Brian J. Graham, newly minted CEO of Augusta Sports Council, believes the Augusta, Georgia, area is ready to grow its sports activities. And he’s ready to lead the charge.
Augusta is home to the renowned Masters Tournament, held annually in early April, and it’s also Graham’s hometown. Although Graham won’t have a direct role with the Masters, he will support the event through the Augusta CVB. With a host of cybersecurity entities in Augusta’s backyard, Graham wants to recruit esports and technology-related sports.
Here’s more about what Graham, whose past credits include running the Professional Disc Golf Association
and at Morris Communications
, plans in his new role:
Why make the move from planner to supplier?
My first exposure to the sports tourism industry was actually on the supplier side, serving as a board member of the Greater Augusta Sports Council from 1997 to 2003. Once I took the reins of the PDGA as executive director in 2007, I began attending a number of industry conferences, including Connect Sports. Even though I was an event planner, I already had a good knowledge of the supplier side, but I made an effort to learn as much as I could in order to better position my organization when seeking event locations. This diverse experience made the move from planner to supplier not only easy, but very natural. I am an Augusta native and I love my city. Recruiting and servicing sporting events, while at the same time benefitting my community, is a dream job for me.
What role does the council play with the Masters?
Augusta is fortunate to host such a world-renowned high-profile sporting event in our community every year. The Master’s was founded in 1934 so it predates the Augusta Sports Council by 57 years. Due to its long history, the sports council does not play a traditional supplier role in recruiting, servicing, or staffing the event. But as a close working partner with the Augusta CVB, we support their efforts and those of our city in hosting the tens of thousands of visitors that visit Augusta each year for the tournament.
Is the council’s role to distinguish the area outside of what sporting event planners might know about the Masters?
The short answer is “yes,” but the name Augusta is synonymous with sports and the game of golf around the world, so we would be foolish not to use this notoriety to recruit all types of events. We are very fortunate to have a wealth of venues that affords us the ability to recruit many types of events. It is incumbent upon us to make the connections with these other sports and to demonstrate to them that hosting their events in Augusta, comes with the same level of community support and southern hospitality that our Masters visitors from around the world enjoy each year.
What sporting events are you targeting for the Augusta area?
Augusta already has a great reputation for hosting elite high school basketball, cycling, golf, disc golf, rowing, softball, equestrian, boxing and running events. We will continue to recruit and host these traditional sports, but we are also interested in diversifying our events portfolio by creating mutually beneficial relationships with non-traditional sports. With several cybersecurity entities based here, Augusta is quickly evolving into the cyber security center of the United States, so I’d like to leverage the current excitement and energy from our cyber community into recruiting and hosting esports and other technology-related sports events, which are all the rage in the industry right now.
What facilities in the Augusta area do you have to work with?
We are fortunate to have a diverse inventory of sports venues in the area available to us—too many to name in fact. We are home to the National Barrel Horse Association and the Professional Disc Golf Association, and both of those national governing bodies have great competition facilities. Our location, weather, affordability, and abundance of natural resources such as the Savannah River and Lake Thurmond are also great benefits in recruiting events.
Are there facilities you’d like to see added to the Augusta area that will allow you to promote new sporting events to the community?
I am looking forward to engaging with the convention center and hotels near our state cyber campus here in Augusta to inventory and upgrade their technology infrastructure to a world-class level so that we can recruit and host national and international esports events. The city is also in the early planning stages of planning for a new arena, so we are determined to be involved in those discussions so that the new facility is flexible enough to host many types of indoor sports events.
What else should we know about your new role?
Augusta is booming right now with economic development, positive energy, and community pride that is at an all-time high. I am ecstatic to serve in my new role as CEO of the Augusta Sports Council at such a defining and opportunistic time for our community. I am blessed to be surrounded by a supportive board, talented staff, and an industry of people, many of whom I consider to be some of my closest friends. I am confident that my past experience as an events planner and my new role as a supplier, will be of great benefit to me in better understanding the needs of events rights holders and establishing mutually beneficial working relationships with them. We are all in sports tourism together, so I look forward to working with both suppliers and planners alike to grow and strengthen our industry.