February 23, 2018
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Sport in Maine can be a big business opportunity

By James Shaffer, Special to the BDN

Many Mainers would be surprised to learn of the size of Maine’s sport industry. It’s big, huge even, if you define “sport” broadly to include such activities as fitness, venue management, marketing and event tourism.

Plunkett Research Ltd. has measured and categorized the sport industry in the United States.  Conservatively adapting Plunkett data to this state suggests a Maine sport industry in the order of $1.4 billion. By comparison, while Bath Iron Works does not release independent revenue data, various third-party estimates place BIW’s annual revenue in the order of $1.1 billion. Imagine another BIW in Maine. And it’s here already.

With a Google search, I crossed Maine with various terms such as sport, marketing and law, and I picked up more than 300,000 hits. Prominent were such firms as Octagon’s Athletes & Personalities Division, Shamrock Sports Group, Aura360 and Pierce Promotions. It also was interesting to note the number of Maine law firms with specialists in various forms of sport law. The point is that aside from sport activities, sport-related services appear to be one of Maine’s “export industries.”

So, if Maine’s sport industry is big, the question arises of how to make it bigger. On April 1, 2010, the University of Southern Maine’s School of Business held an executive forum on “The Business of Sports.” The panelists included University of Southern Maine sport management professor Joanne Williams and Brian Corcoran, president of Shamrock Sports Group. A common theme of the panelists was that Maine would be well-served by a sports commission, which could develop and coordinate the sport industry as a tool of economic development.

The idea of sports commissions is not new, but it has only recently been proposed in Maine. So many states and metropolitan areas have sports commissions that there is a National Association of Sports Commissions. According to NASC, there are three basic forms of sports commissions:

  1. Independent, nonprofit corporations.
  2. Divisions of local convention and visitors bureaus or chambers of commerce.
  3. Agencies of city, county or state government.

The key to forming a sports commission is to focus on objectives and relationships. Objectives are typically some combination of public relations and economic development, the latter of which often means hosting more sporting events. Key to relationships is to understand what parties need to pull together. This includes taking inventory of sports facilities and services, keeping track of when they are available, and being able to coordinate their scheduling. It is also important to understand what authorities would be needed or helpful to support sporting events. And, of course, it is always helpful to be able to recruit local volunteers.

Often sports commissions start in one form and morph to another. Many started as committees of chambers of commerce. A large number of commissions have boards with 15 to 30 members. If these commissions include high-level officials or sports celebrities, they typically also include midlevel people who have time and operational knowledge to develop and coordinate projects.

Again according to NASC, sports commissions typically have paid staffs and budgets that are funded by a combination of:

  1. Membership sales.
  2. Corporate donations.
  3. Grants.
  4. Government appropriations, perhaps funded by a meals or lodging tax.
  5. Operating events that turn a profit.

In the case of Maine, it appears clear that the bulk of any funding would have to be provided by private sources, and this was proposed last year by a coalition of tourism and business leaders. However, the group would need to have a relationship with government, and the state needs a discussion about how to develop and maintain this relationship. If you’re interested in learning more about a sports commission for Maine, you can contact Barbara Whitten, president of the Greater Portland Convention & Visitors Bureau, or Williams at USM.

In any case, it would serve Maine’s citizens and economy well to recognize the size and opportunity of its sport industry and to consider how this could be nurtured and enhanced to the benefit of all.

James Shaffer is dean of the University of Southern Maine’s College of Management and Human Service. He is a former media executive who served as the chief financial officer of the Los Angeles Times before coming to Maine in 1991 to be CEO of Guy Gannett Communications, which was based in Portland and had TV, newspaper and other media properties in seven states.


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