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Volume 22 No. 23
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What cultural diversity can teach sports about engagement

If I told you that every five years you could experience and/or market one event that encompassed the Nathan’s Famous hot dog eating contest, The Grove’s informal tailgate area at Ole Miss football games, and the French Quarter during Mardi Gras, would you attend? Well, I did!

This summer, I had the opportunity to experience this unique event. Jaialdi, a celebration of the Basque culture, is held every five years in Boise, Idaho. A tradition that began in 1987, the event was something I experienced through my lens as a participant, sport/entertainment business scholar, innovation consultant and business diversity educator.

So what is Jaialdi and how does it relate to the sports and entertainment business?

Boise has the highest concentration of Basques in the United States. The people of the Basque region originate from an area in Northern Spain. Jaialdi celebrates the passion of the people from the Basque Country in terms of pride, strength, culture and community.

With diversity and inclusion now major business imperatives from youth sports to intercollegiate athletics to the professional leagues, Jaialdi is an excellent case study of economic impact built on the premise of cultural diversity. An estimated $1.3 million in revenue is generated from Tuesday to Sunday from this cultural spectacle and gathering. In terms of attendance, 35,000 people are added to the population in Boise during the week of Jaialdi.

Sports Night featured lifting and wood-chopping contests that fit well with current fitness trends.
Photo by: COURTESY OF C. KEITH HARRISON
Events and facilities are always key when hosting a major spectacle. The agenda of activities for this year’s event, July 28-Aug. 2, ranged from participants congregating on the Basque Block for food and drink while listening to strolling musicians, to Sports Night, one of the watershed moments of this cultural event. Event organizers embraced social media, encouraging participants to follow along on Twitter using #jaialdi2015.

On Thursday’s Sports Night, Basque weightlifters tested their strength by lifting cylinders weighing 250 to 400 pounds and stone balls weighing 350 pounds. Woodchoppers tested their skills against each other, and traditional farm sports competitors threw hay bales, lifted wagons and competed to see who could carry milk cans the farthest. The event also moved to the Basque-ing expo, where more cultural expressions were positioned in terms of the selling of merchandise, literature, artifacts and educational opportunities. (The Center for Basque Studies at Boise State University had a booth presence.)

Food and beverage can’t be forgotten, and there are some highlights. The kalimotxo drink (wine and Coca-Cola) was a hit, and the Basque dishes were tasty and delightful, even when falling short of being healthy. Croquetas have replaced my guilty pleasure of french fries, as they are a tasty snack to enjoy while walking around the Basque Block. I never had the opportunity to taste the paella due to a line that closely resembled what’s seen at Starbucks during the morning rush hour.

So what are the lessons for today’s sports business scholar or practitioner?

Culture brings folks together in an exciting and economically lucrative way. Jaialdi is an innovative approach to maximizing diversity and inclusion where it is simply good business while bringing many people together from all age groups. Summertime is a busy period each year, but it also is a time for sports business leaders to take advantage of families and diverse groups of people looking for ways to connect through culture, fun and entertainment.

Demographics are significant factors when thinking about how to expand the sports and entertainment business. Jaialdi demonstrates that current best practices by the industry to understand the fan and consumer better are logical. While consumers are all human, preferences based on background, lifestyles and heritage can inform a strategic approach to connect with and engage a given affinity group. The merchandise sold at Jailadi reflected cultural preferences in terms of style, color schemes and various accessories. Sports business leaders could learn from this demographic approach.

Historical and innovative sporting behaviors resonate with today’s fans and cross generations. One of the most fascinating things about watching Sports Night was that many of the sporting competitions originated from life survival techniques by the Basque people during their early history. Lifting stones and wagons and chopping wood contributed to basic, daily needs. Many of these practices by the Basque are not only timeless but also mirror the current movement in health and fitness cultures to train with core strength and isokinetic movements with high intensity. The cheering rarely stopped during each competition and reminded me (in terms of energy) of reaction to high-flying dunks, 3-pointers and soccer goals. The relay races and log carrying are timeless concepts that were parlayed into competitive sports. There are many other timeless daily work tasks that every culture brings to the table that could be positioned as sporting events in our contemporary world.

Researching these events with simple but rigorous intercept survey approaches could impact ROI, ROO and even ROE at a great level. We all know in the industry that data-driven decision-making is one of the hot topics. During Jaialdi, I talked to some people of Basque descent and others who weren’t. I was itching to get out one of my cultural engagement surveys and document the attendees’ preferences and suggestions to make this event a better experience.

Information is power and content is king — but positioning is queen. Sports and entertainment practitioners need good data to position their brands and activate them with consumers, participants and various cultural groups. Even Jaialdi could benefit from a more in-depth analysis of who attends the event, why they come, and which aspects could enhance their experience and keep them coming back.

The future is bright when we think about other cultural innovations integrated with ethnicity, entertainment and history. Sports and entertainment professionals have the opportunity to learn so much from other cultures in ways that can enhance their brands and engage audiences from all walks of life. This is the goal of diversity and inclusion: good business; good sports business.

C. Keith Harrison (carlton.harrison@ucf.edu) is senior faculty member and associate director in the DeVos Graduate Sport Business Management Program at the University of Central Florida. He is co-editor with Scott J. Bukstein of the forthcoming book titled “Sport Business Analytics: Using Data to Increase Revenue and Improve Operational Efficiency,” (2016), CRC Press (Taylor & Francis Group).