Don Schumacher is stepping down as executive director of the National Association of Sports Commissions
, effective April 30, 2017. There’s no question Schumacher, former head of the Cincinnati Sports Commission
, has had a huge impact on sports tourism in 25 years at NASC and its well-regarded symposium. As the organization and event have grown, so has the business of sporting events. But for his part, Schumacher isn’t sure all that growth is a good thing—one of the many points he discussed with Connect Sports after announcing his resignation.
What do you remember about NASC’s beginnings?
We were so small—there were 15 of us—we didn’t need an executive director. All we needed was a telephone tree. We started out including only those organizations that were actively involved in producing sporting events, which does not include the average DMO today. We had to make a decision because we were besieged by requests from organizations that don’t produce events but are involved in the business to let them join. We decided more is better than less, and inclusive is better than exclusive.
Is the industry’s focus on room nights a good or bad thing?
It is good in that it brings in incremental visitor spending through sports that might not otherwise come into the destination. It is not good in that there are a noticeable number of organizations pursuing room nights that might not know all the aspects of the industry they need to understand before they try to make sales.
Would you say the effect of sports events is exaggerated?
Sports is not a panacea of what ails a destination. It is like an arrow in your quiver instead. Among the smaller CVBs especially, there is a propensity to bid on a lot of events and try to build a resume and not worry a whole lot about whether there is a return on investment. That’s been going on in the conventions and meetings industry for a long time. There’s not a whole lot of in-depth analysis. That in-depth analysis is needed now more than ever. I am cautioning everybody to manage expectations, do not throw a lot of money at the segment and do not overcommit.
What do you make of the rise in mega-sports complexes?
We are already at the point where there are too many of them. We’re going to have more fields and courts than we have events, particularly when you consider the fact that there are fewer kids playing team sports every year than the year before. How can you build this incredible inventory of courts and fields and think long term it’s going to pay out? It’s just not.
How concerning is the rise in youth specializing in sports?
It’s a concern across the board. There are some initiatives like Project Play
coming out because it is inescapably true that active kids learn better, and it is also inescapably true that we don’t have enough recreational sports in the United States. I’m in my 70s; when I was in high school, all the guys—not the girls because they weren’t competing back then—played at least three sports whether they were any good or not. We changed sports with the season because it was fun. We also played for fun. Kids don’t do that anymore because everything is organized.
Is pickleball’s rise surprising to you?
I’m not going to say it’s a surprise. It’s almost like, what took it so long? I think the reason it took so long is that in these past few years we’ve had a lot of people getting to ages 60, 65 and 70—a lot more than ever before. They are looking for things to do, but they are not looking at high-impact sports. Pickleball is perfect—you get exercise but you are not covering a lot of court and you can have fun. I think it’s threatening to be the biggest sport of all, bigger than basketball, bigger than volleyball and certainly bigger than tennis. It’s going to be huge, but you are not going to see major traveling teams. You can already see national tournaments. You’re going to see regional tournaments.
Relatedly, would you advise going after regional events over national ones?
I’ve always been a big believer of regionals over nationals because when you think about it, there are more average teams than there are than really good teams. If you are in the room nights business, you want the average teams because there are more people.
What is another sport about to hit it big?
It’s going to be rugby sevens, and I’m going to give the Rio Olympics credit for that. The traditional game of rugby, which is 15 on a side, is difficult to watch for those of us who are not aficionados. In Rio, they are doing rugby sevens—with seven on a side on the same big field, and the field is much bigger than a football field, so you’ve got all this wide-open space. You’re going to see Division 3 halfbacks from football rotate over to rugby sevens because they are going to score a lot of points in rugby and have just as much fun. Plus, the sevens have a seven-minute half, then a break and then another seven-minute half. Then the game is over. It’s going to be appealing to a lot of young people.
Back to NASC, what are you most proud of?
The first thing is we’ve been relatively successful creating a category called serious-minded professionals. We had a board retreat in Sacramento (California) last week. If you look at those 20 people, they are all basically lifers in the sport business. Ten years ago, you wouldn’t find that many board members committed to the industry. The second is we have been successful with our professional certification program. In the last year, we made major strides forward. We completely redid the curriculum, and we are now producing online courses in addition to live courses, and that bodes well for the future. I’m not necessarily impressed with how big we’ve gotten because I am not convinced that bigger is better—I just don’t know and I don’t worry about it.
What’s next for NASC?
We’ve got some branding issues we’re looking at. We’ve got an additional level of certification we are looking at. We have opportunities to expand our tent and reach out to other industries and organizations, so there’s a full plate.