the full report

Greg: Hello everybody, this is Greg Olsen with Growl Connex, and we’re here today with our virtual panel to talk about sports. And, I’m going to let everybody kind of go through and introduce themselves. So, this is our weekly series every Friday at 10:30 mountain time. And we’ve had really great exciting topics. And today again is something about everything about sports and your community across the country. All of us are watching maybe old football games, recordings of NASCAR- we’re trying I don’t know everything we can do and then really though just a harsh economic impact having across the country. I’m going to go through. My co-host always is Kim Woodworth. Go ahead and introduce yourself.


Kim: Hi, thanks, Greg, and my name is Kim Woodworth. I am the operations director of the Economic Development Council of Colorado, which is a statewide nonprofit association that supports economic development efforts across the state of Colorado.


Greg: All right, and hello, Rene Smith, how are you today?


Rene: Good. I’m Rene Smith. I’m the executive director for the Greater Grand Junction Sports Commission, which works to bring sporting events to the Grand Valley and support local sports events that happen.


Greg: Thanks very much. Jen?


Jen: Hey, everybody, my name is Jen Stoll, and I run Stoll Sports Strategies. I do consulting work in the sport tourism space, and I head up research and education for our industries professional association called Sport ETA.


Greg: All right, thank you for being on. Well, let’s get right into it. You know, with continued concerns around COVID-19, I’m waiting for the day that we don’t have to say COVID anymore. Local to national to global sports have been impacted. The way we play and participate in sports is going to change, and also, the way we watch sports is changing. Let’s first start with going around. I’ll start with Jen Stoll, how do we see the business of sports changing? I mean, there’s a major loss of income you know where the economic development- I mean, what are you seeing out there? What are your colleagues talking about? If you just kick us off with that kind of what your thoughts are.


Jen: Yeah, you know we’re seeing obviously a massive loss right now as a sport is really at a standstill, particularly in the travel segment as well. Tourism economics estimates that it has taken a 99 billion dollar hit since March 1st, that’s down 89%.


Greg: What’s that number again?


Jen: Yeah, it’s 99 billion.


Greg: What?


Jen: March 1st, that’s 99 billion that’s 89% down year over year compared to where we were last year when things were rocking and rolling and, in the sport, and tourism industry. So, a lot of it is still the waiting game to see what’s going to happen as things loosen up. That is sort of phase one, but phase two is also, what does sport look like from a delivery standpoint once the restrictions loosen up? That’s going to change policies and procedures for delivery sport in general.


Greg: Yeah, that is. Even all-season ticket holders NCAA. I think you and I were talking about college sports. I mean, we don’t have the answers, but how are we going to get back to that right.


Jen: Exactly. I mean time will tell. There’s a lot of ideas floating out there right now, and it’s really about, you know, waiting to see when things loosen up but also kind of measuring that consumer confidence and consumer sentiment how are people feeling about being back in groups and what does that look like and you know how can those be implemented.


Greg: Yeah, we’re not going to know. I mean, we’re just getting into these different phases and all the communities across the country and different states starting to open up in different communities. I want to move onto Rene. You know we’re doing such a great job in what’s happening in the western slope and all these different destination sports tourism you know across the state and community. I mean, what are you and your colleagues across the state, or what are you hearing and things like that? How do we prepare for this? What does the future look like?


Rene: Similar stuff to what Jen is saying. We’re kind of learning as we go and attending a lot of sports ETA, seminars, and webinars and trying to kind of keep up with other industry leaders in this. But I mean, from a local perspective obviously, all the sports are being canceled, and it’s very much a wait-to-see. Some people continue to hold out hope, but it’s just like waiting for the next deadline to come and go and then what you know new restrictions or policies are in place after that. So, it makes planning very challenging, especially for all sports. And then you know for local events that are happening here in the valley, 30 days seem to be the magic marker. You have to make a decision by then, but deadlines often aren’t reached by that point. So, it’s challenging.


Greg: I’m seeing things like virtual 5k runs and virtual events that people are signing up for to support. I mean maybe for the summer for the next 90 days are these trends that we’re going to see you think coming out how we can host events and be involved? I mean, are we going to put a start and finish line up that people can just run through the weekend and do what they want? What do you think? Any ideas on that?


Rene: I’m blown away by how innovative people are and how quickly they’ve come to the table and things we come up during these times we can’t physically be on a field or out together or at a start run together. The virtual stuff, yes, seems to be trending, and you know people have different ways of even getting creative with that. Go out and see how far you can go in an hour or complete, you know, a marathon or half-marathon or 10k and submit your results, and we can send you a medal. I mean you’re certainly missing overall, like let’s get everybody together kind of feel to that. So, I think it works for some people or it’s probably just waiting for the real thing but…


Greg: Yeah, I missed the post beer 5k. That’s really hard. I mean maybe Kim and I, we can do a 5k right now on Zoom. Kim? We can, you know- this is what I’m doing, it’s not really helping me like get in shape, but I feel like, you know, Zoom 5ks are going to be the new thing which I’m not sure what that looks like. So, Kim, economic development, communities, what are your peers saying? I mean, this is a big loss. I mean, I think about even Grand Junction with JUCO and GJ Rockies and then bigger communities that have, you know, Colorado Rapids and NFL and all that. So, what’s going on in your world that you’re seeing with this?


Kim: Well, sports do play a very significant role in our communities everywhere from you mentioned our rec centers to you know the little baseball games with our children everywhere up to the NFL or to baseball. So, not only are we losing some serious sales that pay for those sports or players, but we’re also- we also are missing out on a major part of the quality of life that we see on a daily basis. You know, from- you know seniors who go to their water aerobics, they aren’t able to do that. And so how are they getting their exercise? And that’s also a social time for them.


My mom hasn’t been able to go to her exercise class, and that’s where all of her friends are. And so there is an aside and a depression factor to that. But then also all of those sales tax dollars that aren’t getting back to our municipalities. So, we are you’re going to see a major decline in our sales tax revenue, not just from retail but also from sports as well.


Greg: Yeah, I’m on the Fruita of Parks and Rec. board, and, you know there’s a big Mike’s festival that’s going to be postponed, and it’s always a favorite of mine. And many of you that just hung out with music and I think 5k run and that supports all these kinds of recreational programs. We have our rec center. So, again I don’t think we really understand what that impact looks like and how quickly we can get back up to speed with that.


One of the things I think about and what I’ve been reading here is, “plan now play later mantra” as a business objective. How are you- maybe how are you all seeing- or maybe- Jen is like, is that what people are thinking about, same thing in the business world where they’re like we’re putting these lead development plans together trying to get things. But is that something you think we can do properly or is that a recommendation for communities maybe or you know? I don’t know. Just trying to give a few words of advice as people are trying to connect.


Jen: Yeah, you know it’s an interesting concept. It really has to do with the level of sport you’re talking about. I mean, you mentioned something that’s huge- is the Kentucky Derby from Louisville getting moved to Saturday in September and Labor Day weekend. What’s going on, on Saturdays in the fall around the country? Right? There’s already college football, and all these- a lot of things are happening. So, now you’ve got this compression issue happening. Where folks, we saw in our March tracking for sports ETA 92% of events were canceled outright, and 8% were postponed. We’ll check that again for April and June and so forth, but it’s not always a circumstance where you can pick up a season or even a particular event and then place that is another date in the calendar. It impacts registration. It impacts the ability to broadcast and media rights, sponsorship dollars. Those things just domino effect across the sea.


So, as much as you’d love to be able to say, “Hey, my kids missed Little League” or as a community “We couldn’t host JUCO let’s drop it in the fall”, that’s really just not feasible from a calendar perspective. There are some circumstances where that can happen, but on the whole, it really has to do with the size and scope of the sport event you’re talking about, and whether it’s a seasonal approach, and also the community that it’s being held in, right? You see that right now with the NFL Draft that was slated for Las Vegas, and now they’re going virtual. And now there’s IT guys camped out in front of GM’s houses to make sure things don’t go haywire. So, it really just does depend on the sport and the location.


Greg: So, let’s talk about the NFL Draft because there’s a great example. These are the first. That’s never happened before like this. So, you think everybody is trying to watch what- so NFL came up they have a draft everybody’s freaking out- and I read- they- I think, I was sharing articles together is like, they have to send all this expensive equipment out to each of the people and then train these guys or have tech or, you know, social distance tech support; I was just imagining this in my head. I mean again, and then I think Kim was talking about how watching this is not the same, right? It’s not the same excitement. We’re already behind on, you know, NBA games and hockey. I mean, I don’t know; we’re going to be playing hockey in August’s trying to finish it up. I know we’re just kind of going through different things. I mean, how does this happen, or what are things people are going to learn from it, or are we going to lose fan excitement?


Jen: That is a good question. I think the NFL, just talking about the major sports leagues, has really been the one that’s had a little bit more time to consider this because just by the nature of the calendar. It’s a Fall League, or the league starts in the fall. So, they have a little bit of leeway, whereas the NBA was midseason, baseball was getting ready to kick-off, all of those sorts of things. I think you’re going to see some of this stick. I mean, we’re obviously just as workers we’re developing new ways to work. And you know the old cliché about “necessity being the mother of invention” is true. You can check out the iRacing on Nascar, or things of that nature just to fill that void. And Kim really hit the nail on the head, you know, the economics is one big important spoke in the wheel. But it’s the quality of life- the intangibles: that feeling around the community when JUCO comes to town. Those are the things that are irreplaceable in a lot of sense.


Greg: Yeah, the fan connection is definitely something. I think we’re going to learn new ways to connect to the fans and subscription type of models that we’re going to go. You know Renee, with I mean- we’re seeing like- we’re just talking about like events moving or being put on hold. And it sure is like we’re going to have a stack of events coming up in September, where everybody’s going to want to have their September-October-November type of event because no one really wants to know what’s going to put on. You know, how much time, or is there a new- planning where it used to take a year at a plan or six months or nine months. Are we seeing that we’re trying to reshuffle calendars? Are we able to make a month-by-month decision on some of these or are some easier to move than others? I mean, maybe there’s recommendations you have or what you’re starting to see.


Rene: I’m- you know, in the beginning (which it wasn’t even that long ago with all this, right?), I think a lot of people’s first knee-jerk reaction when it’s scheduled is trying to look at the schedule or calendar for the fall. And as things have developed and evolved, I mean, my two cents to those folks is: don’t do that because we are going to have a full calendar in September without trying to dump other events on there. And people are having to choose between what they’re able to attend if that becomes the case. So, I think all events at that point then suffer like the ones that are already scheduled for September are going to suffer because now we’re dumping other events on top of them. But I think people’s tune has changed a little bit just given that everything has become more and more uncertain. And so, do they really want to put their efforts into rescheduling by the end of the year when in a month from now it can change, and, you know, our restrictions haven’t been lifted. And so they’re still unable to do it. I think they’re going to lose money and resources and having to keep sending out communications. So there are participants in athletes based on “Oh, new update, we’ve changed again.”


So, what I’m seeing is that more and more people are kind of giving up on trying to reschedule this year and just saying, “We’re postponing it until next year, or we’re just going to forgo 2020, and put all of our energy and effort into 2021.”


Greg: Yeah, I have seen that already, which, it’s April or going into May, and we’re already seeing, you know, even like things like Disney of all places are thinking, “just maybe we should just wait for things in 2021,” right? Which is it’s just crazy to me. I’m wondering, like what events can we have and save. I mean, this isn’t about the music industry, but I know each of you like to go see live music. And I think it’s the same for that too, where- like- how do we plan and schedule?


So, back to the events, you know one of the things I’ve been on these tourism calls for the state. As people of the community start asking when they’re going to open up and can, it’s more of a regional approach, is what it sounds like to me. We’re going to look to attract people from, you know, maybe the next community over versus, you know, getting people to come- maybe we get people to come from Denver but are people going to want to stay overnight- do they feel safe or can we get people to come you know within an hour to three hours away? So, I don’t know if any of you have any thoughts, Kim? Have you heard anything like that like community saying, “Hey, let’s make community first and then work outward,”? I’m not sure what you guys are hearing.



Kim: Yeah, we do have some very sensitive areas in our state that were the first ones to feel the effect. For instance, Gunnison is very gun-shy (no pun intended) but very gun-shy right now into allowing a lot of people into their community. So, you know they really want to be thoughtful in their approach. Of course, they want to open up. They need to get their businesses going. They need to have outside dollars coming into their community in order for the economy to be robust. But they also need to do it sensibly, and they also need to put their constituents first. So, when we think about how we advertise and market the different parts of our state- everything right now is about what’s inside your home- what’s inside your backyard- what’s across the street- what can you do that gives you the ability for social distancing, but also allows you to have some enjoyment in your life? As we phase ourselves back into normal reality and how we do things, I see sports phasing in a way as well as our events and large venue type opportunities. But it will be a phase-in process, and it also has to do with how quickly we can get some kind of cure, vaccine, or medication that would help alleviate some of the severity of the disease. I think it’s a waiting game.


Greg: Yeah, I think every day they’re trying to figure out what this vaccine is, and you know, what’s going to happen. And we’re going to track things across the country. So, I’m thinking a lot about families we know that have kids going to school or college sports and, you know, and things like that. I mean, we’re we’ve always been big like CU supporters and now Mavs since we live out here, you know, really love the Mav football/baseball. So, I don’t know. I’m going to go to Jen on this. You know, what do you think is going to happen? Or, what is- you know, we don’t have a crystal ball, and I’m not here to scare anybody, but I am a realist, so I’m wondering if you have any questions on that.


Jen: Yeah, you know, Kim, you bring up a really interesting point too just in terms of the phasing in. I think there is there is opportunity here. The world that Rene and I live in with sport tourism whether it’s the NFL Draft or a little league tournament, the perception of sport as a consumer is that they just kind of happen, and we watch them, and we go to Denver we go to Salt Lake, and we come to Grand Junction for events. But when you- when you layer it with the tourism side those are all- if it’s the Super Bowl to the Olympics all the way down to our kids leagues, those are all bid on events that communities are proactively going out to hosts for that economic development, for quality of life, for community brand exposure.


So, those types of things that bid on activity has only been front and center in this industry, but over the past couple of years, we’ve seen this trend increased. So, how does this really play a role in community development and economic development from job recruiting and retention perspective from a repeat visitation perspective? Those sorts of things have been kind of underlying. So, I really think from our perspective, you know, leisure travel will probably pick up first. Even these are sport travel because it’s something less regulated and constricted in terms of set competition.


Greg: So, let’s back up a second when you say “leisure sports travel” what the heck do you mean? Because a lot of people are listening.


Jen: Yeah.


Greg: Is that me in a speedo swimming out in some blue water?


Jen: Hopefully not Greg.


Greg: I mean, I got some pictures to put up here. What is leisure?


Jen: People that are traveling for the fun of it are not here for a specific tournament or event they’re just saying hey you know what Fruita is looking awesome this weekend I want to go over there and ride my mountain bike maybe hit up a brewery or grab a pizza at Hot Tomato or something. That’s what we’re talking about for leisure travel and that kind of allows that natural social distancing aspect of it. So, I think we’ll see that pickup, and I think that’s a great thing for our local community on the western slope to see that I also think it’s going to just create opportunities to really dive into that recreation sport for our community. Because you’re what you said, Greg is absolutely right. People are going to be a little bit resistant to travel. So, we can focus on some things across the industry that are frankly, you know, diverse, is- diversifying our revenue and our portfolios and trying to create opportunities for local kids in a safe and meaningful way that helps us all win in this interim and long term as we diversify.


Greg: Yeah, I think we do see in Rene, maybe, I keep thinking this, I’d like to see Mesa County start opening up like local events for local people you know kind of getting that sense and safety back together and, so kids can play. I can go- we can go- run a 5k have that kind of community-based sports again. I don’t know; I think we’re all hearing the same thing is I think we’re going to watch the numbers over the next month and see what happens. Is there things that we see they’re going to. You said leisure travel. Rene, do you see anything that might turn on first, you know, like as we go back as we see things pulling back into this if the schedule allows?


Rene: I think- talking to a few organizations an event there’s I think some of that opportunity is more just to make the local community comfortable first. And it’s also trying to align with what the DMOs in this city in the county are trying to change as well so it ‘s–


Greg: Again, DMO?


Rene: Destination Management Organizations like our Visit Grand Junction.


Greg: I got to just say it because people will text me later, like, “What?”


Rene: Yeah.


Greg: Yeah, no worries. You’re on our show here, I’m just trying to make people smarter because I always forget like DMO and then I have to guess. So, Destination Management Organizations like Visit Grand Junction. Thank you.


Rene: The city and the county, like what is their plan, and what do they want their message to be, and then how can we help educate event owners and sporting events? Because you know to me, I feel like we have to align with that a little bit. They can’t just say, “We’re ready to have our sporting event and open it up to all this tourism and outside people coming into our community,” if the community’s not ready for that. So, it’s- check how do we create this atmosphere where locally we’re comfortable, and we’re putting on events in sports that our local families and kids are comfortable with, and then kind of expand from there.


Greg: Yeah. I agree to that I think we’re going to see and we’re going to watch a lot of sports where there’s no fans and I think that if they’re smart, they’re not going to keep panning to the stands right and say, “Look at that.” You know because we don’t want to see a stand full of masks or things like that or those types of you know… I think we’re going to get into an environment where, you know, it’s going to be a strange thing we’re going to go to events, and they’re going to take our temperature, and we walk in to go to a baseball game. We’re going to have distance seating. I mean, I don’t know if that’s going to help anything. You know, I don’t know what the new normal is going to be and maybe we kind of, with a couple minutes we have left, they go around. I know Kim, do you think there is a new normal that could come out of this? You know- I mean we got tons of hand-washing stations, I mean do we, you know, temperature checks, or, I don’t know. I mean, I just hope it doesn’t get that way because I don’t think that’s going to help people to go to events, but maybe that’s what it’s going to take to feel safe.


Kim: What scares me, I don’t know, I think it’s in South Korea they’re testing an app on your phone if you test with the temperature you can set off everybody’s phone around you. [Laughs] You can be a potential carrier, I mean that just scares me I don’t want to go out and be that person, so I hope it doesn’t get to that point. I don’t think so, I’m an optimist. I believe that this is short-term just like every other pandemic we’ve ever had our science community is amazing and brilliant and they are working very quickly. And it’s not just the US it’s the whole world that is working on this cure and so again it’s going to be like every other pandemic where, yes we’re going to have a little PSD over it for a while, but for the short term but then in the long term. We’re going to forget about the effect we’re going to say, “Oh yeah, I remember that was such a crazy time.” But we’re going to go back to a lot of our normal behaviors.


Now I do see that maybe and hopefully, you know, people are a lot cleaner and they realize that “You know I do have a cough and I shouldn’t go to work” and our employers should feel and should encourage work from home if you are sick. And it’s not because somebody’s, you know, just lazy it’s because they don’t want to get their co-workers sick. And so, I just- I hope we do start seeing some changes as we move forward knowing that we can affect each other. But we shouldn’t be scared of each other either.


Greg: One, I don’t want to run a 5k in a mask. I can barely run a 5k without a mask, so I hope that doesn’t happen, but if it does, then I think you’re right. About coughing and sneezing, god forbid you have like the allergies, and I’m on a plane and I sneeze, I think those things kind of like worried me too. But I do like your positivity Kim as always, every you know, so the world it’s not “whoa.” It’s just, how do we plan forward to go through this. I’m not sure if anybody has it, but I do appreciate the science. I’m thinking we just turn off the media for about two weeks, I think we come back we’ll say like things are a little bit better. Hey, how about you, Rene? Any closing thoughts that you’re looking at or vice or what do you think the new normal might look like. Can you beat Kim’s positivity?


Rene: I do. I mean, events are going to look different, mostly going forward for a while. I think that it’s a question of like somebody has to go first and see what happens and how effective whatever measures they put in place were or are. And it’s kind of scary to be that first group, I suppose, but I do think that people are going to have to get creative and innovative with how they’re going to host their events. We look at 5K’s and cycling events and stuff like that. I think there’s going to be potentially more cost involved with putting some of those events on for a while with having to manage crowd control and keeping distance and communication with, how do you make your participants and athletes feel comfortable you- even get them to the start line- what items can you provide them for safety measures. And then it’s kind of the question of if you’re requiring that they have to wear this, should you be putting it on?


Greg: I choke up in the grocery store trying to wear my mask on, so you know you don’t want to see that. So, I agree with you, we got to keep the safety first, and I think we’ll be testing on that. Well, thank you, Rene.


Jen, one thing I came to mind, was we didn’t really talk about the Olympics, those got moved. Those are one of the first things that they- it sounds like a little global push and from athletes in different countries decided to flip could go to next year- so, to me, that was a big deal. I don’t know, but we’re going to close out with you on this. I think unless anybody has anything to say. You got to beat their positivity. What do you think is going to happen? Are we just going to watch table tennis or create our own sports going forward in our backyards or…?


Jen: Well, hopefully lawn darts don’t make a comeback during this stay at home order all over the place, but yeah, you’re right.


Greg: Husband and wives are starting to throw things at each other with all this, so there might be some kind of sports that come out of it [laughter].


Jen: Kim and Rene are spot-on. I mean, the optimism is there, and sport has always been something that has brought us together as people over time, and there are a lot of benefits to that economically and otherwise that we talked about. It will look different; there’s no doubt about it. We’re watching trends into at least the second half of ’21 into ’22 for an upswing just in how these organizations are typically funded and things of that nature. But, I think, you know there’s definitely a silver lining there when we talk about our local area and how we create opportunities for our local populations and that- and spawning that into economic development. You always hear in specialization, which is, you know kids picking one sport at the ripe age of 7, and not diversifying their participation opportunities. So, I think there will be some good things that come from that in the long haul. I’m with Kim, you know, at some point in time we’re going to kind of get back, and this is going to fade a little bit, but it’s going to change the way we do business as an industry.


Greg: Yeah, I definitely think we’re going to have a lot of newness come up. And new products, services, business, that’s what I usually see out of this from like economic recoveries and things like that. You know I want to say I have Elizabeth Fogerty from Visit Grand Junction it heads up that- she’s on listening and she sent me a message. I was going to bring her on, but as we’re closing out here, we’ll get her on the next one. But she does say, “Visit Grand Junction strategy will continue to put the safety and health of all this community first. Our lifestyles residents will continue to guide our focus, concerns and initiatives of the destination marketing organization.” That DMO word. So, I think that’s great and I’d love to hear that. You were taking our residents first. We’re putting that message out there. We love our visitors. I live in Fruita and we’re a big destination for all kinds of fun. I want people to know that there’s a lot of smart people working behind this.


I really appreciate every- each one of you and what you’re doing in your community and your organization. I know that it’s tiresome because we’re on a lot of these calls, we’re trying to figure out. Everyday there seems for me and my customers we’re putting a new plan in place that we didn’t have last week because there’s a shift in that. I think we’ll get through this together. I think we’ll learn from it. I think we’ll learn for the next kind of pandemic. We will help people. I think we’ll be a lot stronger. And we just have to be a little bit patient that we know we’re going to go back to a baseball game in the future- we know we’re going to go see a concert- we know where our kids are going to be playing those games. And in the short term we just got to figure out, like what can we do to stay engaged fans whether it’s a college, a local rec center, NASCAR or those kinds of things? So, as we continue to have those ideas, we’ll continue to share.


With that, I will close out, and I appreciate each one of you and what you do. Have a wonderful day, all right? And I look forward to talking to you soon.



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