This past year has been like no other for sports organizations in Mobile and Baldwin counties. The hurdles presented by the COVID-19 pandemic have been numerous.
Many familiar events such as the Dauphin Street Vault, the Gulf Coast Challenge football game, the Azalea Trail Run and the ServisFirst Bank Mobile Marathon were canceled in order to ensure the health and safety of participants and observers. However, a few groups managed to find ways to reorganize and do their best to make 2020 appear as “normal” as they could.
Entities on both sides of Mobile Bay were invited to tell their stories of this past year. Here are their responses:
DANNY CORTE, MOBILE SPORTS AUTHORITY — For this recently completed fiscal year (Oct. 1, 2019 through Sept. 30, 2020), the Mobile Sports Authority (MSA) attracted, hosted, managed/co-managed and/or supported 21 sporting events held in Mobile County with an estimated economic impact to the Mobile area of over $7.6 million — approximately half the number of events in a normal year and one-third the economic impact.
In a normal year, MSA usually hosts between 35 to 40 events with a total estimated economic impact of between $20 million and $25 million. For instance, the previous year (FY2019), MSA hosted 40 events with an estimated economic impact of $22.3 million.
In calendar year 2020, MSA had to either postpone or cancel 22 expected events that would have had an estimated economic impact of about $11 million to the Mobile area. But the positive news about the postponements is that of those 22 events, only two were outright canceled and will not be rescheduled (youth football and bowling tournaments). The rest were pushed into 2021.
But by adhering to the CDC-approved COVID protocols/procedures for gathering, which were in place from March 2020 (when the pandemic started to affect the sports world) until now, we were still able to safely host seven tournaments/competitions from late June (after a three-and-a-half-month break) until now, when many other destinations were (and still are) shut down. And we had two more events for mid-December (the AHSAA North-South All-Star Football Game at Hancock Whitney Stadium and the USA Volleyball Port City Volley-Jolley Tournament at the Mobile Convention Center).
So with all that stated, we’re looking forward to a much better 2021 as most of our postponed 2020 events were just pushed into 2021. So from our standpoint, with the continued support by both the city and county of Mobile, the future looks bright for hosting sporting events in Mobile, as we believe sports competitions will be an important cog in leading the tourism business rebound next year, much like sports did during and after the Great Recession of 2008.
MICHELLE RUSS, GULF SHORES & ORANGE BEACH SPORTS COMMISSION — 2020 has been a year of adaptation, creativity and flexibility for the Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Sports Commission. Sports tourism across the nation has been drastically impacted by the pandemic, and while much of our business was canceled or rescheduled beginning in mid-March, we were able to modify many events to move forward in a different, safe way.
For the USSSA Global Sports World Series, we recorded the opening ceremonies and coaches’ meetings to avoid crowds, and the cities did a phenomenal job of implementing COVID-19 safety protocols at the sports-plexes. We were able to safely host the SEC Women’s Soccer Tournament with a modified format as well as the Vacasa Coastal Half Marathon featuring drive-thru packet pickup and staggered starts.
We have numerous events lined up for 2021 beginning in early spring and will continue to work with planners to adapt and get creative to implement protocols for safe and fun experiences. For a full list of upcoming events, visit GSOBsports.com.
ARI ROSENBAUM, MOBILE SPORTS & ENTERTAINMENT GROUP — Our goal is to continue bringing events to Hank Aaron Stadium for the Mobile community and to ensure Mr. Aaron’s legacy continues to grow in Mobile. It’s been a bumpy first year for us, but we’ve managed to move forward under strict health and safety protocols in order to keep our staff and visitors safe.
Despite the hurdles of this year, we managed to stay very busy at the stadium. During the shutdown, Mobile Sports & Entertainment Group (MSEG), with the help of sponsors, replaced the 20-year-old outfield wall, made repairs to suites and public spaces and painted where needed. The Hank Aaron Childhood Home and Museum has been restocked with memorabilia and remains open for passers-by and planned visits alike.
From the beginning, one of MSEG’s goals was to ensure that baseball would be played at Hank Aaron Stadium. As a result, we’ve hosted some form of the game here almost every weekend since taking over management of the property. This coming year will be no exception.
DAVID THOMPSON, FOLEY SPORTS TOURISM — 2020 was a challenging year for so many reasons, but it also brought our staff and our community together in ways we didn’t know possible.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced a number of our event planners to cancel their spring events. Our business went from planning three months out to planning day-to-day. When we were put under a stay-at-home order, the directive to the entire staff was clear: When we are allowed to play again, what can we do to keep everyone as safe as possible? It was incredible to see how the Foley Sports Tourism (FST) employees were not focused on the problems, but on solutions.
It was that preplanning that allowed us to slowly begin the road to recovery. We are incredibly lucky to have strong relationships with all of our planners. We worked very closely to find what worked for each individual event. It could be the same sport or even the same planner, but no two events are alike. We are always looking for new ways to improve. FST has also been blessed to have strong support from our fellow city employees. Sharing ideas across departments gave us the ability to maintain a safe environment for visitors and residents alike.
A number of new procedures and equipment came out of these collaborations. We installed UV-C lights, invested in thermal imaging scanners, purchased and trained our staff in the use of electrostatic sprayers, and added ionizers to the Foley Event Center HVAC system. Additionally, we’ve increased our cleaning schedules during and between events. Our staff answers the CDC recommended questionnaire and logs their temperatures every time they come to work.
We have always had a strong mission to create relationships with planners in order to grow their events and help them find a home in Foley. While safety has always been a priority in this mission, the pandemic has made us look at it in a new way. Safety has become more than just having trainers on site. It has become constantly finding paths to sports that allow people to experience the high-quality competition they had pre-pandemic with the educated and well-executed approach to safety that we’ve learned from this experience.
While initially, the events shrunk to a smaller scale, we have grown back to where we were prior to the stay-at-home order. As we look to 2021, we don’t plan on stopping our mission of continuous improvement. This pandemic has been an opportunity for us to take a hard look at safety. We know that by working together as a community, we can find ways to allow people of all ages to come, play and experience all Foley has to offer without ever sacrificing their wellbeing.
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