Story by Ryan Bolton Photography courtesy of CSC and Ironman
Tim Morgan’s bird’s-eye view of the city from the SunTrust tower may shout ‘life is good,’ but behind the scenes, the Chattanooga Sports Committee (CSC) works relentlessly to leave no stone unturned in the search for business through sport, boosting tourism for the entire region.
It is clear that Chattanooga is taking sport seriously after Finley Stadium erupted in excitement when the US Women’s National Team entertained soccer fans with its World Cup-winning talent and anticipation continues to mount for the inaugural Chattanooga Marathon in March 2016. Morgan, who is president of the CSC, coordinates with Bob Doak, president of the Chattanooga Visitors Bureau (CVB), to promote Chattanooga’s assets and sell the city as an ideal destination for a range of sporting events.
Officially named the Greater Chattanooga Sports and Events Committee, which is a 501c3 non-profit organization, the CSC is now embedded into the CVB and uses its shorter name for marketing and branding purposes. The CVB was restructured in 2002.
“Tim does not have to spend time on accounting and paperwork that come with running a nonprofit,” says Doak. “His team’s goal is to sell.” Doak explains how other cities vary in how they operate their sports committee but ultimately, “we needed to design the system best suited for us and typically we are leaders, not followers.”
The main revenue for the CSC comes through occupancy tax which is why filling hotel rooms is the leading priority. To achieve this goal Morgan explains how it is imperative to “stay in your lane” and focus on your own area of expertise in order to maximize success. By taking on a salesman-like role Morgan has the privileged task of boasting about Chattanooga’s qualities in order to secure sporting events that will bring people in and fill hotel vacancies. As a consequence, other businesses, like restaurants, benefit from that additional tourism.
“There are three ways that we focus on sports business; we either create the business, you go out and capture new business and bring it into this market, or you cultivate the growth of annual repeat activity for events that fit for the Chattanooga region,” says Morgan. The first method is exactly what was used in the case of the Chattanooga Marathon. Destined to become an event cherished by locals, the CSC will also be hoping to invite many athletes from outside the city to visit for the weekend. Planning the marathon started approximately a year before it was actually announced, with casual conversations about the idea of a marathon gradually progressing until the concept developed into reality.
This year, Chattanooga once again hosted the IRONMAN US Series on September 27th. Morgan speaks of how the enthusiasm the local community displayed was a key factor in being able to book the event. He thinks the eagerness shown has led to securing the IRONMAN World Championship in 2017, which Morgan and Doak recently negotiated.
“We can set the business deal and align partners, but the community accepting those types of events and showcasing our destination is another differentiator,” says Morgan.
Collaborating with different organizations is fundamental to the CSC if it is to function effectively, and this was proven with the planning of the US Women’s soccer game in August. Morgan says, “Stars aligned for the perfect storm and when the opportunity presented itself for us (Chattanooga Football Club, Finley Stadium, CSC and CVB) to get connected to the right person at US Soccer we jumped on it. We all said this would be good for our community.” With each organization focusing on their area of expertise; CFC talking soccer, Finley Stadium focused on venue operations, and the CSC promoting Chattanooga, the team was able to secure a deal with US Soccer.
Organizing these events requires the availability of top class facilities and Morgan admits that “there is a lot of infrastructure around this community that is older in nature and it could definitely use some improvements.” Morgan maintains a “build it and they will come” attitude. The CSC will actively pursue sporting events that are suitable for the facilities Chattanooga has. For example, the softball complex at Warner Park creates a fantastic opportunity to host tournaments that bring a lot of teams into the city, generating an influx of revenue for the economy.
The CSC works with over 90 events throughout the year and in some cases volunteer assistance is required through athletic boosters and sports teams in the Hamilton County area. Morgan explains, “We work within the budget to give back,” Morgan explains. “That’s our way of trying to help the athletic organizations, relieving some [of the]stress to raise funds.”
The most difficult challenge for Morgan is “making sure we understand the business and the potential opportunity, making sure that we have the resources to afford the business, and qualifying it to making sure our community wants this piece of business.” The CSC must also research how the national governing bodies of particular sports function so that, as Morgan says, “we understand how they want to do business. We have to understand how they operate so we can perfect our bid to get the business.”
Once the foundation is in place, Morgan will develop a strategic plan to get people on board so that the event can come to fruition. But the least problematic part of the job is selling this destination. “It sells itself,” Morgan says.
Explaining further, Doak notes how Chattanooga’s natural beauty “gives us a competitive advantage over other cities. What we have is a destination.” And, it is not just the landscape that gives Chattanooga the edge. “We have got scenic beauty which is amazing,” says Doak. “But, if you don’t have passionate people partnering the progress, you have nothing.”
For information on upcoming events see chattanoogasports.com