With eight professional teams in Chicago, and a host of minor league and collegiate teams across the state, sports are an integral part of Illinois’ fabric.
Considering the Land of Lincoln possesses more than 1,200 sporting venues and is home to numerous high-profile events, including Olympic Trials, PGA competitions and NCAA basketball tournaments, the state needs a quality sports tourism group to help promote its many merits and help tournament planners make smart choices.
Sports Illinois, a niche committee of the Illinois Council of Convention and Visitors Bureaus, is that organization.
Sports Illinois plays an integral role in helping attract sporting events to the state by focusing on promoting overnight sports events through direct marketing, educational programs and networking activities. This helps create a significant economic impact and enhances opportunities for all.
Sports Illinois Huddle
Each year, tournament directors and events rights holders are invited to take part in the two-day Sports Illinois Huddle conference that features many Illinois CVBs and sports commissions.
The Sports Illinois Huddle is an educational conference/tradeshow which features an appointment-based trade show for rights holders, tournament directors and CVB representatives to discuss upcoming events and tournaments. The conference also offers guest speakers from the sports industry, educational sessions covering new trends and ideas, along with a slew of networking opportunities. The conference is similar to many industry conferences with regard to having one-on-one appointments, industry seminars and off-site entertainment designed specifically for Illinois.
The inaugural Huddle was hosted in 2009 in Lincolnshire within Lake County and since then, the annual show has traveled
around the state to different member communities.
“Our communities have proven that sporting events are a highly effective partner in the tourism industry to driving economic impact,” said Greg Mihalich of the Illinois Office of Tourism. “The Sports Illinois Huddle is an important and effective component for our state and communities to continue to showcase why we are a leader in the sports tourism industry.”
The Huddle has been a sizable contributor in bringing amateur events to the state, generating well over $13.2 million in economic impact, according to the Illinois Office of Tourism. It has helped the state attract such major sports organizations as Airsoft Republic, Game Day USA, the United States Specialty Sports Association, the Professional Disc Golf Association, USA Ultimate, the American Cornhole Association and NXT Lacrosse.
“(The Sports Illinois Huddle) was fantastic,” said David Raflo, manager of events for USA Ultimate. “I got to meet folks from DMOs that I haven’t met before, I got to deepen relationships with some others and the networking opportunities were fantastic, I really enjoyed the experience all around.”
“Why attend the Sports Illinois Huddle? Because it checks all the boxes,” said Don Flynn, vice president of Business Development for Game Day USA. “One-on-one meetings with the top CVBs and sports commissions from around the state. One-on-one meetings with the top event planners and tournament organizers in the region. Excellent industry speakers and panel discussions. Tours and fun activities that highlight and promote the hosting CVB’s local area. (You can) learn from other CVBs or event planners about unique events that may be a great fit for your community.”
In 2018, Sports Illinois further utilized the Huddle to benefit the state’s member communities when it announced its inaugural Sports Illinois Huddle Impact Grant. The grant was funded by Sports Illinois members at $1,000 and matched by the local host, the Rockford Area CVB, to equal a $2,000 scholarship in 2018. The grant is available to any local (local to the host organizing city) nonprofit 501 (c) (3) that runs positive sports programming.
The winner of the 2018 grant was the Rockford Park District Foundation, a Rockford-area nonprofit, and will go toward its Youth Sport Fit Program, which offers a wide range of sport training activities to more than 2,600 area youths. This program occurs each summer for six weeks during the months of June and July at eight different playground parks and six community centers.
“The Rockford Park District team does an exceptional job improving the Rockford community in a variety of ways. Their plan to support youth in our community by giving them more opportunities to play in a variety of sports activities is right in line with the purpose of this grant program,” said Lindsay Arellano, RACVB vice president of sales and service and Sports Illinois chair. “The Sports Illinois members hope that with this grant program we can impact sports programming on a local level in a variety of communities in Illinois for years to come.”
For more information on the Sports Illinois Huddle, contact Lindsay Arellano, Chair Sports Illinois, at 815-489-1653 and at firstname.lastname@example.org.