Bracing for impact: Organizers want to maximize Cincinnati's All-Star opportunity

Bumps expected in conventions, tourism, attendance

CINCINNATI - Phil Castellini hasn’t completed his to-do list for the 2015 All Star Game, but he’s already sure of two things: It will keep Reds employees busy and touch every corner of the Tri-State.

“It’s almost like a second full-time job for the 12 months leading up to it,” said Castellini, chief operating officer for baseball’s first professional team, which landed next year's version of baseball’s midseason celebration. “All the work that’s been done in the city, from Washington Park to Fountain Square to down here on the Banks, you’re going to see this All-Star activation literally spread all throughout town. So, one thing that’s going to be really fun to see is how all this development has prepared Cincinnati to host a national jewel event like this.”

Major League Baseball's 85th All Star Game takes place at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minn. Tuesday night, with roughly 40,000 fans in the ball park and more than 10 million expected to watch the Fox Sports broadcast. About three dozen Cincinnatians are in Minneapolis for a closer inspection.

Castellini took about 30 front-office employees to Minneapolis this week, including all of the team's department heads, to learn the ropes for All-Star week. The Reds staffers were joined by three employees from the Cincinnati USA Convention and Visitors Bureau and representatives from Duke Energy Center, the Cincinnati police and fire departments, the city manager’s office and the volunteer organizing committee for next year’s event in Cincinnati.

Organizers are planning a debriefing session later this week for those who made the Minneapolis trip. Then, it’s a 12-month sprint to next year’s game, starting with a logo unveiling Aug. 6 at Great American Ball Park.

“We’re going to put on one of the best, well-organized, efficient (All-Star weeks) as you can,” Castellini said. “The ability to walk all over downtown Cincinnati with not a lot of effort, the proximity of our hotels to both the convention center and the ball park, all of that’s going to make the execution of an event this complicated a lot easier.”

Cincinnati economists have estimated next year’s event could be worth up to $80 million for the Cincinnati economy, as spending by up to 150,000 out-of-town visitors ripples through restaurants, hotels and tourist attractions.

Minneapolis is expecting a $75 million impact from this year’s event. Kansas City and St. Louis, similarly sized cities that hosted the big game in 2012 and 2009, each claimed a $60 million impact.

How Cincinnati groups will maximize impact

Major League Baseball has turned its annual All Star Game into a week-long baseball convention, with events that go beyond the game, including a home run derby competition, a huge private party called the All Star Gala, a Major League Futures game that showcases minor league talent, a celebrity softball game featuring former major leaguers, a free concert that draws up to 30,000 people and a fan fest similar to the Reds Fest event that Cincinnati hosts every winter.

“We’ll use it as an opportunity to bring in potential customers,” said Julie Calvert, vice president for communications and strategy at the convention bureau. “We’ll be looking at media (from the travel and tourism industry), teaching them about Cincinnati and selling us as more than just a baseball town.”

The Cincinnati USA Regional Tourism Network (RTN) is about to roll out a new web platform that could improve its ability to target baseball fans with offers for community events like Bunbury, which takes place the weekend before Cincinnati’s All Star Game and Buckle Up, the country music festival that happens the weekend after.

“The Reds are one of the initiating reasons that people make a decision to come here,” said Linda Antus, RTN president and CEO. “Those are the very people, our research tells us, who love festivals and events.”

The Cincinnati Organizing Committee for next year’s All Star Game is looking to capitalize on the region’s volunteer network to guide visitors to restaurants, night clubs and other venues. But the group may also duplicate a social-media strategy that Kansas City invented and Minneapolis is refining this year. It’s a Twitter-based concierge service that lets All Star visitors tweet a question to #askMPLS. Volunteers respond to the question with real-time advice, helping people find restaurants, bars and parties.

But Cincinnati isn't looking to substitute social media for human interaction between visitors and street-corner tour guides.

“We’d like to have both," said Melanie Chavez, who is co-chairing the organizing committee with Sharry Addison, a volunteer coordinator for the World Choir Games.

“If you recall with the Choir Games, there was a yellow-shirt person everywhere,” Addison

said. “That’s our intention” with the All Star Game.

Looking for a sustainable All Star bump

The impact of the game will not be limited to the events of next July.

The Reds are working on concession upgrades at Great American Ball Park that could be announced in the next few months. They have a list of stadium upgrades now in search of corporate sponsors. If deals get done, they’ll be added to the list.

“We tend to dream up a lot of things and only get to do a portion of them,” Castellini said.

The Reds Community Fund will partner with Major League Baseball to increase local spending on projects like the Urban Youth Academy in Roselawn and the community makeover recently announced for the Millvale Recreation Center and the nearby Wayne Ballfields.

“We’ll invest a couple million dollars in the community above and beyond what we traditionally do as the Reds Community Fund,” Castellini said. A partnership with the Boys and Girls Club is possible, as is a community improvement project that involves veterans.

“We’ll orient dollars to the projects and try to get those built out before next July,” Castellini said.

Finally, the Reds will try to bundle season ticket packages with All Star tickets next year to produce a revenue and attendance bump. 

“Hopefully, it’s sustainable,” Castellini said. “In some towns where the All Star Game is hosted by a team that isn’t competitive, you sometimes see a dip in attendance a year or two after the game. We hope to not have that problem here.”

There is work to be done

Cincinnati still has plenty of unfinished business, 12 months from next year’s event. The streetcar project, once touted for completion by the 2015 All Star Game, is currently scheduled to open in September 2016.

A hotel near Great American Ball Park is not likely to be open by next July and the second phase of the Banks project – which includes 300 new apartments and the 1,600-job G.E. Global Services Center – will be under construction when the game is held.

“I’m definitely bummed that the hotel didn’t get done in time because that would have been a really nice benefit,” Castellini said. “When you think about hosting this five years ago, we had the hole in the ground for the Banks and no park at all. But next year, you’ll have the park developed all the way to Paul Brown Stadium and at least the first phase of the Banks cranking and the second phase under construction, it’s pretty exciting to see the town absorbing an event of this scale.”