Lake County Focuses On Small Sports Niches

By staff writer

March 2019

Credit: Stephen M. Dowell / Orlando Sentinel

The state of Florida has excellent natural geography for outside activities, whether you enjoy going to the beach, theme parks, kayaking or practicing your favorite sports. Lake County is no exception: It’s an ideal place to enjoy outdoor activities, from trail adventures in the surrounding hills to myriad water sports.

To take advantage of their geographic perks, the county’s Agency for Economic Prosperity is focusing on promoting several activities. “There are numerous sports such as cycling and triathlons, which people can enjoy that they wouldn’t be able to experience in the same way in other parts of the state,” Bandon Matulka, executive director of Lake County’s Agency for Economic Prosperity told Invest:.

As part of the county’s efforts to build these sports niches that align with their slogan (Real Florida, Real Close), the agency is in the process of developing several professional-level disc golf courses.

“Disc golf is one of the fastest-growing sports in the country, and it takes advantage of our natural beauty without being too invasive,” Matulka said. “Through those efforts, we’re hoping to bring large championship-level disc golf events to Lake County,” he added.

There are already three disc golf courses in the Lake County Disc Golf Trail, and they plan to build three new championship courses with two tee pads and two baskets per hole, all of them designed by Disc Golf Hall-of-Famer Gregg Hosfeld of World Championship Disc Golf Design.

In addition, the Lake County Board of County Commissioners, Visit Lake and The Florida Region of USA Volleyball recently hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony to open the Athletic Center at Hickory Point Park.

“Hickory Point has become the sporting destination we envisioned four years ago,” said Lake County Commissioner and Tourist Development Council Chairman Tim Sullivan. “This athletic center will pay for itself many times over, attracting athletes and their families to Lake County and encouraging them to discover why we are Real Florida, Real Close.”

The 4,000-square-foot athletic center has a CORA training room, locker rooms, meeting spaces, a concession stand, an officials locker room and public restrooms.

“The 21-court facility is the largest permanent sand volleyball complex in the state, and the Athletic Center will help to further set it apart from other facilities,” Matulka told Invest:. “We have a great partnership with USA Volleyball, and we’re looking to bring championship-level events to that unique facility,” he said.

Lake County has numerous facilities that cater to a wide variety of outdoor sporting events. This year, the county is hosting the 2019 NCAA Division II Men’s Golf Championships and the  2019 AVCA Small College Beach Championship.

To learn more about our interviewees, please visit:

Agency for Economic Prosperity – Lake County: https://www.lakecountyfl.gov/agencies/economic_prosperity/

 

Digital Transformation

By staff writer

February 2019

Esports is one of the fastest-growing sports in the world, and Atlanta is quickly becoming a southeastern hub. In 2017, the video game industry had a more than $750 million economic impact in Georgia, and global revenue in 2019 is expected to reach $1 billion. Georgia is currently home to more than 75 gaming companies, including Hi-Rez Studios, based in Alpharetta. Part of the reason for the industry’s staggering growth is its overwhelming appeal to younger generations.

Atlanta will soon welcome its own Overwatch League team. Until this year, the LA-based league hasn’t moved out of its hometown to host games, but the 2019 season will begin in Dallas, TX, in April and then move to Atlanta in July. Atlanta’s first-ever esports teams, dubbed the Atlanta Reign, was purchased last summer through a joint venture by consulting firm Province, Inc. and Cox Enterprises, which together formed Atlanta Esports Ventures.

“[Esports] is outpacing any other sport — traditional or not — by a wide margin,” Paul Hamilton, president and CEO of Atlanta Esports Ventures, told Atlanta magazine. “You’re seeing a huge number of eyes in a demographic that, traditionally, has been hard to reach.”

The Overwatch League copies the format of professional sports leagues and franchises teams by city, providing fans with a home team to route for. The league has a preseason, a regular season, an all-star break and playoffs, just like traditional sports leagues. There are codes of conduct for players and coaches, skilled announcers, loyal fans and primetime spots on television. The league also attracts sponsorships and doles out prize money. In fact, in 2018 the prize pool was a staggering $3.5 million.

Atlanta’s leading gaming proprietors are bullish about the growth potential of the industry and the viable investment opportunity it offers to businesses. The metro area’s higher education institutions are also supporting the industry. For example, in the fall of 2017 Georgia State University launched an esports program, which helps students make the necessary connections to start careers in the industry. And it goes far beyond just being a gamer, including areas like social media management, esports reporting, event management, game testing, team coaching, business strategy, broadcasting and more. In fact, of the program’s inaugural 350 students, only 20 percent had an interest in competing.

In 2019, Hi-Rez Studios co-founder and COO Todd Harris has plans to host SMITE and Paladins Pro League regular-season games at its gaming production studio, Skillshot Media. These games are expected to attract more than 100 professional esports players to the Metro Atlanta area. This follows the November 2018 SMITE and Paladins World Championship, which was held during the first eSports Week at global gaming festival Dreamhack Atlanta. The events spanned three days, attracting more than 31,000 spectators, while another 10 million watched online.

The global esports industry continues to see significant year-over-year growth, generating a tremendous impact for both businesses and post-graduate talent and contributing significantly to Georgia’s economy. And Atlanta is at the heart of it all. Focus: Atlanta will be keeping an eye on this exciting digital transformation in 2019 and beyond!

 

A New Identity

By staff writer

February 2019

South Florida’s professional ice hockey team has its sights set on renovating and expanding the War Memorial Auditorium, owned by the City of Fort Lauderdale. The venue found itself in the spotlight last year as the longtime host of the controversial Florida Gun and Knife show, which the city decided not to renew in April following the Stoneman Douglas mass shooting. The lease for the 30-year show ran out in November 2018.

The War Memorial Auditorium opened in January 1950 in Holiday Park as a cultural center, bringing symphony and opera performances, as well as civic and sports functions, to the area. Money to build the venue, which serves as a memorial for veterans and fallen soldiers of World War II, was raised by the community. Tributes to Korean and Vietnam veterans were added later.

The Panthers recently presented the City of Fort Lauderdale with a hefty proposal, looking to spend up to $50 million on renovating the inside of the auditorium to create indoor soccer, lacrosse and other sporting facilities for the area’s youth, as well as adding two ice rinks in the rear. In return for the team bankrolling these renovations, the city would lease the Panthers the space for $1 a year for up to 50 years.

While helping to revamp the area around the auditorium and transforming it into a more family-friendly destination, the Panthers would also have the opportunity to promote the team, grow the sport of hockey and encourage children to participate in a wide variety of sporting activities. The city would benefit from the capital improvements without having to pay for them. It seems like a win-win for both parties.

For the Panthers, community is important to both players and staff. “It’s important whether you’re winning or losing to keep up a steady stream of community work,” Matthew Caldwell, president & CEO of the Florida Panthers, told Invest: when he sat down with our team last year. “We have a culture where our employees are really proud to do all this community and volunteer work. It’s part of our DNA now; we just think that it’s the right thing to do, but we’re also businessmen. We think that, long term, we will create a fan base because we’re building these kinds of relationships.”

Revitalizing the War Memorial Auditorium and bringing family-friendly sporting activities to the neighborhood aligns with this community spirit well. It also puts the Panthers’ name and the sport of hockey in the spotlight. Invest: Greater Fort Lauderdale will be keeping an eye on the Panthers’ proposal and the city’s response to it in 2019.

For more information on the Florida Panthers, visit https://www.nhl.com/panthers.

For more information on the City of Fort Lauderdale’s War Memorial Auditorium, visit: https://www.fortlauderdale.gov/departments/parks-recreation/war-memorial-auditorium

Atlanta’s Champions

By staff writer

January 2019

Nothing says success like the groundbreaking emergence of the MLS Atlanta United Football Club. In just its second season of existence, the United has grown to tower over all other teams in the MLS and has broken records for both the city of Atlanta and major-league soccer.

More than 73,000 fans showed up to watch the 2018 MLS Cup, held in December at Atlanta’s new Mercedes-Benz Stadium. This attendance was nearly 20 percent higher than at the 2017 MLS Cup, which hosted roughly 61,300 fans. With their 2-0 win against the Portland Timbers, the United clinched the city’s first major professional sports championship since the Braves beat the Cleveland Indians in 1995 and became just the second expansion team in MLS history to reach the finals within its first two seasons.

Supporting the largest fanbase of any franchise in the MLS, as well as being the highest-ranked team in the league, the United is currently the most valuable soccer team in the U.S., worth nearly $330 million.

Although the United had a rough start to the regular MLS season with a 4-0 loss to the Houston Dynamo, the team was not discouraged and focused on improving its performance. Atlanta ended the season with 21 wins and 7 losses (up from 15-9 in the 2017 regular season), going cleat-to-cleat with many of the league’s top teams, including the New York Red Bulls, New York City FC and D.C. United.

But Atlanta’s 2018 achievements did not stop there. United forward Josef Martinez proved to be the top scorer in the MLS, collecting 31 goals, 10 game-winning goals and eight penalty kicks during the regular season. Zlatan Ibrahimovic of the LA Galaxy was runner-up, with 22 goals. The wide margin between the leading scorer and the number two was due to more than just team chemistry. Atlanta United Coach Gerando “Tata” Martino noted that there was a solid plan in place to achieve these winning numbers. “They never modified any part of the plans,” he said. “The most satisfying thing to me is that we followed the plan.”

In addition to improvements on the field, the Atlanta Football Club has seen massive growth over the past two years. Arthur Blank, billionaire co-founder of Home Depot, funded $70 million worth of expansions for the team in 2016 and placed the United in the $1.6 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium, where Blank’s NFL Atlanta Falcons also play. Since then, the United has sold more than 1 million tickets (by far the highest number in MLS history) and is responsible for one-quarter of total MLS merchandise sales (with Josef Martinez and Miguel Almiron being among the top-selling jerseys in the league).

Things are looking good for not only Atlanta United but also for Atlanta professional sports in general. Atlanta has been named a potential host city for the 2026 FIFA World Cup, and the entire metro area is gearing up for Super Bowl LIII, which will be held in February 2019 at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Focus: Atlanta is excited to see what’s in store for the United and Atlanta’s other superstar sports teams in 2019!

For more information on the Atlanta United, visit their website at https://www.atlutd.com/.

 

Lasting Legacy

 

 

April 2018 — From the Dolphins’ “perfect season” and back-to-back Super Bowl wins in the 1970s to the Heat’s back-to-back NBA championships in the 2010s, Miami has consistently been known for its talented sports teams. The city’s teams have been home to many of the best players in every major sport, including Dan Marino, Giancarlo Stanton and the powerhouse “Big Three”: Dwayne Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh. To continue Miami’s legacy of sports domination, 2017 brought many highlights to this wonderful city.

The Miami Hurricanes football team landed a near-perfect season, finishing 10-3 after appearing in the Orange Bowl for the first time in over a decade. Many were calling it “the return of the U,” referring to the iconic era of Hurricane domination in the 1980s.

Another huge return happened in Miami recently. This past February, Dwayne Wade, a member of the “Big Three” and a key contributor to Miami’s consecutive championship titles in 2012-13, re-signed with the NBA’s Heat after playing two years on other teams. Miami fans could not be more thrilled about his return and are looking forward to seeing the tremendous talent he brings to the court.

Additionally, Miami is in the midst of welcoming its newest sport: Major League Soccer. David Beckham has been working tirelessly for the past four years to make his dream a reality. In January, he made the announcement that a Miami MLS team has officially been created.  Although the team does not yet have a name, Miami residents and soccer fans are already enthusiastic about what the new team has to offer.

Invest: Miami spoke with a number of leaders in the city’s sports industry to gain insight into  how Miami sports teams create a community bond and the ways these exciting highlights will impact their fan base. Here’s what they said:

Kim Stone, Executive Vice President & General Manager, The Heat Group

“We’re in the middle of a more than 350-game streak of sellouts that dates back to 2010, when the Big Three of Lebron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade first came together. The impressive thing is that we have been able to sustain this after the Big Three departed. We have seen our community and fan base grow from being fans of individual players to fans of the Miami Heat. This year, we are thrilled that Dwyane Wade has returned. From a business standpoint, he is the Miami Heat, so he drives increased interest in terms of tickets, viewership on TV, merchandise sales and enthusiasm for our team. Still, to our fans, it doesn’t matter what name is on the back of the jersey; the name on the front, Miami, is what matters.”

Don Shula, Owner, Miami Dolphins

I think the fact that our initial success came at the same time as the rejuvenation of Miami goes hand-in-hand. We helped shine a spotlight on the region, and that exposure helped show many of the great qualities of the city that makes it such an attractive place to work and live. With the Dolphins playing well again and bringing a sense of excitement throughout South Florida, it will add yet another positive characteristic to such a vibrant region.”

Udonis Haslem, Captain, Miami Heat

We’ve built a tradition over the past 14 years, winning three world championships, which is unheard of in this sport. You can’t think about Miami without thinking about the Heat. You think about the standards, the city, the flash, the glitz, the glitter, the food and the different cultures, and the Miami Heat embraces all of that. You also think about Overtown and the inner city.  Since I have been a part of the Heat organization, we have done a tremendous job of impacting the entire city. Even those who can’t afford tickets are able to come to the games.”

To find out more about Miami’s sports teams, visit their websites at:

Miami Heat: http://www.nba.com/heat/
Miami Dolphins: http://www.miamidolphins.com/
Miami Hurricanes: https://hurricanesports.com/

“Fly, Eagles, Fly!”

February 2018 — On Sunday night in bitter cold Minneapolis, the Philadelphia Eagles brought home their first championship win since 1960, beating the New England Patriots 41-33 in a hard-fought battle. And if that’s not enough to get you excited, Bud Light is keeping its promise. The beer company officially announced that it will be providing free beer (to those 21-plus in age, of course) at 25 bars along the parade route in Philadelphia on Thursday, February 8.

While the Eagles went into Justin Timberlake’s high-energy halftime show with a 10-point lead — thanks primarily to a surgically executed and gutsy trick play where Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles caught a pass from tight end Trey Burton on a fourth and goal — the Patriots came out of halftime like bulls out of the gate. But they couldn’t sustain the momentum, and despite Tom Brady’s history of pulling off the Hail Mary, it was the Birds who were flying high when the last second ticked off the game clock.

 

Nick Foles may have been the obvious star of the game, stepping up to play quarterback after the unexpected loss of Carson Wentz and proving that you don’t need to be a 5-time Super Bowl vet to dominate on the gridiron, but besting the Patriots was truly a team effort. As head coach Doug Pederson said, “An individual can make a difference, but a team makes a miracle!”

For the Eagles, the win means the coveted Vince Lombardi trophy, Super Bowl rings, healthy postseason bonuses and the prestige of being national champions, but what does it mean for the city of Philadelphia?

Thousands of fans have flocked to Philly to partake in the post-win festivities. Monetarily speaking, this has been great news for the city’s hospitality industry, but it’s not so good news for out-of-town fans. People seeking hotels in Philadelphia were out of luck, with zero availability in the downtown area and seriously over-inflated prices on the outskirts of the city. The Marriott Courtyard Bloomington, for example, was offering rooms for $699 a night when the usual rate is about $89 to $161 a night.

There’s no question that this Super Bowl win will provide much more than just monetary gains for the City of Brotherly Love. The Eagles not only won as historic underdogs but also beat a true football dynasty, providing a sense of community pride (and serious bragging rights) for the people of Philadelphia for a long time to come. They won against all odds and in the face of many obstacles. The boys in green have rewritten Philly sports history. And it’s not just a win for the Eagles; it’s a win for all the people of Philadelphia. Fly, Eagles, fly!

For more information about the Philadelphia Eagles, visit http://www.philadelphiaeagles.com/

“It’s Official, Miami”

January 2018 — “Today you made my dream come true,” a giddy David Beckham, suited shoulders draped in an MLS scarf, told a small crowd gathered at the Adrienne Arsht Center on Monday, January 29.

After his first announcement four years ago fell through in the face of financing and stadium site challenges, Beckham’s dream of bringing an MLS expansion team to Miami is finally coming to fruition as the league made it official.

Beckham’s ownership group is planning to build a 25,000-seat, $225 million stadium in Overtown as the new home to Miami professional soccer. The stadium plan includes a training center and academy that will focus on developing local players. The team hopes to be deeply connected to the community — not just to the players but also to the fans. The goal is to grow locally in order to compete globally.

Miami has a complicated history with soccer. Its first MLS team, Miami Fusion, based out of Fort Lauderdale, flopped in 2001 after only a few short — and underwhelming — years. In a city known for its diversity and rich Latin American influence, it’s almost unfathomable that a futbol team isn’t already a huge part of its fabric. But while friendly matches bring out fans in droves, for some reason a home team hasn’t had the same impact.

Beckham and his co-owners hope to change that. Perhaps as they sort out the still-unannounced details — team name, colors, logo, start date — they should look to another team, in Capital Analytics’ Atlanta market, for some ideas on how to make a brand-new franchise shine virtually overnight.

In 2017, Atlanta United kicked off its inaugural season, and just five months after that first game, it had become MLS’s most popular team. It boasts the highest average home attendance in MLS history and better average home attendance than any MLS, NBA, NHL or MLB franchise in the country. Its opening weekend match was the best-attended game, by a factor of two, in the league.

Reports have suggested we would be the 24th team in Europe with our average attendance,” Darren Eales, president of Atlanta United, told Capital Analytics, “and for our first game of the season, we had an attendance of 55,000, which put us at the fourth most attended game in the world.”

So how did this team go from nothing to record-breaking so quickly? Two words: community investment. They spent a lot of time meeting with fans in bars, pre-selling season seats and generally pounding the pavement to spread the word.

“From day one, we wanted to create the feeling that this was a club centered on its fans,” Eales told Capital Analytics, “so we did a lot of grassroots events focused on international games and viewing parties. We decided that if we focus on our most dedicated fans, the rest will take care of itself.”  

They also spent some time making sure that the team would be worth watching, which included recruiting a talented coach and deeply investing in young players. Team owner Arthur Blank’s resources, such as commercial sponsorship and sales and marketing departments (he also owns the Falcons), didn’t hurt either.

If Beckham wants his Miami team to succeed, he will need to rely on more than his legendary right foot. Soccer is a collaborative sport, and the Miami MLS franchise will truly need to be a collaboration between the community and the team. All eyes on are on Fútbol Miami as the details get hammered out and we looked forward to opening day!

For more information on Beckham’s team, visit https://www.futbolmiamimls.com/
For more information on Atlanta United, visit https://www.atlutd.com/

Britweek – 4 Nations Cricket Tournament

When: Sunday, March 12th 10am – 4pm

Where: Central Broward Stadium, 3700 Northwest 11th Place, Lauderhill, FL 33311

The inaugral BritWeek 4 Nations Cricket Tournament.
With teams representing the UK, India, Pakistan and the West Indies.

 

 

Invest: Miami speaks with Udonis Haslem, Team Captain, Miami Heat

 

I come from Miami, so I want to make a difference in this area. I have friends and family who have fallen on hard times, either through bad luck or poor decisions, and they deserve support. When I first became successful, I tried to help by just giving out money. However, after a while, I realized this only helped so far and did not help people fully reach their potential. I wanted to find a way that I could have a positive impact on people’s lives without simply handing out money, which is why I started buying franchises. Licensing is a way of bringing more job opportunities to the city. Once people have real employment opportunities, you can see how invested they become in trying to improve their own situations. I refuse to invest money or time into something just to make money. I have to be passionate about it because I want to be involved. My career trajectory has been interesting. I had a great career in college basketball, but I started my professional career in Europe. While I was there, I dedicated myself to self-improvement, learning what it takes to become a real professional. Instead of blaming the NBA for making a mistake and not drafting me straight away, I asked myself “What can I do? How can I better myself? How can I put myself in a good situation to be successful?” Now I want to use what I have learned to help the Miami community. You can’t think about Miami without thinking about the Miami HEAT. There are the different cultures, great foods and excitement in this city, and the HEAT embraces all of that. However, there is also Overtown and the inner city life, which also need consideration. Since I have been a part of the HEAT organization, we have done a tremendous job of impacting the entire city. The HEAT has always been great in the community, and they have supported my children’s foundation as well as the City of Miami. We were a football town when I was growing up, and to be part of this team’s evolution, to contribute to our first, second and third championships, to have the opportunity to be coached by the great Pat Riley and have the Arison family be my bosses has been a dream come true.