Surf's Up at Visit St. Pete/Clearwater Sports & Events

|Craig Campbell, St. Pete/Clearwater
Craig Campbell, St. Pete/ClearwaterTogether with a new team and a fresh look at its brand, the leadership at St. Pete/Clearwater Sports & Events is turning its focus to the community’s No. 1 resource: the beach. “One of our best resources here is the Gulf and the Intracoastal waters,” says Craig Campbell, director of community and brand engagement and interim director of sports and events. That’s why Campbell’s team is honing its new recruitment efforts in on bringing beach and water sports to the area. “It’s more fitting with our brand, since we are home to America’s No. 1 beach,” Campbell says, referring to Clearwater Beach. “Any sport you can play on a diamond or a rectangle, we would love to make a beach version of that. That’s a real, untapped segment for us.” One critical part of getting into that segment—and retaining events—is making sure that participants have a memorable experience at the destination.

Relationship Business

Although Campbell has only been in his additional role as interim director of sports and events for a few months, he says the transition has been natural thanks to his 11 years of prior work at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. It is also because of the relationships with organizers and venues he has built up in the community, including during more than two years at Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater in the Community and Brand Engagement Department. “I know all the players in the game here,” Campbell says. The renewed focus on water sports isn’t limiting the team, which has representatives working on promoting their destination to event planners from as far away as the United Kingdom—where the CVB is a sponsor of the 2019 World Surfing League Competition in Newquay—and Germany. Along with the variety of locations the VSPC team visits to draw interest in the area, the team uses unique branding to attract potential clients to the area. For example, its “banner” of choice at trade shows is a fully wrapped, 30-foot-long-powerboat. “It definitely gets people’s eyes and really helps our brand stand out,” Campbell says. In the 2018-19 fiscal year alone, the area has hosted 98 events, bringing in nearly a quarter of a million participants and attendees, generating an estimated 126,000 room bookings at hotels in the county, and working with 23 different sports, from baseball to windsurfing. Campbell’s favorite event so far has been the 2019 Elite Softball Invitational, which was developed as a partnership with ESPN and Clearwater-based softball legend, Michele Smith. “Michelle’s a former gold medalist and she’s a local, so she’s constantly our champion and ambassador in the softball world. She kind of brought everyone to the table,” Campbell says. “We put together this great, nationally broadcast event, and the City of Clearwater really rolled out the red carpet for all the teams. It was just a home run all around.” Campbell is hoping the Elite Softball Invitational will become a long-term, signature event for the area, and is already in planning stages for the 2020 event. Along with its new events, Visit St. Pete/Clearwater is looking forward to continuing its strong partnerships in the area, like its ongoing relationship with the Tampa Bay Rays, and partnerships with the Philadelphia Phillies and Toronto Blue Jays, which hold spring training in Clearwater and Dunedin, respectively. “Every week it feels like we’ve got something fun and different in the pipeline,” Campbell says.