BY SHARON HILLSTROM
Feld Entertainment’s Palmetto headquarters has hosted many events beyond rehearsals for Feld’s live shows, but the company never expected to host a 22-game season for 12 teams from the WNBA during a pandemic. Thanks to a partnership with IMG Academy – facilitated in part by the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp. – the WNBA, Feld, IMG, and many local businesses are chalking up a win during the summer of 2020.
In fact, hosting the WNBA season in the Bradenton area is a case study in sound economic development.
First, there is the strong collaborative relationship the EDC enjoys with the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB). Elliott Falcione, CVB executive director, contacted me about connecting IMG with Feld. The EDC has strong relationships with both companies and coordinated a call to start the ball rolling. The conversations that ensued ultimately led to winning the WNBA contract.
Then there is the corporate partnership of IMG and Feld, which combines unique assets to attract an internationally recognized business, the WNBA. There is also capital investment by Feld to customize the playing venue and support areas required for the league, with special COVID-19 precautions.
Next, there is direct spending with local, established businesses when many have been struggling because of the pandemic. And finally, there is external brand awareness through media coverage and broadcast games that shows businesses all over the world what the Bradenton area and Gulf Islands have to offer.
“IMG Academy was uniquely positioned and well-equipped to partner with the WNBA in their efforts to create a safe environment during a global pandemic,” said Chris Ciaccio, a senior vice president at IMG, which initiated the WNBA connection and is providing training facilities and accommodations for the league, among other services. “IMG Academy is proud to be the home of the 2020 WNBA season and we hope that it will provide positive exposure to the greater Bradenton area during these challenging times.”
Ciaccio says the economic impact of the WNBA season in the Bradenton area is still being calculated and the number and types of local businesses that are benefiting are too numerous to count.
Examples include multiple transportation companies, accommodations, janitorial services, restaurants, grocery stores, real estate companies, storage solutions, massage therapists, athletic training specialists, staffing agencies, food and beverage distributors, signage companies, equipment rentals, construction, and support personnel for broadcast and event.
It’s difficult to quantify how many jobs are involved, but Ciaccio says vendors are expressing “gratitude for the opportunities.” The WNBA event business is projected to generate between 17,500 and 25,000 total room nights between July and October, he said.
Besides the direct spending with local businesses, media coverage of the event and game broadcasts are carrying the Bradenton area brand around the world. Associating the local area with a brand such as the WNBA only makes our market more desirable as a sports performance destination. Building name recognition for the community is incredibly valuable for the EDC’s efforts to attract businesses and their jobs to Manatee County.
Local impact plus global reach equals a stronger local economy. That’s a win by any standard.