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Article: Build it and they will come...

Build it and they will come...

Build it and they will come...

By Denis Keeffe

For as long as I can remember, I have participated in a variety of competitive and recreational sports. As a child and young adult, my family resided in regional Queensland where, for us at least, the primary benefit of this participation was social, and dare I say without too much awareness at the time, health.

 In the 1980s, I stumbled quite accidentally into a career in professional sport. It was then that I started to understand and appreciate the economic benefits involved, not just to the clubs, associations, and athletes but especially to the broader community.

 At the regional, national, and even international levels, the emphasis is generally on the public and media perceptions of the sporting event, so the actual “event management and marketing” are at the core of the business.

When I was CEO at the North Queensland Cowboys for instance, we conducted at least 12 home games every year, where around 20,000 people would attend each game. The production and management of these events were involved, multifaceted and very often challenged by the obvious logistical demands involved.  

After about 30 years engaged in a wide variety of professional sports, nationally, state and regional, I stepped back from the industry and launched a new fashion venture in Cairns, Mainie Australia with my wife, Charmaine Saunders.

From professional sport to Aboriginal art and fashion – go figure.

While I am currently heavily committed to the pursuits of Mainie, my passion for sport and for event management has never faded. In fact, from a respectable distance, I still subconsciously analyse and evaluate any sporting event I encounter.

These days I occasionally attend a national sporting event – NBL, NRL. AFL etc but primarily, my attendances now involve community sporting events.

Charmaine and I share 11 grandchildren (we are blessed) but only two live in Cairns. They are all wonderful and individually special in their own way and some are quite talented athletically.

One granddaughter is particularly “gifted athletically”. During the last few years this amazing young woman has attended Queensland state and national events, championships, carnivals etc in Cairns. Her selected sports are hockey, basketball, athletics, and AFLW.

We are so proud of her. She is good but she is humble and accepting regardless of her personal results. From attending these grassroots sporting events with her and her accompanying family, team supporters, officials and teammates, I have realised that the scale of the economic benefit to our city and region at this level is obvious and considerable.

Sports events often run over many days, most times up to a week, and are well attended by thousands of visitors to our city and by locals like us, of course.

The visiting teams and supporters often arrive a day or two before the event’s commencement date and usually stay a day or two after the event’s conclusion to “do the tourist thing”.

There is usually a “lay-day” during the event to provide a R & R day for athletes and officials, thereby presenting more opportunities for them to explore what our city and region has to offer to visitors.

These visitors fill up hotels, motels, resorts and accommodation houses. They purchase food and entertainment. They hire cars and buses. They shop at retail outlets that are not available in their home towns and they attend markets.

Visitors to our beautiful city seek unique tourism experiences that they can’t get at home. They want to explore and generate fond and unique memories to take back with them.

The economic benefit that their visits provide is often incalculable.

For many visitors, the sporting event is the reason for coming to Cairns but the experiences they enjoy during the event, allows a perfectly timed “sampling” that often induces another visit.

Also, when these teams do return to their own town or city, they subsequently promote our unique natural heritage and tourist attractions to their friends and family.

This “down-stream” personal recommendation is so much more powerful than arranged media campaigns. The destination marketers will tell you that we tend to engage in activities and products that are recommended by the people within our peer group, who we know and trust. 

Now that we have identified the scope of opportunities to build this lucrative tourism market segment in our region, the next question is “Where to from here?”

If we accept the fact that “event tourism” is lucrative, beneficial and achievable, then we can ask “How as a community with diverse sporting and cultural interests, do we explore opportunities and instigate these events?”

My first suggestions are that we need to:

  • Conduct a full audit of our existing facilities and invest in infrastructure if required;
  • directly promote Cairns as a destination to the state and national level organizations that allocate these events; and
  • be motivated and coordinated in the pursuit of these events.

A recent report commissioned by the Australian Sports Commission (ASC) and produced by KPMG found that sports event tourism provides significant value to communities like ours. The report noted that the utilisation of “community sports infrastructure is estimated to generate an annual value of more than $16.2 BILLION to Australia.”   

How do we in Cairns tap into these opportunities? If we have the will, we can find a way.  

(First published in Cairns CityLife Magazine November 2020)


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