August 24, 2015

CT aims to diversify sports events base

HBJ File Photo
HBJ File Photo
H. Scott Phelps, president of the Connecticut Convention & Sports Bureau

Q&A talks about the state's sporting events business with H. Scott Phelps, president of the Connecticut Convention & Sports Bureau (CTCSB).

Q: The Connecticut Convention & Sports Bureau was formed a few years ago to combine the marketing power of several groups to drive more business to various sporting venues across the state. What have been your biggest achievements to date?

A: Spending by sports promoters, athletes, coaches, officials and event attendees generate millions of dollars in revenue annually for Connecticut's economy by booking venues and contractors, staying at hotels, dining in restaurants, visiting leisure attractions, and shopping at retail establishments.

The Connecticut Sports Advisory Commission, a division of our office, is comprised of leaders from sports facilities and organizations across the state. It works with our sports marketing team, Bob Murdock and Tangier Pritchett, in partnership with the hospitality community to help sports event planners find venues, hotel accommodations and services so that they can have a successful experience in Connecticut.

Successful bookings include the 2017 U.S. Cyclocross Championship in Hartford's Riverside Park; 2016 USA Gymnastics Men's Championship and Women's Secret U.S. Classic at the XL Center; Mudderella New England at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park; Soccer Resort New England Beach Blitz in West Haven; New England Region Volleyball Association's Husky Sweet 16 Tournament at Windsor's Husky Den; 2015 American Athletic Conference Men's Basketball Championship at the XL Center and its Women's Basketball Championship at Mohegan Sun; and the international soccer match between ACF Fiorentina vs. SL Benfica at Rentschler Field. This summer, two major fastpitch softball tournaments took place the same week: the U.S. Specialty Sports Association in East Hartford and the Amateur Softball Association of America in Stratford.

Q: What types of sports/sporting events do you focus on recruiting to the Hartford region?

A: We work to bring all types of sports events to Connecticut. These range from those with rich history in our state, including ice hockey, golf, tennis, basketball, figure skating, soccer, gymnastics and softball, to other more niche sports such as ultimate frisbee, curling, badminton and fencing. The surge in popularity of lacrosse and rugby (added for the 2016 Olympics) show significant participation growth and definitely are on our radar.

To get the best return on limited resources, we focus on pursuing events that will have a significant impact on the economy by attracting a large number of participants and/or spectators, and those that will elevate the brand of Connecticut through media exposure.

Q: A new study by SmartAsset said the Hartford region's strong demographics indicate it should be home to one major league franchise. Do you agree with that, and do you envision Hartford ever getting a pro sports team?

Connecticut is home to a variety of professional sports, including the newly named Hartford Yard Goats and the recently formed Hartford FC of the Major Arena Soccer League.

As a season's ticket holder for the former Hartford Whalers, I would love to see a major league franchise here. The timing is right with exciting new restaurants and entertainment on Front Street and other parts of the city and suburbs. The addition of CTfastrak has expanded transportation options for coming Downtown.

A major obstacle may be those who just don't believe it can ever happen and are not open to new opportunities. But look at the growth in the Capital City in the last decade alone that includes the opening of the Connecticut Convention Center, Connecticut Science Center, Hartford Marriott Downtown, Front Street and now two new pro teams.

Q: Of all the sporting venues in Connecticut, which is the most underutilized? Why? How do we change it? Which sporting venue is having the most success?

For a compact state, we are fortunate to offer a wealth of sports venues — from outdoor stadiums and indoor arenas of various sizes, to ice rinks and auto speedways, and a wide range of turf fields used by a variety of sports. Connecticut's rolling hills, rivers, lakes and the shoreline also offer great appeal to sports promoters seeking scenic locations in all seasons.

That said, all venues are looking for more business; it always is about the next event. To decrease the amount of venue underutilization, we continually consider different uses for facilities during their traditional quiet periods. We explore what types of events we can bring in the summer or holiday periods to an ice arena or to a convention and meetings facility, and strategically identify potential sports promoters to pitch. We also creatively evaluate a venue for the non-traditional uses it could offer. For example, a motorsports facility's paved track can be ideal for bike races and running events, while the expanse of the facility lends itself to obstacle races, dog shows and sports festivals.

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