Kris Smith, new director of the Detroit Sports Commission, isn’t new to Motor City
. He moved north in 2012 to join the commission after serving as group sales manager of competitions and meetings at Sports Hampton (Virginia) for a decade. But in the four years he’s been in Detroit, Smith says it feels like a new city. Sports planners will agree, he predicts. There’s reason to boast. On the heels of a $280 million renovation of Cobo Center, Little Caesars Arena
will open in the fall—bringing the Pistons back to downtown. The arena, which will also house the Red Wings, is a centerpiece of The District Detroit, a 50-block entertainment center. So while Detroit CVB and sports commission represent three counties in the metropolitan area, the emphasis is on downtown.
No wonder Smith thinks he’s inherited the job at the right time from Dave Beachnau
, whose promotion to senior vice president of sales, marketing and sports at Detroit CVB opened the door for Smith’s rise. Connect Sports caught up with Smith about what’s ahead for Detroit, home of this summer’s USA Taekwondo National Championship.
How did your experience lead to this position?
I ran a sports department in Virginia. Detroit is obviously a much bigger destination, and with that comes awesome responsibility, given the size of our venues and with three counties in our region. Coming out of a sales role here, I have the relationships in place. To be successful in the sales game, you have to have relationship building and be able to work with individuals to bring events to town.
What’s your strategy for tackling people’s preconceptions about Detroit?
To be honest, we are who we are and we own that. We understand the perceptions of our community. What we want to do is change that narrative and have visitors come here. When people come to Detroit, those perceptions go away very, very quickly. It’s a warm city; it’s a welcoming city and a city where people want to be. There’s a reason this community has hosted Final Fours and Super Bowls. Pretty soon, you are going to have to come to Detroit to guarantee success with your events; that’s the bottom line.
You have a new toy at your disposal in Little Caesars Arena. Can you describe the venue?
You want to talk about a toy? I’ve walked through it a number of times and I am amazed at its architecture and functionality. From the gondola seating that will present amazing sightlines overlooking the ice and courts to the secondary ice sheet used as ancillary exhibit and function space underground of the facility, every aspect of what an attendee or rights holder will need has been thought about. Even the LED boards on the skin of the building are going to project what’s going on inside. It’s an amazing project and all the vision of the Ilitch family.
What does the Pistons moving back to Detroit from Auburn Hills mean?
To have that many more people downtown is immeasurable to continue that positive conversation. I can’t express how much it is going to do for Detroit.
What can you tell us about The District Detroit?
You have to understand we are talking about a 50-block area—a 50-block area! That’s bigger than a lot of downtowns in this country, and it’s just parts of ours. Once The District is completed, it will be a great asset for attendees coming in for not just athletic events but conventions too. They can catch a ballgame or go to a play or a museum. There will be different types of amenities for different cultures. I’m thinking about the restaurants and retail, and the five-star hotel that will be adjacent to Little Caesars Arena.