April 23, 2012 | last updated June 4, 2012 12:04 pm

As host, Hartford scores with sports events crowd

PHOTO/PABLO ROBLES
PHOTO/PABLO ROBLES
Greater Hartford got a chance to showcase its facilities to more than 700 sports event planners during the National Association of Sports Commissions symposium.

For Hartford, the real win came when the National Association of Sports Commissions decided to host its annual event in the city.

From April 16-19, Hartford was given the rare opportunity to showcase its facilities and venues to more than 700 organizers of major sporting events or those who try to entice those organizers to put on events in their cities and regions.

"It is a great city," said Ron Radigonda, executive director of the Amateur Softball Association of America. "The convention center, the way it is set up, is fantastic."

More than the 20th Annual NASC Symposium's 1,800 room nights, Connecticut's capital city now can expect to start booking more sports events, creating greater boosts for the state economy.

"You have a much greater chance of booking an event once they've already been here," said Michael Van Parys, president of the Greater Hartford Convention & Visitors Bureau. "We will definitely see those events come here."

Hartford already plays host to several sports events such as the annual holiday hockey tournament attracting more than 3,500 female players, the ING Hartford Marathon and the Big East women's basketball tournament.

What the city and the state hopes to score from the NASC Symposium are those events that rotate around the country every year and can have significant impact when they land in a city, such as the USA Gymnastics Visa Championships, which came to Hartford in 2010.

Radigonda said the ASA puts on more than 150 national tournaments in different places around the country. One of the organization's priorities while in Hartford was trying to figure out how to bring more events to the Northeast, as the region suffers for lack of proper facilities.

ASA officials took a trip out to the University of Connecticut to check out facilities there and take in a softball game. They also met with the local ASA chapter to discuss future possibilities.

"We talked about how to bring more events to Connecticut," Radigonda said. "Even if they don't have the big, big events, they can still hold the smaller territorial events."

Karl Ravech, the Baseball Tonight host for Bristol sports programmer ESPN, told the crowd during a keynote address at the NASC Symposium how much of an impact these events have. He recalled covering a Little League World Series game where the crowd exceeded the typical 40,000 attendance for a New York Yankees home game.

"It is amazing how it can affect a community," Ravech said. "That shows the power of having events in communities that you folks put on."

The NASC Symposium "is our opportunity to shine not only for Greater Hartford, but for the entire state of Connecticut," Van Parys said.

GHCVB prepared for the NASC Symposium for more than year, anticipating the opportunity presented to the city.

Landing a significant sports event is still very much about relationships, and having the NASC Symposium in Hartford was like hosting every major sports organizer for a familiarization tour, Van Parys said.

"Not only are we talking about it, but they can see it, feel it, touch it and get to know Hartford," Van Parys said.

Bryon Hicks — manager of competition for USA Ultimate, which puts on Frisbee tournaments — said he was really impressed by Hartford during his time at the NASC Symposium, particularly the downtown area.

"I like where there is stuff situated where I can walk around and see it," Hicks said. "Hartford put on a great show for us."

Sara VanHook — vice president and venue coordinator for the International Senior Softball Association — said she hoped to get more out of the city during her time here. She didn't meet with anyone from Hartford to pitch the city as a possible destination for an ISSA tournament.

"We do bring a quality tournament because we've been doing this for a number of years," VanHook said. "We are looking for new site locations."

ISSA puts on tournaments up and down the East Coast including in Delaware, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Florida — some generating more than $1 million in economic impact for the community.

Some cities like Hartford and others in New England aren't compatible with ISSA tournaments because the organization requires at least eight softball fields in one concentrated area, as well as help from the community in subsidizing fees and other accommodations, VanHook said.

"When we do pick a city, we tend to come back," VanHook said. "We've had championships in Virginia for 17 years."

Radigonda said even though Hartford and other Connecticut communities may lack the necessary facilities to put on some of the sports event, the city still did an excellent job showcasing what it had.

"I love the historic nature of the downtown," Radigonda said. "It is very clean."

Radigonda particularly liked the variety of unique restaurants in downtown, and he dined at Vito's on the Park, Max's Downtown, and City Steam Brewery Café.

Despite any shortcomings, leaving a good impression with NACS Symposium attendees will boost the possibility that sports organizers will try to find a way to bring their events here, Radigonda said.

"This is a great place for a conference. There's no doubt about it; they did a great job," Radigonda said.

The National Association of Sports Commissions held its 20th annual symposium in Hartford April 16-19.

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