Mike Malach hopes to attract everything from soccer tournaments to esports.
by Jan Schlain
From the November, 2018 issue
On the first Wednesday in October, Mike Malach left his job on the EMU sports staff after almost twenty years. The next Monday, he started his new job as executive director of the Ann Arbor Sports Commission. A division of Destination Ann Arbor, its mission is to bring major sporting events to the area.
"We have been looking at this for years," says Destination Ann Arbor CEO Mary Kerr--in fact, most large Michigan cities already have sports commissions. The tourism marketing group--formerly the Ann Arbor Area Convention and Visitors Bureau--already had an experienced sports marketer in Meaghan Hughes but wanted to take things to the next level.
"The goal of the Ann Arbor Sports Commission is to help the quality of life and bring events to help with the economic impact," says former U-M associate athletic director Bruce Madej, who preceded Malach as interim director and remains a consultant. "That [Liverpool vs. Manchester United] soccer game in the Big House was big money."
Essentially, Malach's job is to fill hotel rooms--and restaurants--on the more than 350 days a year when Michigan isn't playing home football games. But those events can't all be at the Big House. "Ann Arbor has a rich sports history," says Malach. "Sports is Michigan. At the same time, we can't bring a 500-team soccer tournament here."
When Detroit hosted the National AAU Junior Olympics in 2017, it used "multiple stadiums, including some in Ann Arbor," Malach says. "But the bulk of it [was] done in Detroit." Ann Arbor doesn't have the right facilities--at least not yet.
"There are fields all over Washtenaw County," Malach acknowledges. "But if you're a parent, you don't want to be driving all over town to get from one tournament to another." So his assignment is to "go after something bigger": a major new sports facility.
"I'll be setting up an advisory board," he says. "We have to see if this market can sustain it."
What might happen there?
Madej mentions everything from synchronized swimming to eSports--a charity video game event at EMU this year raised more than three-quarters of a million dollars. Malach is looking now at the USA Jump Rope Federation.
"Realistically, it will take one to eighteen months to do the planning," he says. "The money is the hard part. With an advisory board and Mary [Kerr]'s help, we can develop strategy.
"Lacrosse, field hockey, baseball--almost any sport you can think of--has a national organization," Malach says, "and we hope to bring their major tournament here."
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