Sporting chance: Commission out to promote events that increase tourism

Jennifer Stoll works as executive director of the Greater Grand Junction Sports Commission, an organization that promotes sports tourism by bringing events to Mesa County. The commission has worked to bring a softball tournament to Grand Junction in April as well as the USA Cycling collegiate road championships in 2017 and 2018. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle)
Jennifer Stoll works as executive director of the Greater Grand Junction Sports Commission, an organization that promotes sports tourism by bringing events to Mesa County. The commission has worked to bring a softball tournament to Grand Junction in April as well as the USA Cycling collegiate road championships in 2017 and 2018. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle)

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Jennifer Stoll believes there’s more than just fun to games. In fact, sports events can constitute an important source of revenue for the local economy. The people who come to the area to participate in and watch sports fill hotel rooms, buy restaurant meals and shop at stores. Moreover, sports events bring media coverage and other types of exposure that promote additional tourism while also building on brand awareness, Stoll says. “I do think that  it has validity to be a contributing factor to diversifying the economy here.”

That’s why the executive director of the Greater Grand Junction Sports Commission is excited about the collaborative efforts of the group and its constituent partners.

Although still in the midst of finalizing its organizational structure, the commission already has worked to bring an American Softball Association fast-pitch tournament to Grand Junction in April, the
first ASA competition on the Western Slope. The commission also announced Grand Junction has been selected to host the USA Cycling collegiate road national championships in 2017 and 2018. In addition, the commission is involved in efforts to start the USA Pro Challenge bicycle race in Grand Junction.

The commission has achieved yet another measure of success in winning an award from SportsEvents, a trade publication connecting sports events organizers with sports commissions, visitor bureaus, hotels and other vendors.

Stoll considers the success the commission has achieved in bringing sports events to the Grand Valley and winning the award a reflection of the community and what it has to offer. She also considers those accomplishments a good start.

Stoll receives her salary, office space and other support from Colorado Mesa University, where she’s been involved in organizing a number of sporting events for the university. But the commission also receives funding from four other partners: Mesa County, the cities of Fruita and Junction and the town of Palisade. The overall goal of the effort, she says, is to promote sports tourism along with the revenue and economic development that comes with them.

Stoll brings to her position education, experience and passion for sports management. “I love sports. I love the business side of sports.”

She played softball at CMU while earning a bachelor’s degree in human performance and wellness. She went on to earn a master’s degree in sports administration from the University of Lousiville in Kentucky. Her first job out of graduate school was with the Professional  Golfers’ Association of America. The first sporting event in which she was involved was the Ryder Cup matches in Kentucky in 2008. She subsequently was involved in Senior PGA Championship events in 2009 and 2010. She returned to Grand Junction in 2013.

Stoll says one of the first tasks of the commission was to assess the facilities and services the Grand Valley offers for sports events as well as the best times to host such events.

The Grand Valley offers a number of attractive venues for sports events, Stoll says, including not only the Suplizio Field and Stocker Stadium complex, but also Canyon View Park. The El Pomar Natatorium at Colorado Mesa University ranks among the finest competitive swimming venues in the United States, she adds.

What makes the Grand Valley unique, though, is the easy access to outdoor recreation as well as a variety of other activities and the hospitality, Stoll says. “I think it’s a package. It’s the community. The things to do.”

It’s a matter, then, of making good matches between what the Grand Valley offers in hosting a sporting event and the potential benefits an event offers.

Not all sporting events are created equal, Stoll says.

Events that involve families either as participants, spectactors  or both tend to generate more income, she says, By one estimate, a family of four spends $700 to attend a weekend sports event. “We’re just trying to get a piece of that pie.”

Sports events that attract older and often more affluent athletes and spectators also bring in more money, Stoll says.

But there other, less tangible benefits sports events offer, Stoll says, including media coverage that draws attention to the area. That’s not to mention the opportunities for repeat business from people who initially come for an event, but then come back to visit.

Hosting sports events also can be part of a larger effort to build a brand for a community, Stoll says. Branding research and a competitive location assessment conducted for Mesa County and the City of Grand Junction identified a number of potential selling points for the Grand Valley, including the potential to offer a place where people can realize their expectations for a lifestyle offering outdoor recreation and scenic beauty.

Along with helping to organize and promote a number of existing sports events, the Greater Grand Junction Sports Commission has been involved in bringing new events to the area.

The first-ever Amateur Softball Association fast-pitch tournament on the Western Slope is expected to bring to Grand Junction about 60 teams competing in three girls age divisions. The tournament is set gor April 23 and 24.

The commission also worked with USA Cycling in a successful bid to host the 2017 and 2018 national college road championships. That event takes place in early May and features up to 400 of the top road cyclists from colleges across the country. The 2016 championship is set for Asheville, N.C.

Micah Rice, vice president of national events for USA Cycling, says he’s excited to bring the championships back to Colorado. “The greater Grand Junction area is well known for its cycling, and our college racers will have a great time,”

Fruita City Manager Mike Bennett also says he’s “thrilled” with the announcement. “This is why Fruita values our partnership with the sports commission,” Bennnett says. “Not only do these events fit our community’s lifestyle and extraordinary terrain, but they attract national attention to the high quality of place were offer to people who choose to live, visit and base their operations in Colroado’s Grand Valley.”

The Greater Grand Junction Sports Commission also is involved in efforts to stage the start of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge in Grand Junction.

Organizers of the international cycling competition approached Grand Junctionn about hosting the start of the seven-stage race across Colorado. The community has responded positively, Stoll says, with financial commitments to secure the event. A decision on the event is expected after a new owner is found for the race, she says.

Community Hospital in Grand Junction has pledged $5,000 to help bring the race to the Grand Valley. “This event provides so many opportunities to promote what a great community we have and will undoubtedly attract the right kind of attention,” says Chris Thomas, president and chief executive officer of the hospital.

Stoll says the Pro Challenge attracts nearly 20 teams of the best cyclists from the world — along with thousands of organizers, support staff, spectators and members of the media. Television coverage of the event is distributed to more than 200 countries.

It’s a matter, she says, of capitalizing on the benefits and exposure the USA Pro Challenge and other sports events offer. Because there’s more than just fun to games.