Katie Yarber is senior manager of events and operations at Chicago Sports Commission in Chicago. As a 2019 Connect Sports Game Changer, she discusses her passion for sports tourism.
*Connect with Yarber on Instagram.
What I do: I lead the Chicago Sports Commission’s event operations, where I collaborate with local stakeholders to develop bids and manage client relationships, working alongside event owners for the events we host to ensure success. I also produce CSC’s Business of Sport Speaker Series, quarterly panel discussions connecting Chicago’s most influential leaders with industry power-players.
How I got here: I started with the Chicago Sports Commission in June 2012, shortly after the organization’s inception in November 2011. As we have grown, so has my role from coordinator to now senior manager of events and operations. Prior to CSC, I worked for USA Baseball, first as an events and public relations coordinator and then director of travel services, where I created a department to streamline the organization’s operations and provide domestic and international travel services to National Teams and other USA Baseball event participants. I’m a proud graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where I earned a B.A. in Sport Administration and Psychology.
Why I am a Game Changer: United Soccer Coaches Convention was last in Chicago in 1982. In July 2017 it committed to Chicago as host city for 2019, 2025 and 2031. The January 2019 event and experienced record-setting attendance of 14,070 attendees from all 50 states and 38 countries; generating $21.3 million in economic impact. Both January and the year 2019 were identified as need periods for Chicago so securing year one of this event was a major win—and the success can be built upon for 2025 and 2031.
Big-Time Event: 2020 NBA All-Star Game: I worked closely with partners at the Chicago Bulls and United Center, other venues, and the hospitality community to help construct a bid that ultimately secured the rights to host. The event is projected to bring over $100 million in economic impact to Chicago—during the first quarter, which is a key need period.
Greatest career accomplishment: Securing the rights to host the 2015 and 2016 NFL Drafts in Chicago, luring it from New York City after 50 years and collaborating with the NFL to create a reimagined draft, a new event concept that allowed them to engage with more fans than ever before, and has continued grow and be successful.
Impressive stats: I have also created and administered large-scale, multiday volunteer programs for CSC’s major events, some of which include the NFL Draft (more than 1,000 volunteers), America’s Cup World Series (more than 500 volunteers) and Big Ten Men’s Basketball Tournament (more than 400 volunteers).
What’s next? We’re very excited to host NBA All Star in partnership with the Chicago Bulls and the United Center in 2020. Chicago is a city with a rich basketball history and in collaboration with event partners, NBA All Star events will showcase that history and passion with a unique Chicago flare. In regards to new business, we’re excited for the NCAA Championship bid process to open up this fall.
What I do outside of work: Most of my free time these days is spent with my adorable 10-month-old son and husband. We love exploring new areas of our city and are self-proclaimed foodies. I love staying active and playing sports—primarily flag football, soccer, volleyball and tennis. I’m also a member of WISE (Women In Sports and Events) and a Crain’s Chicago Leadership Academy Alum.