From Beer to Sports, Grand Rapids Leads

Last month, my staff and I joined sports tourism professionals from across the country in Milwaukee for the National Association of Sports Commissions (NASC) Sports Event Symposium. In addition to the expected dose of Wisconsin hospitality, attendees received a first-person encounter with Beer City USA from Grand Rapids. That’s because our city will host the 24th annual NASC Sports Event Symposium next year, April 3-7, 2016 at DeVos Place, and we previewed our city’s offerings at this year’s conference.

So who is the NASC – and what is the annual Sports Event Symposium? As the only trade association for the sports tourism industry, the NASC is a critical organization whose members include not only convention & visitor bureaus and sports commissions, but also national sports governing bodies. Think NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association), AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) and USOC (United States Olympic Committee) – the dream team of the national sports industry. This 1,000-strong group attends its association’s largest annual gathering in a different city each year to network with peers, participate in industry workshops, and elect new leadership. Next April, these sports professionals will meet in Grand Rapids – and while they’re here, they’ll look at our venues, stay in our hotels, and eat in our restaurants. This is definitely an audience to whom you want to show your city.

The Grand Rapids community should be incredibly proud we’re at the point of showing off our stuff to this important audience – especially because we’ve only been actively pursuing sports tourism since 2007 when the West Michigan Sports Commission was formed. Hosting our trade association’s annual conference is a significant milestone in our history as a sports commission. More than just a milestone though, it’s an important nod from the sports tourism industry who recognizes Grand Rapids as a serious and competitive community for hosting regional and national sporting events. The irony is not lost on us either – when we first explored creating a sports commission, we tapped NASC President Don Schumacher to meet with our team to learn how to start a sports commission. We also attended NASC’s annual symposiums in stellar sporting cities around the country – Portland, Dallas, Louisville, Columbus – and we gleaned all the information we could at these important meetings about how other cities were attracting sporting events to their communities.

While hosting this conference in Grand Rapids certainly is a boost to our egos that says we have arrived as a sports city, it has a far more tangible benefit. It brings national sports governing bodies (many who are actively looking for their next tournament location) to our backyard – many of whom have never been here before. And as we’ve learned from the 400 sporting events and tournaments we’ve hosted since our inception seven years ago, we always have an edge in the bid process when planners see for themselves our first-class facilities and experience our vibrant community.

About that beer in Milwaukee. The West Michigan Sports Commission and our partners at Experience Grand Rapids hosted a booth at the NASC Symposium’s marketplace area featuring information (and samples) about why we’re a craft beer destination. We also sponsored the closing session and brought in our very own Mike Stevens, CEO and co-founder of Founders Brewing Company, to tell the story of Founders – a story that reflects the success of Grand Rapids itself.

And if the city can be known as Beer City USA, there’s no reason it can’t also be known someday as Sports City USA.



Mike Guswiler
Mike is president of the West Michigan Sports Commission.

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