You might think of a yo-yo as a mere toy, but for attendees of the 2016 World YoYo Contest, it looked nothing like child’s play.
Held at Renaissance Cleveland Hotel in Ohio over four days in August, the event included six divisions and five styles of play. One of those, style 5A (known as counterweight), is an invention of head organizer Steve Brown—a 20-year yo-yo veteran who holds a patent on the equipment used by competitors.
The annual World YoYo Contest rotates among cities in Europe, South Asia and the United States (home to the most yo-yo players). Previous years’ events have been held in such well-known cities as Orlando, Prague and Tokyo. Cleveland might have seemed a stretch compared to those destinations—that is, until attendees arrived.
“People were not overly enthusiastic last year in Tokyo when I announced we were going to be holding this year’s event in Cleveland,” says Brown. “I knew I had to work hard to make them want to come.”
An Ohio native, Brown wanted to showcase his hometown to the international group of 4,000 attendees from 25 different countries. He formulated a wish list of venues and reached out to the city’s tourism board, which put him in contact with the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission.
“Steve’s passion aligned with our focus,” says Doug Merritt, director of marketing and communications for the GCSC. “Everyone would be able to see the yo-yo players and fans around town, and we’d be able to present the city in a whole new light to the attendees.”
By the commission’s calculations, the event could represent as much as a $1.5 million boost in visitor spending.
In the months leading up to the World YoYo Contest, Brown emailed information about the city to last year’s attendees. In the end, the strategy to create buzz worked.
The Renaissance sold out and attendees spilled into surrounding hotels. Many of them planned pre- and post-event trips to nearby attractions, or coordinated local wine and whiskey tastings. By Brown’s calculations, nearly 50 percent of attendees drove from within a 500-mile radius. For many, it was their first visit to Cleveland.
Still, even the best-laid plans can fall short of predictions. For Brown, that meant 250 competitors preregistering for the event compared to the 475 he expected. But being prepared paid off: Four hundred more people showed up at the registration table than anticipated. So although the number of competitors was less than expected, more people came to watch.
“Because we’d established a fantastic working relationship with the sports commission, we were able to downsize and scale up when we needed to,” says Brown. “It’s created an entirely new framework for us and completely changed the way we’ll approach future events.”