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Sports event planners hear pitches for Detroit market From The Detroit

Posted Oct 05 2012 2:41am

Even though Detroit already has hosted the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, the Super Bowl and the NCAA men's basketball Final Four in the past seven years, the region's business and political leaders are pursuing more big-time sports events.

Tourism and business representatives are trying to capitalize this week on hosting the Teams '12 Conference and Expo at Cobo Center in Detroit. About 1,500 sports event organizers, members of sports governing bodies and other players — including representatives of other cities that also want to book big events — have descended on the city for the industry's biggest annual gathering, which ends today.

"This is important because it affords us an opportunity to have about 100 event organizers, especially, see our city first-hand and what we have to offer, and for us to meet with them one-on-one to understand exactly what they're looking for," said Dave Beachnau, executive director of the Detroit Sports Commission, a subsidiary of the Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Detroit boosters expected to do a great job making their pitch.

"With gigantic sports events, we've already found that we've been up to the task, both in execution and production as well as in attendance," said Andy Appleby, CEO of General Sports & Entertainment, a Rochester-based sports management and marketing firm. "We're definitely a world-class sports city, and I would expect that we'll continue to get the big events."

The region already has momentum going into next summer, when Detroit will host the Amateur Athletic Union's Junior Olympic Games and the 35,000 participants, parents and others who are expected to attend. Some leaders even hope that southeast Michigan eventually hosts an international event such as the Pan American Games or the Olympics.

So Detroit organizers have squired event planners on a tour of the city's major sports venues, hosting a reception at Ford Field.

"Our venues are truly a tremendous asset when we go out and try to attract sporting events and conventions to Detroit and to this entire region," said Larry Alexander, president and CEO of the Detroit convention bureau.

Organizers also conducted a panel discussion Tuesday on Michigan's tourism and sporting advantages at Joe Louis Arena featuring Chris Ilitch — CEO of Ilitch Holdings Inc., owner of the Tigers and Red Wings — and Alexander.

Beachnau agreed that Detroit has an advantage in competing with other U.S. cities in being "perceived as a sports town." He said it's more difficult to market the city as a destination for other events.

Some are even arguing that Detroit is "one of the promising 'emerging' markets in the United States because of what it already has gone through and how it's positioned to be transformed over the long term," said Greg Pellegrino, a Washington, D.C.-based principal with Deloitte, a management consulting firm, who is familiar with Michigan after doing work with the administration of Gov. John Engler about a decade ago.

"I remind people to keep an eye on Michigan," said Pellegrino, author of a 2010 study on the impact of major international sporting events on their hosts.

But metropolitan competition for hosting major sports events has stiffened.

"There are several hundred locations like ours trying to do what we're doing," Beachnau said. "Competition has increased, and so have the costs of competing. You have to be strategic in how you approach and target specific event organizers and the events you want to go after."

In the wake of the Super Bowl and college basketball tournament, some in Detroit are arguing that the city should pursue even bigger prizes such as the Pan Am Games — which Toronto landed for 2015 — or the Olympics.

Hosting the Olympics is "great for the brand of the cities that host these events," Pellegrino said. "The awareness is a boost to the economy and can be sustained."

But sports marketing expert Andrew Zimbalist contends that Detroit shouldn't aspire to host an Olympics.

"It doesn't work out," said Zimbalist, a Smith College professor who studies the issue. Barcelona benefited from hosting the 1992 Summer Olympics, he said, but there's no proof that London did.

In addition, the cost for hosting the Olympics is billions of dollars.

"In an era of fiscal austerity," especially in financially ailing Detroit, Zimbalist said, "to take on those kinds of capital commitments for many facilities that will be used for 17 days and then scarcely used again — it only pays off for construction companies."

Detroit would face more hurdles than Chicago, which mounted a multimillion-dollar effort in 2009 to land the 2016 Summer Olympics with aid of a prominent personal plea by President Barack Obama and lost to Rio de Janeiro.

But a serious bid for the Olympics doesn't seem to be in the cards now, Beachnau said.

"We need to be realistic," he said, "and take a strategic approach in trying to land the events that can help us build a track record for other international sports competitions."

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