other planners in regards to their consideration of Little Rock for future events.”
Events around the state aren’t limited to football, basketball and baseball. A wild plethora of events find their home here.
“When I first started with the LRCVB, I thought the sports world was limited to football, basketball, baseball and a few others,” Russell said. “In the past few years, I have learned that there are thousands of events each year. I’ve worked with events such as the American Blind Bowling Association’s national tournament, bike polo tournaments and many lesser-known events.”
CVBs from across the state help find the events and bring them to Arkansas, but the operation of each event is left to the organization — with little input from the different CVBs.
“We work with the event organizers, trying to let them control the actual events,” Bentonville’s Griffith said. “Our job is to provide the space and accommodations. We want them to run the show after we have everything set up.”
During the past few years many Arkansas cities have played host to some big-time events, drawing national crowds and media coverage.
Hot Springs made a name for itself in the sporting world by landing the Sun Belt Conference men’s and women’s basketball championships beginning in 2009 and the Forrest Wood Cup fishing tournament in 2007. Little Rock has regularly held the American Taekwondo Association’s national tournament, seeing a huge turnout annually for the event. Since gaining momentum after hosting the city’s half marathon, the Bentonville CVB is finding its niche, offering a natural and comfortable outdoor sporting atmosphere. Harrison takes pride in its immaculate baseball facilities that attract such events as the National Baseball Congress World Series.
A challenge for bringing events to Arkansas, and Little Rock specifically, is a lack of multipurpose facilities.
“Because there’s not a multipurpose sports facility in Little Rock, events such as volleyball tournaments, AAU basketball tournaments and others that are similar end up being spread all over town,” said Kim Sims, sports sales manager at the Hilton Little Rock. “Clubs prefer a convention-center style for tournaments. These tournaments don’t want participants driving all over an unfamiliar city trying to find their event.”
While location is a selling point for cities like Bentonville, Hot Springs and Little Rock, Harrison’s ability to attract events suffers because of its lack of accessibility.
“Even with our close proximity to Branson, we aren’t on a major interstate or close to a major airport,” Cook said. “Many event organizers choose to go to a larger city with those types of amenities.”
Although each CVB approaches the recruiting process differently, they agree that sports events bring great opportunities for Arkansans to capitalize on.
“Sporting events not only bring a positive impact to your community, but also publicity for local businesses and members of the community,” Arrison said. “You can’t afford to pass up those opportunities.”