Staying competitive in an ever-changing landscape of events was the focal point of Orlando Business Journal‘s 2023 Business of Sports event on March 9 at the Citrus Club.
The panel featured members from various professional sports teams, organizations and destination marketing agencies who shared what needs to be done for Orlando to land that next world-class event. Sports events play a key role in generating ancillary visitation and local business when they draw people to the destination. In addition, sports are part of the region’s culture and can help the area seem more appealing to relocating companies and workers.
See the photo gallery above for a look inside the 2023 Business of Sports event.
Greater Orlando Sports Commission President and CEO Jason Siegel, who moderated the event, said competition for sports events is fierce with other cities investing millions of dollars to improve their venues, infrastructure and more. “Certainly, the competition is sophisticated, educated and now we are starting to see at the local and state levels that the spigot is back on … funding is available and there’s a lot of focus on the sports segment.”
Here are thoughts shared by other panelists at the event: Steve Hogan, CEO of Florida Citrus Sports, on needing to invest more money to improve Camping World Stadium, including adding a canopy: “Now is the time to say, ‘We know we have to finish it, we’re on the way to finishing [and] close to finishing.’ I think 22 [events hosted at the facility] is a real example of what a real tourism, sports and entertainment building can do. Almost a million attendees outpaced what independent studies said Campus World could do/would do one day … That’s a lens of what is possible. We can’t keep that. We don’t compete right now with the way the building currently stands, so we are going to have to finish it … Everybody says, ‘Well, if you had an NFL team …’ and you’re right. If you had an NFL team, we would be asking for $3 billion-$4 billion right now to say let’s go toe to toe with those guys. But we don’t and we can go toe to toe with those guys for fractions/percentages of that amount.”
Sari Kitelyn, director of esports and project development with Full Sail University, on what’s needed for more esports events in Central Florida: “We have a mid-sized space. It’s definitely ideal for esports based on the technical components, but it’s midsized and we are too small for far too many things that are coming to Orlando. The biggest thing to do and know is Orlando is one of the places that’s highly looked upon for these esports events and activation. The thing to know is that it’s different than the traditional events we are used to seeing. The infrastructure is really needed — high-level internet speed is a no brainer. You cannot physically have the event without it. Understanding how to shift and pivot our traditional event venues around the city and know that if we want to bring in more esports business we’re going to pivot on the pricing model for our bandwidth speeds or understand what table and chair setups look like for a local area network event. That pivot and that shift is what’s going to help continue to bring these larger-scale esports events into Central Florida.”
Esu Ma’at, chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer with the Orlando Magic, on the return of major events like the NBA All-Star Game that last came to Orlando in 2012: “If you stay ready, you don’t have to get ready. We have been courting the NBA All-Star to bring it back to Orlando for a very long time, since it left the last time. And [NBA Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum said on March 8] it’s highly likely the All-Star game is coming back to Orlando.”
Jarrod Dillon, president of business operations, Orlando City Soccer Club, on the team’s outlook for the year and possible growth: “The things we have done in the last year are really on how do we position ourselves for the next 20 years. We’re like the little brother or little sister who’s been out kicking our coverage here for a while. We have an amazing venue that you have to keep up that we are going to need to invest in and do more in. I am really excited about the district around us — we share some land butting up next to each other and ownership as well. Very excited what the Magic are doing as we discover on the longer term what we are doing in the Parramore area.”
Mike Waterman, chief sales officer with Visit Orlando, on the destination having to continue to invest and find ways to stay ahead of other markets to keep drawing events: “There’s no other city I’ve ever worked in that gets along better or puts aside their differences. It is so competitive out there. We used to [have the] second-largest convention center in the country and that gave us a competitive advantage. Then Las Vegas spent hundreds of millions and expanded their convention center and they are now No. 2 and we are No. 3 — Chicago is No. 1. The great thing about Orlando is we don’t have a demand problem. We have a lot of opportunities that come to us, but we’re not at the same competitive advantage … we have to win it on our merits. At the end of the day, most of these groups coming to Orlando are here to make money.”
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