Friday, December 13, 2013
By JASON SINGER Assistant City Editor / Online
PORTLAND -- In hopes of luring more sporting events to the Pine Tree State, tourism officials this month created the Maine Sports Commission to lobby on the state's behalf.
From professional golf tournaments to youth soccer competitions and Olympic trials, the commission hopes to attract national and regional sporting events, both big and small.
"The sports marketing business is worth more than $7 billion and there are more than 3,500 sporting events annually looking for somewhere to locate," said Barbara Whitten, a member of the commission and president of the Greater Portland Convention and Visitors Bureau. "We'd like to get a few more of those in Maine."
Seven of the state's eight tourism regions participated in creating the commission, which currently has 13 members, including one from each of the seven regions. It also includes Carolann Ouellette, director of the Maine Office of Tourism; one representative each from the Bangor and Portland tourism bureaus; and a representative from each of the sports, education and tourism industries.
Each of the seven regions will contribute $10,000 per year to the endeavor, and the Maine Office of Tourism has agreed to match that with $70,000 per year in resources. Both the private and public sides have made a three-year commitment.
By March 15, the commission plans to hire a marketing firm or independent contractor, who will do the majority of the lobbying.
The commission is registered with the state as a 501-C6, a nonprofit business organization.
According to Ouellette, the contractor will travel the country and go to sports trade shows, promoting the regions of Maine and their ability to host various events, depending on their geography and facilities.
Youth sporting events are particularly lucrative, she said, and Maine hopes to attract more.
"The kids come with parents and family, they fill hotel rooms, and we know from national studies these folks -- the families -- spend money on food and beverage, retail and visit different sites in the area.
"These events also tend to be somewhat resilient in a down economy," she said. "Parents are going to follow their kids to these events, regardless of the economy."
In some ways, Maine is behind the curve on this issue. Many smaller and midsized states, including Massachusetts and Rhode Island in New England, already have these lobbying commissions.
Plenty of cities and regions have them too, such as Baltimore, Minneapolis, Cape Cod, Chicago and central Florida.
They go to trade shows like those hosted by the National Association of Sports Commissions and meet with various sports groups, trying to persuade them to locate events in their areas.
Maine's commission already has had some success.
Last year, when the Maine Sports Commission wasn't officially formed but moving toward an agreement, representatives went to a trade show in Texas. It's there they persuaded an LPGA Futures Event to come to Cape Elizabeth this July, Whitten said.
The goal, however, is not only to attract new events, but also to expand events currently in Maine.
"Sometimes it's easier and more lucrative to grow an event you already have than land a new one," Whitten said.
If the commission is successful, it will have direct and indirect benefits. By luring first-time visitors here for sporting events, Maine's beauty and resources could convince them to come back for vacations, Ouellette said.
The seven tourism regions participating in the commission are the Maine Beaches, the Greater Portland Casco Bay Region, the Midcoast Region, the Western Lakes & Mountains, Aroostook County, the Kennebec-Moose River Valleys and the Maine Highlands, which includes Bangor.
Only the Downeast-Acadia region will not participate, Whitten said.
The $140,000 won't all go to the contractor. It's basically the commission's annual budget, Whitten said, so it'll go toward resources like a website, a trade-show booth, marketing materials and travel.
Jason Singer can be reached at 791-6437 or: