019: Expect The Unexpected. Hosting The World of Sport in Milwaukee - with Marissa Werner | Sport Coats Podcast

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019: Expect The Unexpected. Hosting The World of Sport in Milwaukee - with Marissa Werner

Meet Marissa


Marissa comes to us today from Visit Milwaukee which is the metro area’s tourism agency. She serves as the Director of Sports Milwaukee which is a brand new division of Visit Milwaukee. Before her role as Director of Sports Milwaukee, she served as the Senior Sports and Entertainment Manager at Visit Milwaukee and has actually been with Visit Milwaukee for over 10 years.


You've been a part of the process of bringing March Madness to Milwaukee, what does the bidding process look like to bring March Madness to Milwaukee, and how does that process ultimately get to the NCAA?


So The Fiserv Forum is actually the host of the men's first and second rounds for March Madness in 2022. So we're very excited and very lucky because I know a lot of our sister cities throughout the country lost out this year because of COVID and having to move all of those games and those economic drivers away from their cities in the spring and now moving to Indianapolis and holding it within that bubble. It's a process and it's beneficial to have great partners in the community. For us, it's Marquette University, when it comes to going for this type of event, they really take the lead on the bid, which is great. Not every city has that. Some of the cities are left to handle most of the work in the bid process. It is a huge undertaking and generally happens about every three years is when we begin the process. We bid on numerous years through the NCAA, they have a championship director that handles the entire bid process. Cities get educated upon what we need to do, going through the system, what we need to have in play in order to make this feasible. Then we get the announcement if we are lucky to actually host one of them and that will be occurring. We actually just found out that we are also hosting the first and second rounds for March Madness in 2025 as well! 


Are you guys optimistic that this will be a complete return to normal environment in 2022 when Milwaukee is hosting March Madness?


Yes, I feel really confident. As each day passes, I feel more and more. We just started hosting youth volleyball tournaments inside with limited spectators at the Wisconsin Center, and that's been really successful. Seeing that the Brewers are at 25% capacity and growing, seeing that the Bucks' Fiserv Forum is increasing their capacity and they're all happening safely and that there haven’t been cases really that trace back to any of these events is only going to continue to move us in a positive direction. Also looking at states that are wide open, like Texas, like Indiana, like Florida, who have been hosting sporting events of the youth and amateur kind, non-bubble, in a very safe way, I think is again, case and point that these events can take place without causing a huge health crisis.


When it comes to hosting events in Milwaukee, how do you guys monitor the economic impact that they have on local businesses and how big of a role does that play in the bidding process? 


That is really one of our key roles is to maintain and track the economic impact of the tourism industry and its effect on the Greater Milwaukee area. So as an event comes in, sometimes they'll have data from other cities that we're able to look at and base our bid upon. Understanding how many hotel rooms that they fill every single night, understanding how many nights they're staying, because every night that they stay, they are going to be out and about in our city spending money at restaurants, going out to eat going into our museums, experiencing everything that we have to offer, and bringing their money with them, which is really nice, because that is what employees the waitstaff, the housekeepers, the people working in the museums or attractions. It keeps people working! Tourism is a huge business and especially within sports tourism alone, you're looking at about 45 billion per year total associated with youth and amateur sports which were put together by a group that I work with Sports Events and Tourism Association, I actually serve on their board. So we take that number down in regards to the impact on the Milwaukee area, which was about 30 million in about 2019.


How big of a priority is bringing youth sporting events to Milwaukee and what kind of economic impact do those events have?


Absolutely, I'm a huge advocate of sports on all levels, especially since I played. I played all sports but started focusing on volleyball when I was about 14, playing club, and then going from there, traveling throughout the country, playing in different tournaments, seeing different cities. I was lucky enough to get a scholarship to play at a D1 school in New York and experience that for several years. So I can kind of talk the talk and walk the walk firsthand. To see it from the family side, to see from the participant side, to see it from the business side. Youth sports is just a huge business and continues to grow. I don't think some people truly understand the impact because they don't have huge marketing dollars, you're not seeing it in commercials, you're not seeing it all over the place, you really have to kind of be in it to understand it or have a kid or a nephew or some relative that's playing club baseball or club soccer, any one of the club sports. With professional sports, it's a given and we're blessed. We are lucky in the city of our size to have the professional sports teams that we do with the Milwaukee Bucks, with the Brewers, with the Admirals, and so on and so forth. Those are all economic drivers. but there are different basis than the tournaments that we bring in. The tournament's really fill in those voids on those weekends when there's not much going on. Not a lot of people are coming into the city, great, there's a group that's hosting a soccer tournament that needs these particular dates, filling those fields, and then there is that that that trickle-down effect of the economic impact of again, paying the rental, but then all of the kids that are there with their families, families spend money. They're staying in the hotels, and then they're taking their kids out to dinner or buying them things while they're here, the gas during their travels. Again, it's also when you look at the indirect spending as well. So you've got your waitstaff or people that are working in the restaurants that are then getting paid additional tips because of these outsiders that are coming in. Then because they have more revenue and better finances, they live out in Waukesha County, they live outside of the area, they're spending that ancillary money on something else, which is helping then another business. So it really does have a huge impact and sometimes people don't understand how important this business is. It really does affect a large group of people.


What has made our city (Milwaukee) successful and what are those selling points that Visit Milwaukee will take into a bid to say, "This is why Milwaukee is a great candidate to host this event."?


I think two simple things, we go back and forth. Everybody has their own ideas on how to market Milwaukee. Everybody has their own opinion on whether we hold on to our qualities like we're known for our old fashions we make cheese and sausage. I mean, Milwaukee is so unique, but it's so much more than that. Every person that comes in that has never been to our city that we bring in for tours or site visit say, "Wow, I had no idea that the city was like this," and it truly is about expecting the unexpected. It has a gorgeous lakefront that you don't even know it's a lake. The best story ever in my last 10 years was somebody going to our concierge at one of the hotels and saying "Could I get a map for the route to run around the lake?" I mean, sure you could but he did probably take you about a year! Our lakefront is just like no other and of course, you can say going down to Chicago or going across to Michigan, but having how much Parkland that we have along the lake and how accessible it is to the public and with the gorgeous museums and Calatrava providing the backdrop, I don't think there's a city that compares. But I think the other thing too is we are the biggest small town in the country because we all know each other somehow, we are appreciative, I think of every day and have unbelievable Midwest charm and manners and love welcoming people. I think that's very unique to who we are.


Do you like the mentality that people don't know about Milwaukee, but when they come they enjoy it, or do you wish that there was some reputation on a national level about Milwaukee that was more apparent to people?


That is the fine line we walk on every single day. As residents or as visitors, it feels like, "Oh, my gosh, I love that people love our city." It's almost like you take it in like, "Oh, yeah, I know, that's why I live here." Okay? Because this place is so awesome, how did you not know?! But, at the same time if we don't embrace the change, which I think I have found sometimes within our city is that we are a little afraid to adapt, and to change because we do hold on to our history and it's hard because holding on to that history is what makes us so charming. But if we don't take those steps to move forward, we'll kind of get lost in the shuffle. So we have to continue to have that balancing act of making sure that we are being showcased in Vanity Fair, which we had an article about Milwaukee, making sure that we're known as the best-kept secret, kind of like Portland went through that whole transition or Nashville. Nashville now is just "Nashvegas", as some people will say, it went from 0-10 and 2.5. I don't know if that's necessarily the direction we will be in but I think we need to find that happy medium and continue to ride that wave. Because we are cool, we are underrated!


Can you talk a little bit about just the Milwaukee sports fan and how important they are to the success of these events?


Oh, absolutely. Before I started working for Visit Milwaukee, I worked for the Milwaukee Bucks for almost two seasons. The Milwaukee fan is unbelievably dedicated to a point where they feel that they have ownership in the products and that they’re a part of the team. I mean, they have to question every decision being made, if it's not something that they would do and I love it because we're passionate! We are very passionate about our sports which makes for a great fan and a great fan base for all of our teams. Then also that makes us a great city to bring in new events. I think we're always open and excited to see something different because there's really a wide range of what sports are. We keep talking about hockey, we talk about basketball, we're talking about baseball, but, you can go down the spectrum of USA ultimate, which is frisbee, it's fencing, which we do really well at. Golf as well, we are a huge destination and that's really been our focus on the state level. A few members of our team here have been in the trenches for the last few years to make sure that we're making ourselves the number one golf destination. Thinking about the top-notch courses that we have, we're hosting the Ryder Cup at the end of this year, which very hopeful they'll be at full capacity! This is going to be on a worldwide stage to host something of this caliber. Even look at our Pettit national ice Center, which is right in our backyard, in 2018 we hosted the long track Olympic team trials, and most likely we'll be hosting for 2022 as well. There's something to be said, I mean that really pushes Milwaukee and puts us on the international map.


Let’s talk about your new role. Can you speak to why Visit Milwaukee created this sports focussed role, what you hope to accomplish and what your priorities are as the Director of Sports Milwaukee? 


This has been a passion project of mine for the last 10 years. There are numerous other cities that we compete against, that we work with, that all have a dedicated sportsperson, sports department, Sports Commission, or just some dedication to sports tourism. So I have been trying to push the needle and yes, it's crazy because you have such joy, you look going into 2020 it was like oh my gosh, this is actually happening. All right, we're gonna make this announcement. All right, we've got the Ryder Cup coming, we had the DNC, Milwaukee was a buzz! To be a part of that, and to see this come to fruition, I'm very grateful for our new leadership that has come on board and was able to look and realize what I have been trying to accomplish is feasible and to get their support 150%. So there it was in February, you get the announcement out, and then a few weeks later it's like "What's this thing that's happening over in Europe? No, we're good. Wait, oh, we're shutting down the office for two weeks? Okay, but we'll be back." We still had events that kept hanging on waiting, thinking it's going to change, it's going to change. So last year was just a huge transitional year for all of us and trying to do what we can to make tourism work amongst a pandemic. But again, given all of that it also gave us time to really look at how we want to approach Sports Milwaukee, and what we want it to be what is our vision. Now we're able to put that out there to the public and it coincides with the start of sporting events and we have really recognized that throughout the country, youth and amateur sporting events have really been the first to return. It's something we've talked about for the last year, as some events started last July, last June and now we're seeing it spread throughout. Of course, my key is to bring in economic impact. I want to see our hotels full, I want to see people working because of the business that we do and it is also my love for youth and amateur sport in terms of what it brings to kids. I think it is so important, it teaches teamwork, it teaches discipline, it teaches so many life skills that you will carry forward in life and it's so important to the mental and physical health of our youth. So I think of Sports Milwaukee as a marketing arm of Milwaukee, with a little bit of advocacy and I hope to keep building upon that and growing our team internally and really becoming a resource to everything sports.


And so much more…