BETTENDORF — Dave Herrell, president and CEO of Visit Quad Cities, readily admitted that Thursday’s talk by Jon Schmieder, founder and CEO of the Huddle Up Group, was really more of a kickoff event than just a discussion about sports tourism and its future in the Quad-Cities.
Schmieder, pronounced Schmeeder, has over 20 years of direct experience in the sports tourism industry, having held senior leadership roles with three different sports commissions — Phoenix, Tulsa, and Denver. He also has worked on multiple Olympic Games, Final Fours and college bowl games.
His knowledge in the sports tourism field is immense, and it's part of the reason his old friend and colleague Herrell brought him and his group (HUG) in as the main speaker/analyst for the event at the Isle Casino Hotel Conference Center.
Schmieder’s presentation Thursday included slides on topics like sports facilities, what other communities the size of the Quad Cities are doing, and the long-term effort it will take to make the QC a true player in the ever-growing sports $15 billion sports tourism industry.
A word he used several times was “intentional.” He pointed out what Appleton, Wisconsin had done by building the $30 million Fox Cities Champion Center and the efforts of places like Tulsa and Norman, Oklahoma, are doing despite their proximity. He also pointed out how Des Moines is putting a lot of money into its convention and visitor’s bureau and how a small town like Elizabethtown, Kentucky saved its community with a major sports complex.
Schmieder also pointed out it won’t be easy joining the competition. Adding to the hotel, motel or restaurant tax were some of the ways he told of how other communities built facilities, which he believes the Quad-Cities needs more of. He said after the presentation he was encouraged by the turnout of about 70 people.
“I think by the fact that we had 70 people in the room is a very good sign,” Schmieder said. “In a market this size, to have that many community holders plug in, they need to do it on this project.
“I think it’s important. It’s good. You have a strong group of people that are here and they want to give their opinion or be part of the process.”
He saw other positive signs, too, in what he admitted are the early stages of looking into things.
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“Dave mentioned the outdoor spaces,” Schmieder said. “You have great outdoor assets. Obviously, the river. You’ve got facilities. The TaxSlayer (Center in Moline) is a very good facility. TBK (Sports Complex in Bettendorf) is a really good facility. You can plan out for those, but really the big question to ask, again from a regional perspective, is what other facilities will we add to that mix. And will it be complementary and not competitive, hopefully. A lot of people we deal with, one city will build the same thing the city next to them has.”
From an individual community perspective, he understood it. But from a tournament perspective and in terms of driving economic development to a region, he noted, “you don’t want to build facilities that are redundant from one city to the next.”
Schmieder also pointed out how the sports landscape is ever-changing with the rise of BMX and pickleball, for example, and how men’s basketball is not the big draw from a tourism standpoint that people would think it is.
For Herrell, the bigger question will be decided in the months ahead.
“We’ve got a good portfolio,” said Herrell. “Now it’s really the mode of let’s step back, see the broader picture. Where do we want to be 15-20 years down the road in this space?”
By bringing in Schmieder to speak, it told you what Heller thinks of the potential for sports tourism in the Quad-Cities.
“I am bullish on this space,” Herrell said after the approximately one-hour presentation that also included a question-and-answer session. “It adds a lot of value to communities, whether it’s economic development benefits, whether it’s quality of life benefits, whether it’s branding opportunities for our community. It definitely adds value.
“Now it’s really the time to kind of figure out a way to capitalize on its breadth.”