The So What of Sports

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Let’s briefly talk about the “so what” of sports.

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What am I talking about you ask?

Fair question. Let me explain.

You see, I’m writing this post from the Kansas City airport on my way back to Colorado from a remarkable experience attending the WIN for KC Annual Women’s Sports Awards Celebration. I was invited to attend by my dear friend and mentor (or as she calls it “truth teller”), Kathy Nelson, and I’m so glad I accepted the invitation because aside from the frigid cold of the Midwest, my short stay in town (slightly more than 24 hours) also reminded me about the essence of sport…the “so what”.

Kathy’s team hosted a packed house of more than 2,000 attendees to see a handful of KC community members receive awards. Yes, Holly Rowe emcee’d the event and Simone Biles participated in a pure, and lovely discussion, but there was so much more.

Photo: WIN for KC

In the sports world there is big money, big risk, big reward, plenty of self-aggrandizing, and an ever-increasing drive for commercialization resulting in sport being perceived as rather (or completely) elitist. Only enough room for the cream of the crop. Not on the “A” travel team? Sorry, you shouldn’t be playing at all. No college scholarship? Out of luck. You had to watch the boring Super Bowl from home since you couldn’t afford the $3k per ticket price tag? How embarrassing. News flash: the Super Bowl was boring, you didn’t miss anything!

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See, even the players and coaches were bored. Photo: EW.com

These may be exaggerations to some extent, but I’d argue elitism is becoming an epidemic in sports.

In my simple mind, this mentality is the complete antithesis of what sport should be in our society.

The WIN for KC event provided a refreshing reprieve from sport as big business, and a 2 hour window into the “so what”.

Does the KC Sports Commission recruit huge events for economic impact and brand perception? You bet. As most sport tourism entities do.

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It’s all well-and-good that these marquee events, such as the 2019 USA Gymnastics Championships come to town, those are great and have a purpose, but it’s what the sports commission does for the community – taking their impact beyond economic and brand and into the community that they work, live and play – that makes the difference.

In my dissertation research, I found that just shy of 50% of sport commission mission statements indicated a desired outcome related to socio-cutural leverage, or building a better community/quality of life, 66% reported desire for economic impact and about 53% concerned with brand awareness of their community.

This statistic shows that the impact of sports on the community through non-economic and branding efforts is imperative to these entities. It may be important enough to make it into the mission statement, but that doesn’t necessarily mean communities succeed on making it a reality.

The team in KC has it right.

A young African American swimmer, an elite soccer player turned coach giving back to refugees, a legendary female pole vault coach who changed the standard in a sport, an amputee who got her life back with prosthetic running legs, and the legacy of women who perpetuated the vision for WIN for KC through serving as volunteer board chairs for the organization. These are the “so whats” that today’s event recognized…the faces behind the mission.

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WIN for KC Camp, Photo: Kansas City Pitch

And you know what? The goodwill and value built in the community through these efforts more than likely drives the success of the economic and branding efforts KC also does so well. They are building ambassadors, funders, and culture. These efforts go hand-in-hand, they are not mutually exclusive.

The point here is, as sport event and tourism professionals we often stop at what we think is the goal line: driving economic impact and brand for our destination. But I’d encourage you to take a page out of KC’s book, to look up, and consider the “so what” in your destination’s efforts. You have to give to get. And the good work of bettering your community will not go unaccounted for in the other aspects of your business. After all, you live in your town too, so you might as well make the impact of your organization set the tone of community for your family and your kids’ kids.

The essence of sport is not elitist. It’s inclusive. It’s a common bond. It’s overcoming. It’s uniting. It’s confidence inducing. It’s life changing. And it’s for all.

Not surprisingly, the team in KC hit it out of the park today. Thank you for reminding me that sport, in its purest form, is about the “so what”.

As JFK said, “One person can make a difference, and everyone should try.” This is Stoll on Sports.

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