Sports Tourism Lessons from NOLA

By Reardon, Dave | Honolulu Star - Advertiser, December 20, 2015 | Go to article overview

Sports Tourism Lessons from NOLA


Reardon, Dave, Honolulu Star - Advertiser


NEW ORLEANS >> On a gloomy morning last week, the counter at the Ruby Slipper Cafe on the edge of the French Quarter overflowed with hungry sports fans from out of town.

A middle-aged couple in Arkansas State athletic gear drank Bloody Marys next to a waffle-scarfing family of soccer fans wearing toy crowns in honor of the World-Cup winning United States Women's National Team.

An eclectic city as is, sports make New Orleans even more so.

And hosting big events has stimulated the area's economy through sports tourism. The people in town for the USA vs. China soccer match Wednesday and Saturday's New Orleans Bowl didn't just go to games at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. They stayed in hotels, ate at restaurants, rented cars or rode cabs, visited tourist attractions and shopped for souvenirs.

The Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation owns the New Orleans Bowl, and it helped in a secondary role with the first soccer match at the Superdome, which drew nearly 33,000 fans.

"The sports foundation can't take credit (for securing the soccer match)," said Sam Joffray, GNOSF senior vice president of communications. "U.S. Soccer contacted the Superdome directly. It kind of falls in the category of not an economic driver, but it helps keep us relevant as a destination."

Although hosting soccer was a minor risk financially, ticket sales on the first day were so brisk no one worried about it anymore. And early December is traditionally a down period for tourism, so the boost made the New Orleans visitor industry happy.

The GNOSF has its hands in many local sports activities, but its specialty is big games. From its inception in 1988 to 2013, it successfully bid for three Super Bowls, six NCAA Final Fours (three men, three women) and numerous other events.

In those first 25 years, the GNOSF brought events to New Orleans producing a $2 billion economic benefit to New Orleans and Louisiana, at a cost of $65 million.

In 2013, the Crescent City hosted its record-tying 10th Super Bowl. It generated $480 million in net economic impact for the New Orleans metropolitan area economy, with $262.8 million of direct spending and $217.2 million of secondary spending, according to the GNOSF. (The net economic impact takes into account the displaced economic benefits of potential convention and visitor spending that occur in the absence of a Super Bowl.)

"Every year is different," Joffray said. "But our number one industry is tourism. It's our bread-and-butter. Whether it's sports, conventions, the jazz festival, Mardi Gras. And sports is definitely a priority. Anything from a Super Bowl to an NBA All-Star Game to NCAA championships. All big events are on our radar."

Because of geographic realities, Hawaii will never likely reach close to New Orleans' status as a spectator sports city.

"Hawaii is certainly an attractive place to go (for events)," Superdome general manager Alan Freeman said. "But the problem is you've got to go there to get there."

But Honolulu and New Orleans have tourism and hospitality culture in common.

Some fear Hawaii's advantages when trying to attract events -- like the large tourism structure and year-round warm weather -- might be mitigated by negative publicity from the cancellation of the soccer match between the U.S. and Trinidad and Tobago. It was supposed to have been played at Aloha Stadium on Dec. 6, but the USWNT pulled out of the game the night before, claiming the field was "subpar" and unsafe to play on.

Some say the problem was a symptom of the state not having a sports commission similar to the GNOSF. Instead, the marketing of sports tourism -- which generates more than $200 million of annual spending in Hawaii -- falls under the Hawaii Tourism Authority.

"HTA has done a respectable job in handling some of these events," said Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui, who has an advisory group researching developing a sports commission since early 2015. …

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