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Akst: Chance to make good 1st impression

Published: Friday, Aug. 30, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

Our community response to Hank Williams Jr.’s howl, “Are you ready for some football?” might be …

Not quite.

But like a space launch, the group promoting the Illinois High School Association state football championships Nov. 28-29 at Northern Illinois University’s Huskie Stadium has a website featuring an up-to-the-second countdown clock.

That group is IHSA Destination DeKalb, and as of today, about 90 days remain. In June 2012, NIU won the opportunity to host the state championships Thanksgiving weekend this year and in 2015, 2017, 2019 and 2021.

As someone who has done event planning on a large scale (but not this large), I can tell you that we’re close enough that everything needs to go well to make our best first impression.

I’m glad we landed the event, but I was skeptical then and am becoming a bit worried.

Skeptical because DeKalb County Convention and Visitors Bureau estimates are that the championships (over the five years we host them) could attract up to 30,000 visitors and $1 million in revenue.

Those estimates feel optimistic to me. It’s partly a gut feeling, and partly some research I did into how/why communities inflate the impact of events.

Professor John Crompton, a highly respected researcher who studies marketing and financing of public leisure and tourism at Texas A&M University, notes that: “Economic impact analyses have an obvious political mission. They invariably are commissioned by tourism entities and usually are driven by a desire to demonstrate their sponsors’ positive contribution to the economic prosperity of the jurisdiction that subsidizes their programs or projects. The intent of a study is to position tourism in the minds of elected officials and taxpayers as being a key element in the community’s economy.”

Regardless, to debut this event appropriately, the IHSA Destination DeKalb Host Committee says about $225,000 and about 200 volunteers are needed.

The city and county of DeKalb have ponied up $25,000 each, as have ­KishHealth System and Monsanto. Other organizations (including the Daily Chronicle’s parent company, Shaw Media) have also stepped up. As of about a week ago, sponsorships stood at about $150,000.

It’s unclear how many volunteers are on board, but I think it would be publicized if the numbers looked good.

To me, $75,000 (the remaining up-front money to be raised) is a walloping sum, but given the potential of the event and the financial depth of some companies around here, it’s chump change.

What’s noticeably absent and embarrassing is the almost complete lack of sponsorship from the community’s major corporations, many of which will almost certainly profit from the championships.

In an earlier version of this column, I tallied at least 60 companies in DeKalb and Sycamore that stand to directly benefit from shoppers, diners, lodgers and drivers needing gas before heading home. Remember, the championships coincide with the biggest shopping days of the year, so wallets will already be open.

I named these folks by name and estimated how much each of them should contribute. I didn’t even include manufacturing, logistics or professional/medical industries in the area.

Then I decided to stay classy.

Suffice it to say: This campaign should be rolling in dough.

With respect to volunteers, I would put the bite on NIU’s fraternities and sororities. Those folks are always looking for worthwhile volunteer/charitable causes, they’re nearby, and they already know the area.

We simply cannot afford a bad first impression.

• Jason Akst teaches journalism and public relations at Northern Illinois University. You can reach him at jasondakst@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter (@jasonakst).

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