Janna Clark Is the Face of Elizabethtown (Ky.)

Janna Clark has  been a leading figure for sports tourism in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, for a decade.

Janna Clark Is the Face of Elizabethtown (Ky.)

Clark joined the CVB in 2009 as the first staff member hired to develop sports tourism as an economic driver for the city. 

She helped usher the Elizabethtown Sports Park—which features 12 turf fields, 12 baseball diamonds, two championship fields and three pavilions for events—through to completion and make the city a destination for tourists, instead of a stopover. 

In 2018, she was promoted to director of sports development, overseeing the daily operations at the complex. Last year, Clark was named executive director of the Elizabethtown Tourism and Convention Bureau. Connect Sports discusses how sports tourism has changed the city and what’s on tap for Elizabethtown in 2020. 

How did you get things started in Elizabethtown? 

Initially, it meant educating everyone: Stakeholders, local politicians, businesses and the public, on why everyone benefits from a sports tourism program, because we had to invest dollars into that. It was really selling the concept and getting people on board. It’s so much easier when there is something tangible. Our tourism was mostly transient: We are located an hour south of Louisville and two hours from Nashville, and where there are two major roadways in Kentucky. It is a convenient place to stopover. We took that into consideration in establishing a park. We built a park larger than community, and bigger than the number of hotels in our community. Along the way, we had visited other facilities and heard stories of other communities that would say five to 10 years, you could expect a few new hotels and restaurants. I promoted and sold the park for tourism purposes first, but we have since added community events, too. 

What’s changed since the park opened? 

We held our first event at the park in July 2012. After five full years of doing events, we were able to evaluate our business model, and we were able to take a look at how the park now functioned in our new environment. We had four new hotels constructed and we had passed alcohol sales at the park. 

There was a huge downtown revitalization occurring at the same time. We now had a large sports retailer established in the community, and a lot of new restaurants, as well as things for families to do: a water park, a new movie theater, an escape room and more. We have other things that weren’t available in our community, like new parks. It’s just crazy, the things that happened at the same time. 

We’re also kind of in “Sports Park 2.0.” It’s an effort to take what we built and make it even better. We’ve hired Sports Facilities Management to handle the daily sports management of the park. They manage facilities all over the country, and they are the best in the business. We entered into a new business agreement that started this summer. It’s a five-year contract, but we hope it’s a forever relationship. And now I’m able to do other things.

What’s been your proudest achievement in your 10 years here?

The proof is the success in the park and what it’s done for our community. I really am the most proud of that. It’s like one great big project that will have an enduring effect on everyone in this community. At the end of the day, we want everyone to be successful, and if we can help people achieve that, then we have done our jobs. People say to me all the time, “Can you come do that again, in my town?” And I tell them that I have loved doing it for Elizabethtown, because it was my place. My kids have visited the park and played events there, and I have a serious connection to it and what it’s done for my community. I love it, but I don’t want to do it again.

Can you tell me about any challenges you’ve had to overcome as a woman in leadership?

It’s interesting, because when I was originally put in the role of sports and sales development, I think people may have wondered what background I brought to the table. I wasn’t coach or an athletic director. My skills were marketing, partnerships and relationship development. I had to learn the sports tourism industry. But it’s a very open industry, with great people and open minds. I was embraced like I couldn’t believe. It was easy, it was fun—it was just a lot of work. 

I’m convinced that the people in sports tourism are some of the smartest people out there. Nothing big in tourism or sports is done without smart people. It doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman, it’s about experience and applying that experience in the right place, where you have the right partners there. You just have find the right people. People make things happen.

And it’s important for people in my position to be good mentors to the young professionals in the community. I am an atypical leader: I’m not an accountant or a doctor or a lawyer, but I have found my way into this amazing world of sports, tourism and events marketing. I think it’s amazing to expose people to this opportunity. You find people that have the drive, not necessarily the degree. Recruit for personality, recruit for commitment, recruit for the right fit—not the necessarily the right credentials. Anybody can learn anything. 

What big plans do you have on tap for 2020?

Professionally, it’s an exciting time, and a new opportunity for us to tap into new things. Now that we have more hotels, for example, we are more situated to tap into small meetings market. Small meetings are extremely valuable because of where we are located. Any state meeting, it’s a no-brainer for them to come meet in Elizabethtown. Now that we have alcohol, we can tap into the bourbon tourism market. A lot of our distilleries are family friendly, and offer lots of things to do. We have a huge marketing campaign, “Bourbon’s Backyard,” and we are really excited about it. We are able to do that because we have built up the resources and offerings locally, and that was not the case before.