The launch of VBR Sports ushers in a new era for Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge. But the truth is the change reflects the reality at the scenic compilation of five jurisdictions in and around Roanoke. “We have a rich history hosting sporting events,” says Bree Nidds, director of sports development for VBR Sports. “It needs to be taken to the next level.” Almost 70 percent of Virginia’s Blue Ridge group business comes from sports. But it was not until Nidds came aboard last fall that the CVB had a dedicated sports salesperson or department. Visit VBR Vice President of Sales & Services Alex Michaels admits the region relied heavily on the efforts of Salem Director of Tourism Carey Harveycutter and Salem Parks and Recreation Director John P. Shaner, two of Connect Sports’ 2017 Game Changers. The Salem-based duo has helped lure more than 85 NCAA Division II and Division III National Championships since 1993, as well as more than 70 Virginia High School League State Championship events in football, basketball, wrestling and soccer. Among their other partners: likes of ASA, USA Softball, USSSA, AAU, ISF, NSA, ACC, Big East, Atlantic 10, ODAC, Mountain East and CIAA. Because her sole job is to drive more sports to the region, Nidds figures to only add to that success. “We’re going to pursue more diverse sports,” predicts Michaels. Having come aboard after serving three years at Wilmington & Beaches (N.C.), Nidds has the benefit of seeing the region through fresh eyes. She’s already fallen in love with the different scenery the region boats. “When I came here for my first visit, I was stoked just to drive around,” she recalls. The five jurisdictions—Salem, Roanoke, Roanoke County, Botetourt County and Franklin County—each possess different qualities for hosting events. Cycling, triathlon, Ultimate and disc golf are only a few of the types of events VBR Sports will target. Each city and county will have two representatives who sitting on an advisory board. Former NASC Executive Director Don Schumacher says the collective approach benefits each community. “A regional effort marshals all the resources that might be needed to host any event,” he says. “This region has a long track record for staging events. Capitalizing on this, the natural beauty and the central location, you will be hard pressed to find another area that has more expertise in amateur sports.” Michaels, who joined the CVB two years ago, says the initiative reflects the impact sports has on the region. And the organization is putting its money where its mouth is. Beyond the hiring of Nidds, Visit VBR shifted its financial resources from a meetings-first mentality to sports-first. “We are upping our game,” touts Landon Howard, president of Visit VBR.