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Sports: RSCVA’s ‘secret weapon’

Sally Roberts
info@nnbw.biz
Sports conventions such as Jam On It AAU youth basketball tournament make up a growing portion of the convention business in Reno-Sparks.
Courtesy Reno Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority |

Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority has a “secret weapon.”

Forty percent of the RSCVA’s business comes from sporting events, says Chris Baum, president and chief executive officer at RSCVA.

The average convention books 2,500 room nights. Sporting events are bigger, he says, and “grows year after year.”

“People think that everybody gets these big conventions. They don’t. We’re unique,” Baum says.

Sports enthusiasts, because of their dedication, also make great customers.

“So much of selling is credibility and delivering on promises,” Baum says. “We get a lot referrals.”

He gives much of the credit of securing these events to Shelli Fine, director of sports development at the RSCVA.

Fine has been selling Reno to sporting organizations for two decades. Over the years, she’s developed a wealth of clients and friends in the sports business.

“We understand them,” she says of her two-person department with Nick Saccomanno. “We can speak their language. They really like that.”

Their contacts have helped secure large sporting events and small conventions alike. One small group that they recently met could turn into high-profile future events.

ACES — the Association of Chief Executives for Sport — brought only 56 members to Reno for its convention last week. But these are the decision-makers for sporting groups that include all 47 U.S. Olympic Committee National Governing Bodies plus organizations such as Amateur Softball Association, National Wheelchair Basketball Association, Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference and more.

Some can be accommodated in Reno-Sparks, some not.

Knowing the area’s venues and matching with the needs of an organization is essential.

“Research is key,” Fine said.

The community lacks Olympic-size swimming pools and large ice rinks, so those events are out, she says, but basketball, softball, baseball and wrestling can be handled.

Among the can-do events is the largest youth wrestling tournament in the nation. The World of Wrestling comes to Reno April 10-15 for its 2015 championship.

Another large event is the Jam On It Amateur Athletic Union basketball tournament. The Memorial Day staple is Reno’s largest sports event and the world’s largest basketball tournament, drawing 1,100 teams that play on 85 basketball courts.

Courts fill the Reno-Sparks Convention Center wall to wall, Baum said.

Coming soon in late February is the USA Fencing event, whose participants are expected to buy 3,700 room nights.

Not as large in terms of room nights, but even greater in terms of visibility was the 2013 World League Volleyball competition that pitted the U.S. team against Bulgaria in a non-Olympic year.

“It was phenomenal,” Fine says. “Fans were through the rafters. These are super-exciting, super-elite athletes.”

A new event to the RSCVA calendar is the 2018 USA Cycling Cyclo-cross National Championships. The five-day January event is expected to draw 2,000 professional and amateur cyclers to race through rough terrain at Rancho San Rafael Park Regional Park.

“We had stiff competition,” Fine said of the 11 communities bidding for the championship.

Although RSCVA has a lot of success attracting new events, it has also lost a few.

Safari Club International, which had been a Reno staple for many years, moved its convention to Las Vegas in 2014. Reno’s last Safari convention in January 2013 had an estimated economic impact of $21.6 million.

But what Reno offers is significant for many organizations.

Besides an inventory of sporting venues that meet the needs of many organizations, Reno-Sparks also enjoys a wealth of accommodations.

“Luckily we have 15,000 rooms to sell,” Fine says. “We can be aggressive selling blocks of rooms. We can do 1,000-1,200 rooms at once. Not many cities — except really big cities — can do that. And we have great rates.”

The accommodations available help sell the community. And the hotel/casinos are a big part of the mix.

Atlantis Casino Resort, just across the street from the convention center, is happy to help.

“We like to be a good neighbor,” said Kimberlee Tolkien, assistant general manager at the Atlantis.

The amount of business the Atlantis receives depends on the type and location of the RSCVA event, she said. They get a lot of walkover traffic when events are held at the convention center, especially from those seeking a good meal. Not as many visit the hotel/casino when the event is youth oriented.

Whatever the event, attracting and keeping sporting events comes down to service.

“We’re here to help them (during their event),” Fine says.

“We’re not just here to push papers around.”