Nick Povalitis, 37, was recently promoted to director of sports development at the Rockford (Ill.) CVB. The Rockford native is married to high school sweetheart, Catherine, with whom he has three kids, Kaleigh 12, Walter 10 and Natalie 5. Connect Sports talked to Povalitis about his love of sports, favorite Rockford haunts and his future goals.
How did you get your start working in sports?
In college, I didn’t know I was going to be a marketer, but I always knew I wanted to be connected to sports. I worked at the Daily Illini newspaper and covered Big Ten football and other sports. I got to know Kent Brown, the sports information director. Kent gave me a chance to be the student sports information director for men’s tennis at Illinois in the early 2000s. I got a strong sense of what it was like to be around a quality program that had a story to tell. Kent made a call which helped me get an internship at Northwestern University, which morphed from there to my first full-time position at Washington University in St. Louis.
What's new in Rockford?
We have almost every type of sports venue imaginable in Rockford, and with that our event planners really have a blank canvas. The new and renovated facilities include UW Health Sports Factory
. It is located downtown and features eight basketball courts or 16 volleyball courts, and is one of the largest in the Midwest. There’s also a full-service restaurant with an outdoor patio that overlooks the Rock River that perfect for small banquets and corporate functions. We're hosting the 2018 AAU Girls Basketball Sixth Grade National Championships there in June, but we’ve also accommodated pickleball, table tennis and gymnastics events.
We also have Mercyhealth Sportscore Two
. It’s the newer of two outdoor sports campuses and located on the far east side of town, which is closer to Interstate-90 coming from Chicago. It was recently upgraded to include 26 outdoor soccer fields, including six that are turfed with lights, plus three sand volleyball courts and a 4,500-sq.-ft. outdoor concession stand with bathrooms. The campus also features a 200,000-plus sq.-ft. indoor sports center that includes three indoor soccer fields—including one regulation size outdoor field under an 80-foot ceiling.
Mercyhealth Sportscore One has 17 natural grass soccer fields and eight lighted softball or baseball diamonds—plus a boat ramp and fishing pond We also have West Rock Wake Park, one of the country's premier cable wake boarding complexes. There aren’t many cable wake parks in the North America, and certainly not in the Midwest. And Rockford BMX at Searls Park in Rockford is the host venue for USA BMX Midwest Nationals, which has been a staple in the region for more than 30 years.
If you had 36 hours to visit Rockford for the first time, what would you do?
Anderson Japanese Gardens is a great place to start. It is a hidden gem of the Midwest is one of the top rated Japanese gardens in North America. It’s just a peaceful place and you’ll be blown away by the vibe. During the summer, there’s a Tuesday in the Garden music series. The Coronado Performing Arts Center is renowned in the theater space and regularly hosts every type of performer. It’s pretty unassuming from exterior, but when you walk in you’ll be underneath a starlit ceiling of where the stars aligned when it opened in 1927 on opening night. The performances are on par with anything you’d see in Chicago, from Wilco to Willie Nelson. I’d also go to the BMO Harris Bank Center, which is home to the Rockford IceHogs, the AHL affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks. It is quality professional sports on the cheap. If you're outdoorsy, go to Rock Cut State Park, which has plenty of trails for hiking and biking, plus the fall foliage is awesome and there’s a lot of campgrounds.
Our food scene is strong across the board, but I’m a big fan of our authentic Italian restaurants. Capri Restaurant downtown is a classic old school Italian restaurant. Then there’s Pino's on Main, which is known for its pepperoni pizza. Or check out Lino's, which has an excellent downstairs banquet area.
What are some great initiatives Rockford is doing these days?
Sports tourism is Rockford is booming, but we feel like we're still just scratching the surface. Our 2018 event portfolio includes the NJCAA DIII Women's Basketball Championship and the Illinois State Basketball Championship, held in mid-March. Then there was the IMG Academy/NFA 7v7 Midwest Regional in April, the USA Ultimate Division III College Championships in May and AAU Girls Basketball National Championships is in June.
In addition to the multi-day events, one of the most successful projects that is still ongoing has been the launch of our comprehensive sports marketing campaign: Bring Your Game 2 Rockford (BYG2RKFD). As part of this rollout in late 2016, we formalized a partnership with our first-ever sports brand ambassador, Rockford native and Toronto Raptors point guard Fred VanVleet
What are you most proud of accomplishing since you've been in Rockford?
I'm proud of winning sports event business of all kinds, and placing creativity and customization at the forefront of our relationship building process. Diversifying our event portfolio and compelling storytelling have helped Rockford tourism maintain and grow over the past few years, which is great. But the relationships formed since 2012—many that are lifelong friendships now—are what resonate the most. They really define your success in the long-term.
What hopes, dreams and goals do you have for Rockford now that you are the director of sports development?
It is our responsibility as citizens to make a positive impact for our residents through our tourism programs. New facility projects are rightfully talked about and utilized by visitors, but we're doing a much better job of including residents into that narrative. I want to find the right balance of growing visitor spends and leveraging sports as access locally. That's something we can all relate to.
What advice do you have to newbies who want to get into the industry?
Make yourself uncomfortable. Put yourself out there. You'll meet more people and learn a lot faster.
What’s something unique about you that a lot of people don't know?
I have a weird interest in skyscrapers. I love them. Of course, there’s none in Rockford, but I find them esthetically pleasing. I remember being in Chicago for the first time and being blown away. I still have a Sear Towers 3D puzzle from when I was a young kid.