ISC – Hosting Comparisons

August 22, 2009

Quad Cities, IA/IL

ISC – Hosting Comparisons
By John Thompson
As the 63rd Annual International Softball Congress World Championships wound down, opportunity for personal reflection results in reviewing the constants and the inevitable comparisons of previous events. In the last 16 years, I have enjoyed attending 14 ISC championships in eight communities. With regret, I did not attend the successful event hosted by Victoria, BC in 1997 and missed returning to the softball mecca of Sioux City, IA in 1999.
World Championship tournaments I attended include Kimberly WI (4); Kitchener, ON (3), Eau Claire WI (2) and single events in Fargo ND, St. Joseph MO, Sioux City IA, Summerside PEI and of course this year’s 2009 event in Quad Cities, IA/IL.
All host communities mobilize a large volunteer force. Both quality and quantity of hospitable volunteers are key ingredients to welcome and embrace fast-pitch stakeholders. This group is composed of teams (players, management, sponsors), game officials, ISC personnel (commissioners and specialists) and of course the fans. The wonderful sport of fast-pitch softball (fastball) has a passionate and dedicated core of followers. If long term service awards were presented, there are dozens, if not hundreds of team personnel, volunteer ISC appointees and legions of fans who would qualify. Many are “life-timers” and are to be commended for their on-going attachment to and involvement in the game.   
Content in this article is based strictly on the annual ISC World Tournament. No content refers to the ISC II Tournament of Champions which has enjoyed significant success and stability since its inaugural 2002 season.
The annual pilgrimage to various softball sites serving as host World Tournament communities is the ever-changing aspect that embodies a special appeal. Each year, conversation in the parks include a myriad of fans waxing enthusiasm for “we can’t wait to go to (name of city) for the next ISC Championship.”
The variables are not the people, but more-so the facilities, the events and the decisions that are made in serving as the host city. All communities work diligently, with thousands of volunteer hours, to “host the show”.
Diamond #1 - of paramount importance is the condition of the “between the lines” facilities for the players. For Diamond #1, all eight host facilities receive two thumbs up, with some having a slight edge on quality of infield soil and manicuring of the perimeters.
Diamond #2 – high marks to Kimberly, Quad Cities, Kitchener, Sioux City and Summerside.
Diamond proximity to each other– the Quad City multi-plex has the edge, with a pair of four-diamond facilities, and lots of options to move games as required due to lateness or weather conditions.
Ambience – Hands down, it’s Sunset Park in Kimberly. The main diamond, bounded by natural elevation, the Fox River and tons of greenery in the back-ground make it the favorite. As well, kudos to Eau Claire with the diamonds strategically located in the centre of a beautiful park.
Seating – When the crowds arrive, Kimberly, Eau Claire, Sioux City and Summerside have the largest number of “ideal sightline” seating.   
Parking – for proximity, quantity and general amenities (pavement), Eau Claire has the edge, with Sioux City, Kimberly and Quad Cities more than adequate.
Communications Control centre – the Communications Tower in the middle, overlooking all four diamonds, the best infrastructure location is Quad Cities. Others adapted as per proximity of the diamonds and available buildings.
Concessions – fans attending expect a variety of quality of food, at a reasonable price and easily accessible for both diamonds. Kitchener had the best variety, easily accessible with fair consumer pricing. Kimberly had a great food court on Diamond #1 and a remote on Diamond #2 which easily met the needs. Summerside used its multi-plex as a food court which was the most accessible. Most events had pricing that is a balancing act between host community generating a profit, and treating fans fairly. Canadians are influenced in American cities by the existing exchange rate on the dollar differential.
Refreshment Services – it’s difficult to not provide an appropriate location to dispense suds to an eager, appreciative and captive audience. Open a 24 and dispense. A step up is the added services in Kimberly with the mobile carts make it easy to order “a couple of cold ones right here” in the stands.    
Team Services
Accommodations – the larger the city, the more hotel rooms are available. Most host cities easily meet this requirement – a few smaller communities require that teams stay farther from the action, or being creative – university dorms, house rentals, etc. Give the edge here to any community that works closely with its Visitor and Convention Bureau to have rooms set aside “on hold”.
Travel accessibility to the host community – with fastball teams in clusters spread across the continent, championships hosted in the “heart of America” provide the best accessibility, and most flexibility for changes to travel plans. Advantage to Wisconsin and Iowa as host states.
Fan Engagement
For host budgets to succeed, revenue is required and community engagement is a must.
Yogi stated “If people don’t want to come to the ball park, how are you going to stop them?”
That’s the challenge.
Visibility within the community – the smaller the city, the more visibility. In larger communities, other concurrent events dilute the ISC impact. In Summerside, everyone knew that the show was in town. In Kimberly, the frequent return of the ISC builds on-going familiarity.
Pricing – Quad Cities used the Wal-Mart approach to “roll back the prices”. By far the best value in recent fastball memory. There cannot be one single fan who boycotted the event due to pricing.
Media coverage – all communities had media partners and as technology emerges, use of websites and coverage provided by Al’s Fastball, Fastpitch West, Ball Park Radio and TV have expanded the coverage around the globe.
Event communications - Kitchener provided the best printed programs and daily newsletters to allow fans to have the information they require to be savvy about the action on the fields. Quad Cities daily newspaper the Argus Dispatch devoted lots of resources to the daily Fastpitch Extra wrap, however, available only at the event.  
Game results charting -  Eau Claire and Kitchener used large “flow-chart” draw boards that were kept up-to-date in a central location, with legible large-font scores and team names. In Quad Cities, the Fastpitch Extra wrap up-dated the brackets daily.
Special Events
Hall of Fame BreakfastKitchener used technology to enhance the induction profiles of the inductees, created a fastball ambience with posters, centre-pieces and a quality printed program, and marketed the event to the community which resulted in attendance 50%-100% larger than other venues. This year’s 2009 event at Quad Cities Isle of Capri host hotel received much positive feedback in terms of the facility, menu and pace and length of the program.  
Special Olympics gameKimberly 2008 was the inaugural site and despite re-scheduling, Quad Cities built on this terrific add-on event. Well done.
“Bridge to the Future” Minor Softball ClinicKitchener introduced this event and provided great inter-face between youth and the ISC players. Others have done similar, but Kitchener set the standard.

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