CVB vs. Sports Commission in Big Rift

Diane McGraw may not be having the best of vacations, according to a memo she sent today to her board of directors on the Greater Louisville Sports Commission.

It was while on vacation that McGraw, executive director of the SC, learned that the Convention and Visitors Bureau, which provides financing for the Sports Commission, made a public announcement about a contract with a cycling championship that she was planning to make at a future date. But from reading McGraw’s letter (we have it below) there’s a lot more to her problems with the CVB and chief exec Jim Wood than jumping the gun on a media opp.

McGraw writes that there’s an ongoing rift in which she claims Jim Wood has exhibited “a lack of respect and consideration” for her group.

Oh yes, McGraw includes in her note the news that the PGA Championship is returning to Louisville. She’s upset that the CVB is apparently planning to announce this fact at the end of July at a luncheon that she’s had no involvement in. Yes, maybe I’m burying the news here, and we’ll get more info on that later.

Later in the lengthy piece, McGraw complains about her treatment at last year’s Ryder Cup, and explains that the situation is worse than anything she’s seen on other sports commissions in other cities. She concludes by promising that things are going to be different when she returns.

Larry Bisig, a founding vice president of the Sports Commission, said the tussle is a bad sign and could hurt the progress that’s been made in attracting millions of dollars to the city.  “The CVB and the Sports Commission need to be in lockstep,” Bisig said. “They need each other and somebody needs to get this fixed.”

The situation must be pretty bad for McGraw to send such a contentious letter to her board. It’s bound to get some reaction and the board is one of the largest and high-profile in the city. The Mayor was copied on it, too.

We called Wood to get a reaction just a few minutes ago, and will let you know when we get one. Meanwhile, here’s the juicy content from McGraw.

Read the Letter After the Jump…

Although I am away on vacation, I am taking this time to write to each of you to express my dismay regarding an incident that was brought to my attention yesterday, as well as the ongoing frustration we deal with regularly in our relationship with the CVB.

As you know, the sports commission recently hosted the US Masters Cycling Championships last week which brought 1,500+ athletes to Louisville for a week of competition.  In 2007, we negotiated a contract with them to bring the Championships here for two years and have cultivated a very good relationship with the staff and President of USA Cycling.

On Thursday evening, Greg Fante and I hosted the President, Steve Johnson and his wife at Churchill Downs and solidified an extension on our contract for another year.  Mr. Johnson related to us that due to the success of the event here in Louisville and because of the good relationship we have built with them and their confidence in the sports commission, he wanted to extend the contract for at least another year.  He also indicated that he would like to discuss a multi year contract, whereby we would host other USA Cycling events.   We agreed on a handshake and made a “quiet deal” with the intent of making a formal announcement next week when I returned from vacation.  We mutually decided to draft a press release this week and jointly make the announcement.

Yesterday, an announcement was made to the press that the event was coming back next year, which was done without any consultation, confirmation or consent of the sports commission.  The announcement was made by Jim Wood on behalf of the CVB.  We received word from USA Cycling that they were surprised that the announcement was made without their approval as it went against what we mutually agreed to do. This has put us in an embarrassing situation, in addition to having been, once again, disregarded in our role.

If this were an isolated incident, I would not be writing, but, once again, this demonstrates the lack of respect and consideration by Jim Wood for the sports commission.  It has been the climate that we, as staff, deal with on an ongoing basis and I have had to deal with since I assumed my position of the commission in 2007.

On numerous occasions, I have brought this to the attention to individuals who I thought could intercede, but was told to always take the high road.

There seems to be a hesitance to address this, because of our dependence on the CVB for funding, and now even more so, that they are our total source of funding.

Just recently, the CVB has had meetings with the PGA and is planning on making an important announcement at the end of this month that the PGA Championships will be returning to Louisville.  I was made aware of this by an hotelier a few weeks ago, yet the CVB, has yet to inform the commission, the “official sports agency” for the city and their partner that this was going to happen.  I received an invitation the other day, (which was part of a mass mailing to CVB members) that a luncheon was being hosted by the CVB with the special guest being the CEO of the PGA.  My assumption is that this is when they were planning to announce the return.  Again, a major sporting event is coming to town and the sports commission has no official knowledge of it.

When the Ryder Cup was in town last year, the CVB, City, State and GLI  had a two Chalets to entertain potential clients, (approximately 20 of those clients were sports industry leaders from all over the country;  many  were “our”  existing clients.)  The Sports Commission was not included in any of the invitations or given an opportunity to be part of the hosting of these sports clients throughout the week…   In fact, the only reason that I was able to attend the event and have access to the Chalets,  was through the generosity of a board member who offered me 4 tickets each day in their so we could invite any potential clients.

I also received 2 tickets, since I served as Chair of the Volunteer Committee for the Cup Experience.  However, these tickets were in another location, no where near the Chalets, where the high level entertaining was going on…  In defense of the city and state, they probably assumed that we were being taken care of by the CVB.

I could go on about the many instances that have left me wondering whether we are on the same team as the CVB whose missions are both to represent the city.  This relationship is very dysfunctional and it is not what I thought I signed up for when I took on this position and moved my family here to Louisville.  I am not going to go on and on here, because many people are aware of my frustrations and have known about them for quite some time.

When I was asked to represent this organization and be the spokesperson for the city in all of its sports efforts, I never imagined that I would be working in direct competition for the people who are supposed to be our biggest supporters.  Although some things have improved since the Mayor’s office stepped in last year, it continues to be a struggle.

In my career, I have run 3 other commissions in larger markets than Louisville, but have never experienced anything like this.  I have been around this industry for 20 years, served as the Chair of the National Association of Sports Commissions and was one of the founding directors, therefore, am very familiar with many of the organizations around the country.  I will say that others do experience frustrations with their CVB’s, as well.  Most of us are too dependent on the funding we receive from them and often times find ourselves at the mercy of individuals who must be afraid of our success for fear of “upstaging” or diminishing the role of the CVB.   Makes no sense to me, since we are all working for the same cause and a good working relationship only strengthens our results.

Some of these commissions have either folded their tents or have become sales depts. in the bureau, instead of becoming a thriving commission, whose mission goes well beyond room nights.  That is what a successful sports commission should look like and that is how the city should be served and represented.  Just recently, the St. Louis Sports Commission defected from their CVB, due to the same struggles.

At this point, I am dismayed and disappointed about what is going on in Louisville.  I am also upset that I am on my vacation and am having to write to all of you…  But, I will say, that when I return, it will not be business as usual, at least, while I am in this position.  I am hoping that the leadership of the GLSC Board, CVB Commissioners and the Mayor will do what is right and put an end to this madness.

My staff and I work very hard for this city and have established a good reputation throughout our industry.  Our clients are ready to come here and have a comfort level knowing that their event is in good hands.  We have also generated significant economic impact for this city through these relationships and events.  We feel demoralized and frustrated when these things happen and it is not a fair position to put us in.

Although I am away, I will be happy to take anyone’s calls to address this situation or answer any questions.  But more importantly, it would be helpful to me to get some assurances that this will be dealt with and changes will be made. And I trust that those changes will be the right ones.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Diane McGraw