Delaware Sports Commission launched with strong UD participation
Graduate student Matthew Sparks, left, and Matthew Robinson of the newly formed Delaware Sports Commission. Photo by Ambre Alexander
UD's Matthew Robinson addresses those gathered at Frawley Stadium in Wilmington for the announcement concerning the Delaware Sports Commission.
Pictured at the Delaware Sports Commission event are, from left, Bernard Muir, UD director of athletics; Gov. Jack Markell; and Matthew Robinson.

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1:53 p.m., Nov. 9, 2009----Sports are big business, and four people affiliated with the University of Delaware will soon have the opportunity to help the First State get its share of that business.

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Associate professor Matthew Robinson, graduate student Matthew Sparks, athletic director Bernard Muir, and supplemental faculty member Bill Sullivan all have appointments to the Delaware Sports Commission, which was officially launched by Gov. Jack Markell on Friday, Nov. 6 at Wilmington's Frawley Stadium.

Robinson, who teaches in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences and also directs UD's Sport Management Program, was elected president of the organization by its board of directors; Sparks is executive director; and Muir is an advisory member. In addition, Sullivan, who serves as managing director of Marriott's Courtyard Newark-University of Delaware hotel on campus, is on the board of directors.

The commission, one of about 50 similar organizations in the U.S., was established to bid, recruit, and host regional and national sporting events at all levels of competition to utilize sports facilities in Delaware, enhance economic development in the state, and promote Delaware as a destination for amateur and professional sports.

Robinson is credited with conceiving the idea for the commission -- as an outgrowth of research he was doing for a book several years ago -- and working with state tourism director Linda Parkowski to create it.

Fred DiMicco, ARAMARK Professor in UD's Department of Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional Management (HRIM), brought Parkowski and Robinson together in 2008, and the two worked with all of the entities that could contribute to and benefit from the commission to make it a reality.

In addressing the crowd of about 100 industry leaders and advocates at the launch, Robinson said, “This is a dream come true and the culmination of a five-year journey.”

“We have a great location here in Delaware as well as passionate sport and hospitality professional communities,” Robinson continued. “Everyone and anyone can get to us. We're thinking big, and I know we can do it because of the people and organizations that are involved.”

Robinson said that the commission will utilize and partner with existing resources --including strong youth sports organizations like Kirkwood Soccer Club in New Castle and Sports at the Beach in Georgetown, as well as intercollegiate athletic facilities and teams -- in growing Delaware into a premier sports destination.

“We also plan to build strategic partnerships with other sports commissions in the region,” Robinson added. “We want to partner, not compete, with them.”

For Sparks, who is working on a master's degree in higher education administration through UD's College of Education and Public Policy, the appointment as executive director of the commission is the ultimate opportunity to gain hands-on experience in a field about which he is passionate.

When not in class, he spends his days researching the state's sports facilities and hotels so that he can effectively market them to event planners.

“The commission will provide Delaware with a single resource for event planners to connect with in choosing a venue,” he said at the launch. “Our brand is expected to be supported by our relationships, our results, and our reputation.”

According to Sparks, the commission will not only work to attract new events but also provide support to ensure that ongoing events return to Delaware. Current efforts are focused on hosting the Eastern Sectional Figure Skating Championship from Nov. 17-22 and on cooperating with UD and the U.S. Olympic Committee and the International Olympic Committee's Olympic Solidarity department to offer the 2010 International Coaching Enrichment Certification Program.

The commission will also provide fertile ground for other UD students to conduct research and gain practical experience. Two graduate students assisted Robinson in developing a business plan and researching potential revenue models and corporate structures for the commission, and a graduate class conducted a feasibility study to assess the state's ability to host national and international championships in Olympic sports.

Other students will contribute to future marketing efforts and event implementation. “This is a wonderful opportunity to combine theory and practice, all while contributing to the economic growth of the state,” Robinson says.

Muir sees tremendous potential in UD's becoming an active participant in the newly formed organization. “The Delaware Sports Commission will seek to bring amateur and professional sporting events to this state,” he says. “As a partner in this effort, UD will be able to lend its expertise as well as its facilities in an effort to host these events, providing us with a forum to highlight the strengths of this community and, in some instances, this tremendous campus.”

“It doesn't have to be the Super Bowl or the World Series for a sporting event to have a significant impact on our economy,” Markell said at the sport commission launch. “There are hundreds of sporting events that are looking for a home each year that can be held at Delaware's outstanding facilities.”

Article by Diane Kukich

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