Coming attractions

By Kathryn Mayer

When Denver landed the NCAA Women’s Final Four, Richard Scharf knew it was a slam dunk for Colorado. The Visit Denver president and CEO had been after this event for years, losing out on bids for hosting it in 2008, 2009 and 2010. 

“Women’s sports is becoming a huge economic engine, and Denver is poised to be known as a major center for this,” Scharf says. The tournament, set for March 30-April 3 at the Pepsi Center, will bring some 30,000 people to Colorado, including 5,000 student athletes and media from around the world. Organizers say it will translate into a $20 million boost to the area’s economy.

Not bad money for a four-day event.

“While people are here they pump new dollars into the economy — and they pay taxes,” Scharf says. “And the more taxes we have paid by out-of-town visitors, the less tax burden on residents.” 

But while it’s easily an economic win when it transpires, it’s still a process to make it all come together.

Though there’s “perception that these events just happen,” Scharf says, they’re actually fantastic examples of competitive business at its best. Selection of where to host —everything from sporting matches to music festivals and political showdowns — are carefully taken in consideration and based on “the cities that have the best track record of hosting major events and can provide great accessibility, great facilities, reasonable cost, fantastic service — all in a safe environment that has great destination appeal.”

“Because of all this, there are now some 600 destination marketing organizations, all competing against each other,” Scharf says. ”On a big event like (the Women’s Final Four), there are probably 20 cities that could host it, and obviously only one can get it, so you can see the competition.”

But it seems Colorado is stomping its competition for 2012.

Before the Final Four, the annual Colorado Crossroads volleyball tournament drew 11,000 volleyball players and more than 30,000 spectators over two weeks in late February and early March — and pulled in roughly $22 million to the state.

The new Clyfford Still Museum, the opening of the History Colorado Center and the Denver Zoo’s new $50 million Toyota Elephant Passage exhibit represent close to a quarter billion dollars of new attractions.

Then there’s the 100th anniversary of the Titanic’s sinking, celebrated at the Molly Brown House, the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, the Food and Wine Classic in Aspen and the year’s first presidential debate, to name a few more.

And to satisfy every fashionista’s dream, there’s the only North American showing of “Yves Saint Laurent: The Retrospective” at the Denver Art Museum (March 25–July 8). It was one reason Fodor’s included Denver in its list of top 10 places to visit this spring (in good company with Tuscany, Prague and New York City). Places like the Hyatt hotels in Denver, the Four Seasons and the Hilton Garden Inn Denver Downtown also have been wisely taking advantage of this, offering deals that include lodging and exhibit tickets since early this year.

Kim Oyler, director of communications at Durango Mountain Resort, says this year’s impressive list of events benefit everyone in the state.

“Events that put Colorado on the map on a national level are important to all tourism destinations in the state, including Durango, despite the fact that we’re six hours away from Denver,” Oyler says.

Events such as “The Retrospective” that draw visitors to Denver actually are great for all areas of the state, says Dennis Lesko, vice president of marketing at the Broadmoor resort in Colorado Springs. “Events in Denver provide us with the opportunity to promote pre- and post-event visits to the Broadmoor and Colorado Springs,” he says.

“Similar to when the Broncos play in Denver on a Monday night and it snows during the game, the phones ring off the hook at ski resorts throughout Colorado, including([at Durango Mountain Resort),” Oyler adds.


Event logistics

Landing a bid is just the beginning in a long list of to-dos in preparation for hosting something that the world waits to watch.

Just ask the University of Denver, which landed the first of three 2012 presidential debates, which will be held Oct. 3 in the university’s Magness Arena. 

“This is enormous for DU,” says David Greenberg, the university’s vice chancellor for institutional partnerships. “But it requires a huge man effort. DU is the official host, and our obligations to that are providing the necessary infrastructure of what is, after the Super bowl, the most viewed thing in the United States.” (A presidential debate averages 80 million viewers just domestically.)

Now, months prior to the political sparring match, university staffers are working round the clock, attending meetings, and using their debate-centric social media sites to inform the campus community about the event and encouraging them to get involved. The university already had its initial meetings with Secret Service and the Denver Police at the beginning of the year.

DU even kicked off its freshly launched debate website — which has a countdown clock and university-sponsored events listing — with a news conference appropriately held on Presidents’ Day.

Though it’s expensive to host a presidential debate — the university is shelling out $1.65 million dollars — the high cost will be supplemented with sponsorships and is easily worth the cost and work that goes into it, Greenberg says.

“It’s a fantastic way to showcase the university to a huge national and global audience,” he says. The debate will attract some 3,000 national and international media to the state alone. Plus, it gives DU another chance to show it is perfectly poised to become Colorado’s leader in hosting events of national importance, Greenberg says.

Of course, if an event does well in the state or venue, there’s always the hope for repeat business. That happens with presidential debates, which often return to the same colleges. That also was the case with the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, which runs from Aug. 20-26 throughout the state.

During its inaugural year in 2011, the wildly successful 518-mile race drew more than 1 million fans and produced $83.5 million of economic impact over seven days.

“We saw with the Cycling Challenge last year that there’s such a passion that’s revealed when you bring high-caliber events to your city and state,” Scharf says. That passion then transfers to other amenities a state can offer, such as lodging, food, transportation and entertainment. In fact, more than $67 million of the Pro Cycling Challenge’s overall economic impact went directly to those services.

And the media coverage — showcasing the Rockies in summertime — was practically a virtual postcard for Colorado, receiving 25 hours of national television coverage aired in roughly 160 countries.

Among out-of-state visitors last year, almost two-thirds said the USA Pro Cycling Challenge was the reason for their trip to Colorado, something Lesko noticed.

“When a major sporting event such as the 2011 U.S. Women’s Open is held at the Broadmoor or the USA Pro Cycling Challenge begins in Colorado Springs, it’s a boon not only to the Broadmoor but to the area and the many venues in and around Colorado Springs,” he says. “Lodging, restaurants, shops and attractions reap the benefits with teams, fans, media coverage and priceless exposure for our beautiful destination.”