Plans call for three separate events for sports tourism community
Like many people in the travel industry, Roy Edmonson is an employee casualty of the Covid-19 crisis. He was laid off from his position at Visit Anaheim with no clear timeline on coming back to work. Not the type of person to sit around and wait, Edmonson pivoted to a conference business he had helped create four years ago and made a deal with his previous employer to continue and expand format.
While at Visit Anaheim, Roy spearheaded the Sports Express conference. With an initial launch in Anaheim and subsequent destinations including Hawaii and Southwest Florida, each event grew in size and stature. They had talks internally about taking the sports model to different marketplaces. “I feel the model we set up will work in all market segments, so I went forward to create a series of events – based on inclusiveness in small numbers, intimate, all-inclusive format,” said Edmonson.
The Express Conference was created to fill a void in the market, specifically in small-group gatherings and relationship building. Ninety people will be the max allowed at a conference with a 2-1 ratio of sellers to buyers. By the end of the conference the goal is for all attendees to get to know each other. “I just know that when you’re in a group of 1,000, 2,000 it’s hard to find the right people. The intimacy of this conference, 90 total people, there’s no way you cannot walk away knowing all attendees,” said Edmonson.
The Sports Express rate model for supplier participation is $3,750, which Edmondson says is likely the most affordable in the market. It covers registration, four nights lodging, meals, social functions, local transportation, activities and a social service day. The only additional expense is travel to and from the host destination.
In starting this new endeavor, Edmondson has built an impressive team with an aggressive goal of creating 10-12 conferences by the end of 2021. That team includes Auvis Cole, director Association Business Development. Cole is currently director of sales at Visit Fort Wayne after impressive stints as the president of the South Carolina Sports Alliance and senior VP at Rock Hill/York county CVB. Christine Davidson joins the firm from the Hawaii Visitors & Convention bureau as director of corporate/incentive business development. Jake Mason heads up the firm’s LBGTQ business development, having spent over 10 years at USA Dodgeball. Jeff Dyrek is a highly successful sports management executive with over a decade spent working for Olympic governing bodies. He’ll be heading up esports business development and sharing director of sports roles with Rob Coggin, another highly regarded sports tourism professional. Coggin hails from the National Collegiate Roller Hockey Association where he serves as director of league operations. Rashika Patel will be the firm’s director of events, having worked for both Anaheim CVB and the Orange County Sports Commission.
The first official event under the new brand is Sports Express, taking place January 4-8, 2021 in Myrtle Beach, SC. After the January event, they’re dividing the conferences into two – one for indoor events and one for outdoor events. “When I was in Anaheim, we had absolutely no outdoor fields,” Edmonson said. “I found myself at these large conferences and half my meetings were with people I couldn’t help.” That was the impetus behind two conferences – if your destination doesn’t have outdoor fields, you go to the indoor event. Additionally, plans are underway for an esports event in the winter of 2021.
Similarly, the group is dividing the corporate and association market into three segments based on meeting size requirements of planners with three shows earmarked for the second half of 2021. Additionally, one SMERF market show and a LGTBQ event are on the docket with a potential addition of student/youth travel conference.
A hallmark of each conference will be community service work that’s built into the schedule. “We work with the host destination to decide on a project that can have an impact on the community. In Captiva Island we cleaned up a beach. In Hawaii we built an ancient fish pond. We think it’s important to leave a mark in the destination we’re hosting,” said Edmonson.
Edmondson expects that initially the conference will have a strong regional draw because many people may question the value of large conferences. “They might look at something like ours differently as a way to avoid the large crowds,” he said.
For more information about Express Conferences, visit the website.