October 12 2009 | Latest NewsSporting-event planners to convene in New Orleans this week
By Jaquetta N. White
October 11, 2009
The annual Travel, Events and Management in Sports conference, which meets in New Orleans this week, will not be mistaken for one of the major citywide gatherings that fills hotels, restaurants and shops. With just 1,300 attendees it's not the type of meeting that would immediately command attention or make the service industry weak with anticipation.
But make no mistake: TEAMS 2009, as the conference is called, means big business for New Orleans. Its potential impact far exceeds the direct spending of its registered guests.
"We're grateful that we get to have them here and have an immediate economic impact, but more importantly we're looking at the long-term economic impact that this will have in helping us to make some deals," said Sam Joffray, a spokesman for the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation. "This conference is a vital part of our business."
The TEAMS conference attracts sporting-event planners nationwide from all sports at every level, from professional football to amateur bowling to youth gymnastics. The event is designed to allow event coordinators to gather in one location to meet one-on-one with convention and visitors bureaus, sports commissions, sporting-goods suppliers and hotel chains from around the country. While the conference is in town from Tuesday to Saturday, 11,570 such meetings are scheduled.
The meeting is a coup for the local hospitality industry because it brings an opportunity to showcase the city in person to those planners.
"What is so important about this is it brings many of the most important decision makers in all sizes of American sporting events to what we think could be their favorite host city," said Stephen Perry, president and chief executive officer of the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau. "You're not venues. It's a first-class opportunity for them to touch, taste and feel what it would be like to bring their event here."
Both Perry's and Joffray's groups will be conducting tours of a variety of sports-friendly sites over the week, including the Pontchartrain and Alario centers in Kenner and Westwego, respectively. Joffray said he is particularly interested in a meeting with representatives from ESPN X-Games, an annual event that includes sports such as skateboarding. Many of those attending have not been to New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina, said Timothy Schneider, publisher of SportsTravel magazine, which organizes the TEAMS conference.
"There is tremendous interest in seeing the condition of the city and the condition of the tourism market," Schneider said. "I think that this will be a tremendous opportunity for New Orleans to showcase itself to the sports industry."
About $1 billion in direct spending has been generated through sports tourism in the past 10 years, Perry said. He did not have yearly figures, however, noting that the numbers vary wildly based on the types of events the city hosts each year.
Travel related to sporting events accounted for 47 million room nights and $182 billion in spending last year, according to U.S. Travel Association. Only about half of that total was generated by going to take an event from introduction to signing while they're here, but they'll be exposed to the hotels, to the restaurants, to the event big-name sporting events such as the Super Bowl, Schneider said. The other half was generated by smaller events such as Amateur Athletic Union tournaments.
Interest in sports travel has grown recently as other travel sectors, particularly business travel, have faltered in the recession.
"It's more resistant to economic challenge because these events and championships have a very steady fan base and they have to be held," Perry said, adding that leisure travelers are making vacation decisions based more on "what they want to do or see," not just where they want to visit. "That could be a festival or a sporting event."
Those travelers are particularly attractive because they have much more free time on their hands outside the sporting event they're traveling in support of to dine, shop and visit attractions.
This year's conference reflects that increased interest. When the TEAMS conference was last hosted in New Orleans, it required only a few ballrooms in the then-Fairmont Hotel to accommodate its guests. When the TEAMS conference returns this week, six years later and for the first time since Hurricane Katrina, it will be with a record-breaking number of attendees spread across two halls and several meeting rooms in the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center.
Jaquetta White can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 504.826.3494.