Asheville Watchdog: TDA Eliminates Remaining Sports Commission Funding

Tennis ball on court.

Written by John Boyle, Asheville Watchdog.

Two months after signing a contract to outsource local sports promotions to a Florida company, the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority (TDA) has told the local sports commission it will cut its remaining $60,000 in annual funding from the TDA effective at the end of June.

Relations have been strained for nearly two years between the TDA, which spends millions of dollars annually promoting the area to boost occupancy rates, and the Asheville Buncombe Regional Sports Commission, a local nonprofit that works to bring in sporting events. Last year the TDA floated a proposal to absorb the sports commission into its operations, but the commission, formed in 2010, wanted to remain independent.

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At the time, the TDA agreed to let the commission remain independent but cut its annual funding from $230,000 to $60,000.

Chris Smith, executive director of the Sports Commission, said the organization got the news at a meeting earlier this month.

“Members of our leadership group and the TDA’s leadership group met, and we were informed that when our MOU (memorandum of understanding) expires on June 30, that they will not be moving forward with that plan (of any continued funding),” Smith said in an interview Thursday.

Asked if he was expecting this final cut in funding, Smith declined comment.

TDA Board Chair Brenda Durden issued a statement through the authority’s spokesperson about the move.

“As the current one-year agreement with the Asheville Buncombe Sports Commission comes to an end June 30, we have made the decision to remain as a sponsorship partner only,” Durden said via email. “This means that the BCTDA and Explore Asheville will not be renewing an agreement with the sports commission.”

The one-year contracts had been recurring. Durden said the TDA would be “happy to explore sponsorship opportunities for new events the Sports Commission pursues.

“We will continue to collaborate on future sporting events for the economic benefit of our community as a founding member of the organization along with UNC Asheville, the city, and the county,” Durden said.

Contract with Airstream Ventures surprised Sports Commission

In April, the TDA acknowledged it had signed a contract with Airstream Ventures in Florida to attract sports events to Asheville, a move that surprised the Sports Commission. At that time, Sports Commission Chair Stephen Zubrod said the “unilateral decision to hire an outside firm to do the work that is already being performed successfully by a local 501(c)(3) nonprofit is not only duplicative, it’s disloyal.”

Michael Kryzanek, the TDA’s vice president of business development, said at the time that the TDA’s subsidiary, Explore Asheville, “routinely works with third-party meeting planners…that represent different corporate and association clients.” He added that doing business with Airstream Ventures will have “no impact on our partnership or relationship with the sports commission.”

“Our business development and sales team work with them regularly to bring various conferences, board meetings, and events to our community, venues, and hotel partners,” Kryzanek said. “Similarly, this month we are engaging with Airstream Ventures, a sports company that represents and works with many sports events rights holders to attract new turn-key sports groups and events to Asheville and Buncombe County.”

The TDA signed an 18-month, $81,000 contract with Airstream Ventures.

Driven by scores of volunteers, the Sports Commission has brought in and run high-profile events such as the Southern Conference and Maui Open basketball tournaments, the Billie Jean King tennis tournament, and the Grapple Wrestling tournament for local high schools.

“We have every intention of moving forward with our current mission, and we look forward to renewing existing events and bringing future events to the area,” Smith said. “We feel like we have a bright future in this arena and feel confident in our financial model moving forward.”

Smith said he could not elaborate yet on that financial model.

The Sports Commission has two full-time employees, Smith and Vice President of Operations Madison Davis. It relies on 130 to 140 volunteers to help run events.

The TDA maintains that from mid-March through the end of this year it has 26 sports groups coming to Asheville, and those groups will generate nearly $10 million in direct spending for local businesses and more than 10,000 hotel room nights.

The Sports Commission said previously the TDA counts some sports events that have had a decades-long presence in the area and return each year. The Sports Commission maintains that it has generated about 30 percent of hotel room night stays in recent years, although the TDA disputes that number.

Asheville Watchdog is a nonprofit news team producing stories that matter to Asheville and Buncombe County. John Boyle has been covering Asheville and surrounding communities since the 20th century. You can reach him at (828) 337-0941, or via email at [email protected]. The Watchdog’s reporting is made possible by donations from the community.  To show your support for this vital public service go to avlwatchdog.org/donate.