National LGBTQ Sports Task Force to launch in RVA this weekend
Efforts made by Richmond Region Tourism to support LGBTQ communities have caught the eyes of one of the country’s largest sports tourism groups.
Connect Sports Marketplace, a division of Collinson Media, connects cities with sporting events, and is launching their new LGBTQ Sports Task Force with a meeting of stake holders here in Richmond this weekend. The hope is to give an untapped group of sports enthusiasts and participants the chance to develop networks around the country.
The group has a history with some better known events, working with groups like the NCAA, Minor League Baseball, and USA Cycling, they’ve set up beneficial relationships which can help track the impact of sports tourism.
If someone goes to NYC to watch a Yankees game, their impact can be harder to track. They show up like any other traveler, renting a hotel room and eating at restaurants. But when teams and events work with groups like Connect Sports, they are able to secure hotel deals and other local opportunities so the impact of the event can be better tracked.
Patrick Higgins, VP of Marketplaces for Collinson Media and Events, said he’d been working in the industry for some time and noticed there were groups of folks who were being left out of the loop.
“There were a lot of youth groups, which is great, and a lot of more traditional groups,” he said in a phone interview ahead of this weekend’s event. “But there weren’t as many diverse groups…”
Diversity, in this case, equated to the myriad of LGBTQ specific sporting events which could use tourism support like any other group.
Higgins brought up the idea of forming the LGBTQ task force after looking at his own family. His wife’s Aunt came out as a lesbian some years ago and he’d heard how she struggled with acceptance.
“We can expand the reach of sports as a social mechanism, and help people that are trying to fit in, looking to fit in, find likeminded individuals,” he said. “Sports is a great platform for that because sports is such a unifier.
Higgins tossed the idea up to his bosses who all saw similar opportunities for growth by supporting the often neglected group.
“If your a teenager questioning your sexuality, and theres a big LGBTQ softball event [in town], it might be a chance for you to find friends or support,” he said. “You never know what the benefits are from something like that. You can change somebody’s life with something like that.”
Higgins optimism was shared by his employers, but less so by some of his clients. While he said a majority of the response to the task force’s announcement had been positive, he did get a few negative comments.
“This is an interesting development, when do you plan to set up your heterosexual advisory group?” read one less-supportive email sent to Higgins. “Well, we already have that,” he said. “It’s called every other sporting event…”
But he said he didn’t think the people who were responding in that way were representing their communities or their local tourism industry. “They were representing their own beliefs system,” he said, before admitting some folks said they might not attend their trade shows anymore over the push for LGBTQ support.
But that didn’t spur Higgins or his company.
Whether it’s kids traveling for youth sports or adults going to LGBTQ softball tourneys, it’s making impacts in local tourism markets that matter to him.
“They’re occupying hotel rooms, they’re filing their gas tanks, they’re shopping, they’re generating tax revenue,” he said. “It’s more important to me that we do the right thing and that the LGBTQ members who come to our trade shows are treated with respect and treated like everyone else.”
The task force members include folks from the National Gay Basketball Association, Hilton Worldwide, International Gay & Lesbian Football Association (top image, right), International Gay Rugby (top image, left), and many other groups.
“This is a very important initiative, not only for Connect Sports, but for the sports tourism industry as a whole,” said Collinson Media President Chris Collinson in a release sent out earlier this year. ”The LGBTQ sports market generates hundreds of thousands of room nights annually, and they deserve to have an equal seat at the sports tourism table.”
A seat at the table is something many of the task force members had never been offered according to Higgins. He said he invited some of the members to meet up at an event in Pittsburg earlier this year. When he asked if any of the LGBTQ specific groups who had been contacted by sports tourism outfits, none of them stood up.
But, hopefully, this task force will change that.
“When you combine what we bring to the industry, connecting communities and people, I think we can open a lot of eyes to what kind of economic impact LGBTQ sports can bring,” Higgins said. “If I’m a convention center or visitor’s bureau, I don’t care if its a little league baseball tournament or if its an LGBTQ basketball tournament. They’re money is green and they’re filling up hotel room nights. ”
As for why they chose Richmond, Higgins said they were one of the cities most excited to get involved in the project, and the OutRVA campaign, Richmond’s pro-LGBTQ tourism effort, didn’t hurt either.
“It seemed like it was a great fit,” he said.
“Through OutRVA, we’ve established a reputation as a welcoming destination for LGBT visitors,” said Richmond Region Tourism Public Relations Manager Erin Bagnell, who said she hopes this weekend’s event will help introduce a new LGBTQ audience to the RVA market. ”Until now the campaign’s focus has been on the LGBT leisure travel market… Hosting this meeting provides us with a valuable opportunity to expand OutRVA and hopefully drive LGBT sports events business to the area.”
The conference is closed to the public, but GayRVA will be on site speaking with those in attendance about their time in RVA and about the broader world of LGBTQ sports.
Next Thursday, Sept. 1, marks the start of Virginia Pride month, celebrating and honoring the entire LGBTQ community. You can kick yours off right at VA Pride and OutRVA‘s celebration at Quirk Hotel. At the party, guests will have the opportunity to taste two craft beers exclusively made for VA Pride and OutRVA, a collaboration with Ardent [...]August 22, 2016
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