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VOL. 38 | NO. 31 | Friday, August 1, 2014

Music City Center faces its ‘Super Bowl’ moment: $500M in business on the line with August convention

By Brad Schmitt

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In sales, it’s all about leads. And Nashville is about to get 2,500 of them in the highly-competitive field of hosting major conventions.

The highly coveted American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) convention is coming to Nashville’s Music City Center Aug. 9-12.

And it’s highly coveted because the ASAE is an association of associations. And associations almost always have annual conventions.

So, among the 6,000 people expected to descend on Nashville for this annual meeting, about 2,500 of them are decision-makers or influencers for their association’s convention locations.

The city that hosts the annual ASAE convention usually gets about 20 percent of those decision-makers to book a meeting in the host city in the next five years, says Sabrina A. Kidwai, the ASAE’s senior manager for public relations.

And that can mean about $500 million in extra revenue for the host city, Kidwai adds.

Music City Center chief Charles Starks puts it best:

“It’s the Super Bowl of meeting planners.”

‘Phenomenal opportunity’

Last year’s  ASAE convention was in Atlanta. Los Angeles and Dallas also have hosted in recent years.

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Butch Spyridon of the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp. calls it “the largest and most significant meeting in the convention industry out there.”

And it’s just the kind of opportunity the Music City Center needs to book dates as it struggles with a lack of downtown hotel rooms.

“It’s like getting 3,000 customers you can sell to for three days in your city,” Starks says, adding that about 70 percent of those potential customers have never been to downtown Nashville.

“It gives us a phenomenal opportunity.”

And the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp. hopes to take full advantage of the opportunity.

About 500 business community volunteers in branded T-shirts will greet and help ASAE convention attendees from the airport to downtown and back again, Spyridon says.

The red music note that is Nashville’s calling card will be visible everywhere, including on the skycaps at the airport.

“There are music note air fresheners for the taxi cabs,” Spyridon says. “You can’t think of anything we haven’t touched. “

The ASAE brings an incredible variety of associations to its annual meeting. Here is a partial list of those scheduled to come to Nashville Aug. 9-12.

Professional Photographers of America (Atlanta)

State Bar of Texas (Austin, Tex.)

National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association (Alexandria, Va.)

Professional Insurance Agents of Louisiana (Prairieville, La.)

The Independent Book Publishers Association (Manhattan Beach, Calif.)

Society of Tribologists* and Lubrication Engineers (Park Ridge, Ill.)

American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (Memphis)

National Association of Episcopal Schools (New York, N.Y.)

American Apparel and Footwear Association (Arlington, Va.)

Sweet Adelines International (Tulsa, Okla.)

American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers (Denver, Colo.)

Ontario Association of Non-Profit Homes and Services for Seniors (Canada)

National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (Alexandria, Va.)

Michigan State University Alumni Association (East Lansing, Mich.)

National Rifle Association of America (Fairfax, Va.)

American Association of Blood Banks (Bethesda, Maryland)

* Tribology is the science and engineering of interacting surfaces in relative motion

Country superstars Lady Antebellum and Dierks Bentley have recorded video messages to greet convention goers at the airport, Spyridon adds.

Both stars will put on private concerts for ASAE, Dierks just outside the Music City Center and Lady A in the opulent Schermerhorn Symphony Center.

“We will be providing a seamless, flawless customer experience,” Spyridon says. “When they arrive andi leave, they’ll know they’ve been somewhere special.”

First-hand shot

The NCVC is providing about $2 million of its hotel-tax generated budget and in-kind donations for the extra touches, including the private concerts.

Spyridon says that’s nothing.

“If I tried to fly 2,500 meeting planners into Nashville, I couldn’t do it,” he explains. “The city contract has a sales and marketing budget, and this is a sales and marketing opportunity on steroids.

“This is more than we’d spend on anything. But it’s almost like buying an insurance policy to insure our success in the future. For us to get them here, gives us a first-hand shot for getting them to book meetings here.”

And just who is “them?’’

There will be a couple thousand associations represented, from all over the U.S., with many of the associations from the medical field, including:

  • The National Pharmaceutical Council (Washington, D.C.)
  • Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (Chicago)
  • Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (Washington, D.C.)
  • American Academy of Ophthalmology (San Francisco)
  • The Ambulatory Surgery Center Association (Alexandria, Va.).

But it’s not just medical. In fact, the diversity includes nearly any kind of field that comes to mind. Other attendees represent:

  • The Alliance of Automotive Service Providers of Minnesota (Roseville, Minn.)
  • Alliance for Girls (Oakland, Calif.)
  • American Academy of Religion (Atlanta)
  • American Association of Equine Practitioners (Lexington, Ky.)
  • American Association of Law Libraries (Chicago)
  • American Ceramic Society (Westerville, Oh.).

Competition is here, too

Nashville won’t be the only city wooing the meeting planners gathered here.

Dozens of others are registered, including Albuquerque, N.M., Atlanta (which hosted the ASAE convention last year), Sacramento, Calif., Spokane, Wash., Cincinnati, New Orleans, Louisville, Ky., Mobile, Ala., and Honolulu.

“It’s a double-edged sword. All of our competition is here,” Spyridon says.

“We hate that they’re entertaining [convention attendees], but we do know they’re spending money here at off-site venues, like restaurants and studios and things like that.”

This is Nashville’s third time to host the coveted ASAE convention in the past 20 years, with Gaylord Opryland being the site the other two times.

Musical partners

Why Nashville?

“It’s a great meeting experience. Accessibility, affordability. Nashville is centrally located,” Kidwai says. “And there are a lot of unique aspects to Nashville.”

Indeed. The convention center is brand new and state of the art.

Within walking distance is the Frist Center for the Visual Arts, the Schermerhorn Symphony Center, the Ryman and tons of restaurants and honky-tonks, Starks points out.

“I’ll put up what we’ve got here against New Orleans. Culturally or entertainment,” he says. “We’re real proud of what we have.”

But Music City isn’t the first ASAE host city to break out popular music artist for attendees.

Cyndi Lauper was at the Los Angeles convention in 2010, and KC & The Sunshine Band played the Dallas convention two years later.

Spyridon says, though, that Lady A and Dierks are doing more than just playing shows. They recorded several video messages.

“They’re partners with us, they’re not just hired guns. They’re ambassadors for the city. They get it, and their management gets what we’re trying to do.”

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