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Volume 21 No. 26
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Incubator aims to nurture events from idea stage to success

As per the name of this monthly column, I am always searching for ideas, practices and people that are having an impact, and I believe that impact is a good column topic that can be shared via SportsBusiness Journal and my readership.

I am fortunate to live in Tampa and have a relationship with Rob Higgins, executive director of the Tampa Bay Sports Commission. While he has been instrumental in securing many high-profile sporting events for the Tampa area, I think his newest concept has the ability to reach far beyond Tampa and the Gulf Coast. Its possibilities are limitless.

Last month, Higgins launched the Event Development Institute. The concept is the first sports and entertainment event incubator, where potential ideas for startup events and properties are given industry expertise and consulting, financial resources, and access to key partnerships. Think of it as a more altruistic version of “Shark Tank.”

The institute features two unique, tech-savvy brainstorming areas: the Synergy Center and the Collab Lab. The fully integrated Collab Lab provides a formal boardroom setting, equipped with conference seating for 20. A wall-to-wall white board dominates the north portion of the lab, featuring a Crestron-enabled touch-screen system that coordinates all functions of the room, including its smart board. The Collab Lab also boasts a 120-inch video board, which can showcase three presentations simultaneously. The Synergy Center is the social space, with a relaxed networking setting that includes multiple seating configurations ranging from high-top tables to modern furniture, as well as three flat-screen TVs, a service bar and a catering/kitchen prep area.

“Think of it as a global think tank for sports and entertainment event ideas,” Higgins said. “Anyone from anywhere can apply with an event idea. These ideas will then be accelerated by some of the best resources from the world of sports and entertainment.”

Fully funded by private donations, the Event Development Institute will select new event ideas and help build them into local, regional or national events. The catalyst behind the

The Event Development Institute features the boardroom setting in the Collab Lab and networking in the Synergy Center.
institute’s success is an eclectic group of specialized partners offering a full slate of services, ensuring the development of an event idea. This advisory council includes Grow Financial (financial), Modern Business Associates (human resources), LaunchTrack (registration and ticketing), Thuzi (social media), OAI (branding and signage), Ambassador Limousine Service (transportation), and Betras, Kopp and Harshman (legal and consulting), along with the sport and entertainment MBA program at the University of South Florida (consulting and classroom think tank), as well as many in-house traditional and multimedia resources.

Prospective event applicants are being sought to submit ideas for consideration. Several applications have already been turned in, ranging from youth sports events to music festivals to conventions. The process begins with an online application/questionnaire available through Once submitted, the advisory council will review applications quarterly and select qualified event ideas that will receive services and support to bring the ideas to life.

The obvious questions: What is the impact? Where will it be felt?

I believe the initial impact will be local with the immediate capability to expand regionally. Geographic access and familiarity with the region will be a strong launch point, at least in the first two years, and could be based upon certain unique factors related to the Tampa area, such as the geography/climate and similar event history. Could you imagine a better location for the endurance market than Tampa? How about a family triathlon or relay triathlons? And that is just one aspect of the running space. New water sports? Eco-focused challenge sports and events? All are possibilities and will be joined by other event ideas using the existing sports and recreation facilities throughout the Tampa region. The concept is designed to encourage development of whatever the next new big idea for a participatory sports or entertainment event may be.

The events created for Tampa will also generate economic benefits, such as consumer spending on clothing/equipment related to the event as well as lodging and transportation. There also will be some form of job creation as events turn into thriving sports properties. Just as important is the social capital that can be created by enhancing the quality of life in the region, making it a more attractive place to live and work, and possibly serving as a magnet for attracting more events and investment in the area by new business development, corporate expansion or relocation, and additional entrepreneurial growth.

Once other groups, either sports commissions or event innovators and designers, see the events created and supported in Tampa and understand the economic impact and success of those events, I anticipate that the second stage will be an export stage. This would include exporting expertise, financial support, and conceptual development outside of the area and region to other markets interested in similar growth, development and enhancement. Tampa can become the epicenter for event creation and development much as Indianapolis serves as the epicenter for amateur sports — a unique and defendable niche along with the positioning so essential to success: namely, being first and the originator.

Can you imagine the number of interesting ideas that never came to light because the originator of that idea lacked the expertise, the startup capital or the ability to expand on the initial kernel of the idea or make it marketable? With hope, the Event Development Institute can keep those ideas alive by giving them the sustenance to achieve maturity and function as entrepreneurial realities.

Stay tuned. I imagine that the impact of this concept will be worth another column down the road.

Bill Sutton ( is the founding director of the sport and entertainment business management MBA at the University of South Florida, and principal of Bill Sutton & Associates. Follow him on Twitter @Sutton_Impact.