Attracting and Promoting Sporting Events in Connecticut

April 15, 2010

Congratulations to the University of Connecticut Women’s Basketball team on their 2nd consecutive NCAA championship and their record 78 game winning streak. It is an amazing achievement and something the entire state can be proud of. One of the unique things about this year’s NCAA tournament run was that it was the first time the Huskies did not play a tournament game in the state of Connecticut. Not to worry however, as next year the first and second rounds return to Gampel Pavilion.

While Connecticut has been host to a great number of women’s NCAA and Big East Tournament games that have brought visitors to our state from all over the country, there is no coordinated effort to bring other high-profile sporting events to our area. This isn’t to say that the state cannot get sporting events to come here. In fact, Hartford will be the host of the 2010 USA Gymnastics Visa Championships later this year. But the point is that unlike most other states that have sports commissions to bid and do what is needed to attract events, Connecticut has no such entity.

As a member of the legislature’s Commerce Committee, one of our responsibilities is to look at the ways in which Connecticut can better market itself in order to attract people and business to our state. One measure that has come before the committee this year is a bill to create a Connecticut Sports and Marketing Corporation to help attract and retain sporting events in the state.

There is no question that major sporting events help local businesses. It is estimated that last month’s Big East women’s basketball tournament held at the XL Center brought in over $2 million in economic benefits to the Greater Hartford region. With thousands of fans and personnel representing the 16 schools that make up the conference congregating in the city for 5 days, hotels, restaurants and other local retail establishments were bustling.

While the state has been fortunate to get some high profile sporting events to our state, such as the women’s tournament, the Visa Championships, the PGA Tour’s Travelers Championship and the Pilot Pen tennis tournament, there are many who believe the state is missing out on opportunities of hosting a wide array of other sporting events because there is no state commission in place.

In his testimony before the Commerce Committee, Charles Steedman, the Senior Vice President of Northland AEG (the company that oversees the XL Center and Rentschler Field), said that a sports commission will greatly enhance Connecticut’s visibility amongst promoters throughout the country. He said that the placement of major sporting events is handled through a very competitive bidding process and that one of the major roles of a commission is to provide a central authority that can work with communities, hotels and other interests to promote and ultimately operate such events.

Steedman said that through his position at Northland the responsibility to negotiate, solicit, contract and run events in the region fall on him. Through his efforts, Hartford was awarded the gymnastics championships, however he made it clear that the state has to overcome a perception that there is not broad support for hosting events because of the lack of what he calls a “viable sports commission.”

A February report to the Commerce Committee by the State’s Sports Advisory Board, indicates how a sports commission could assist in the effort to secure events. According to the report, the Arena at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport – in conjunction with Fairfield University – successfully won a bid to host the 2008 and 2011 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) men’s and women’s basketball championships. The 2008 event provided a major economic impact for Bridgeport and surrounding towns.

The study went on to say that the MAAC, along with other collegiate conferences, now use consultants to assist in the bid process. When Harbor Yard went to bid on the 2012-2014 tournaments it lost out to Springfield Massachusetts, even though the state of Massachusetts has no ties to any of the schools in the MAAC. The reason according to the report was that the Massachusetts sports commission (Massachusetts Sports Partnership -MSP) was able to bring all necessary interests and resources together to win the award. The study concludes by saying “with no central organization to ascertain that the MAAC also had interest in a neutral site, an event was lost to a neighboring state.”

After watching this year’s NCAA men’s tournament, I am curious as to why Connecticut has not hosted a men’s tournament game since 1998; after all, it’s the type of event people in Connecticut would flock to. According to some, the parking situation and the lack of coordination with local restaurants and businesses was so poor that the NCAA decided it would not bring the men’s tournament back to Hartford. The creation of a centralized sports authority would help alleviate these concerns and bring high profile events such as this to Connecticut and in doing so, help boost our economy.

For information about this issue, I can be reached at [email protected].