SBJ/June 11-17, 2012/Opinion

Collaborations produce results for partners

As leaders of sports business organizations during trying economic times, we are all searching for new and effective ways to do more with less. The need to truly leverage resources and exploit the expertise of our partners has never been as important as it is today. In order to get all that we can from our assets and relationships, a collaborative mentality must prevail.

A famous researcher once defined a leader as one “who creates a unified purpose of the team regardless of individual aspirations.” This is what we must do for our organizations to make a difference in our communities. We must set aside singular goals for the greater good, all the time, every day.

The sports tourism world has grown in leaps and bounds over the past decade. Fifteen years ago there were a few more than 100 members of the National Association of Sports Commissions; today there are more than 620. As the sports tourism landscape has become more competitive, and resources have become harder to come by, many sports commissions are leading new and creative partnerships.

In 2008, the San Diego Sports Commission merged with the San Diego Hall of Champions in an effort to better align community resources. This merger has led to a unified sales effort with their area convention bureau where all sports sales efforts are now being led by the sports commission. The sports commission there also serves as the contracted sales agent for many of the facilities in the area to promote their use and to enhance tourism through sport.

Additionally, the commission collaborates with the San Diego Padres to produce many of the Padres’ youth programs. This allows the sports commission to enhance its brand by aligning with the Padres, and gives the Padres more time to leverage the sports commission’s community reach. Each of these examples in San Diego reiterates the need for collaboration to increase community value with fewer redundancies while saving and extending limited resources.

In 2009, our organization, the Phoenix Regional Sports Commission, was instrumental in unifying the sales efforts of the various sports tourism partners in Arizona. The result was the Arizona Sports Alliance, a coordinated sales partnership between five convention bureaus, the sports commission, area hotels and sporting venues. The Alliance has allowed the partners to share leads for a maximum sales effort and has led to cost savings on outreach programs such as trade show booth fees, sales trips to key clients, and on inbound familiarization tours.

In 2010, amid budget cuts that would shut down several of our major youth sports complexes, we gathered key stakeholders for those facilities to develop a new funding mechanism. The result was a $210,000 plan that covered five revenue streams from four user groups to keep the venues online and able to host national tournaments.

Last year, we embarked on a new championships program within the high school event space. This program involves creating national caliber events in partnership with our area high school teams. This collaboration has allowed us to fulfill our economic development mission and provide our local teams a platform to play top level competition in Arizona (rather than forcing them to travel). This program has strengthened our relationships with area high school coaches and administrators, and thusly enhanced our community brand.

While the examples outlined are specific to the sports tourism landscape, applications to other industries can be easily made. Corporations can streamline operations through collaborative department partnerships. Government agencies can partner with vendors to deliver scope of work services more efficiently. Nonprofits can outsource key professional activities without taking on incremental staffing costs. There are opportunities for any organization to build through partnership.

James MacGregor Burns said that we must not treat leadership as a thing, but view it as a series of relationships. Relationships are critical for future success. More specifically, our fortunes will be enhanced through collaborations that decrease redundancies, allow us to stretch the dollar, and grow our businesses. This will, in turn, enhance the quality of life in our communities. The question we must ask ourselves as leaders is this: When these opportunities arise, will we have the relationships necessary to lead?

Jon Schmieder (Jon@phoenix-sports.org) is president of the Phoenix Regional Sports Commission and a 16-year veteran of the sports tourism and events industry.

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