This year’s Connect Sports in Salt Lake City was filled with memorable experiences and developments that hopefully will be felt for years. The city, which hosted the 2002 Winter Olympics, certainly deserves a gold medal for its hospitality. Before we look ahead to our 2019 event in Louisville, let’s go the proverbial videotape (some of you must have been Warner Wolf fans, right?) for the highlights from Connect Sports 2018.
This year’s annual Visit Myrtle Beach Basketball Tournament was, hands down, the best we’ve hosted. The reason: Vivint Smart Home Arena, home of the Utah Jazz. You can’t replicate the feeling of shooting some hoops on an actual NBA court. Just walking into the arena as a spectator felt special. Two days later, many a Connect Sports attendee spent some quality time practicing shots during All That Jazz, which was a great opportunity for those who didn’t compete in the tournament. The fact that the arena is across the street from Salt Palace Convention Center is a major asset for Visit Salt Lake—one we were lucky to take advantage of last week.
If there is only one aspect to this year’s Connect Sports that resonates for years to come, it’s that it marked the beginning of our official partnership with the U.S. Center for SafeSport. Initiated by Connect’s Vice President of Events Patrick Higgins, SDL, the partnership will help educate all sports tourism officials on how to help protect athletes from dangers, especially when on the road. There is no bigger issue in sports today, and we’re proud to be doing our part to help prevent further abuse.
How about this year’s keynote lineup? Former “SportsCenter” and current “Good Morning America” host Robin Roberts and NFL legend Peyton Manning delivered important and inspiring messages. Perhaps most interesting is how both were extremely effective, using their own style. Roberts was as warm and effusive and she seems on TV. Her ability to remain humble after achieving so much success is a great lesson for everyone. Manning stressed the importance of practice and planning ahead, tying in nicely how his experiences apply to event professionals. It will be hard to top these two next year, though you know we will try.
It’s safe to say everyone in sports tourism knows esports is a big deal, but the industry hasn’t yet fully grasped how to take advantage of its popularity. It is also safe to say any who caught the session led by NFHS CEO Mark Koski and Arlington Sports Commission Executive Director Matt Wilson is now better educated than they were a week ago. Wilson is the first to admit that we’re still in “Wild, Wild West” territory when it comes to esports, but his Texas-based team may be establishing a model from all destinations with its work converting facilities into bastions for video gamers. Koski’s perspective from the high school level is fascinating. Gaming isn’t detracting from traditional sports yet, he says, but he (and the rest of us) will be monitoring whether the next generation of would-be basketball and soccer stars become esports champions instead.