When Jennifer Stoll was forming a new sports commission in Grand Junction, Colorado, she wasn’t sure where to begin. “I didn’t know anything,” she recalled of the organization’s early days. “I was searching out education and there wasn’t enough. It had been on my mind for a while.”

Now working as a consultant with the Sports Events and Tourism Association, Stoll was able to tap into that perspective when it came to helping revamp the association’s educational and certification offerings. For years, Sports ETA (formerly the National Association of Sports Commissions) offered industry professionals the chance to achieve the Certified Sports Event Executive credential, or CSEE. But the new products recently announced by Sports ETA will move away from that program. The new program called the Sports Tourism Learning Institute will offer a tiered level of education and potential certification for all categories of the association’s membership—rights holders, destinations and industry suppliers—and at all levels of experience.

“We had to change how we were going to measure the outcome for the participants of what they learned,” said Al Kidd, president and CEO of Sports ETA, who made revamping the association’s educational offerings a top goal when he took over in 2017.

In coming up with the new plan, Stoll crafted a new strategy for certification. Sports ETA also formed an advisory board of 12 industry professionals to guide the research. The end result is the Sports Tourism Learning Institute, which will offer three tiers of education from a free program with webinars, podcasts and presentations, to an advanced-level, fee-based program with a set curriculum that is still under construction. A middle tier will resemble the former CSEE certification process, offering a variety of courses on specific topics that can result in industry professional receiving a new designation of “Sports Tourism Strategist” with enough credits earned.

One of the advantages of the new program, Stoll said, was that CSEE courses for the most part were offered at live events and were an all-or-nothing proposition. While some courses will likely be offered at live events in the future, the new digital program can be completed anywhere and will cover a range of specified topics for individualized learning.

“Where we landed was we know we want to do something that is going to be accessible to everybody and we also know we want it to be something that becomes the industry standard when it comes to certification in the future,” Stoll said. “We didn’t think it was one and the same.”

Programs for the Entry Level

The entry level of the new program is being called the Power Play. It will be a free program and already has a dozen opportunities available on the association’s landing site. The courses in this first tier are designed to be shorter by nature — an hour or less — on a range of topics in the sports-event industry.

“You could really look at it as those are entry-point education opportunities for people,” Stoll said. “They are very knowledge-based.”

The entry level is an important place to provide education for Sports ETA members, Kidd said. Surveys at the organization’s annual symposium showed an average of 200 to 250 new attendees each year. “Logic said that within a few years you’re running through 500 to 700 new people,” Kidd said. “We weren’t providing a high level of educational content for those people. There was no content we had at the entry level.”

A New Designation for Professionals

The Certificate Playbook is the next level in the new program. At this paid level, courses will be offered based on specific topics, offering a deeper dive of between three and five hours per course. Unlike the CSEE program, which required participants to be enrolled in the whole program to be eligible, industry professionals will no longer have such a requirement to sign up for the classes. “It’s designed so you can take a course based on your interest and when you complete the course you earn a certificate in that topic,” Stoll said.

“The thinking was nobody’s going to be left behind. And it was very important to me that people felt like what they did in the past had value.”
—Al Kidd, Sports ETA

After participants complete eight courses or the equivalent of 32 credits, they would be eligible to receive the new designation of sports tourism strategist. The plan is to scale up to as many as 50 courses, Stoll said. For those who were on their way toward CSEE certification, credits will transfer. And for those who had achieved the designation, courses in the Certificate Playbook will count toward their future compliance.

“The thinking was nobody’s going to be left behind,” Kidd said. “And it was very important to me that people felt like what they did in the past had value.”

 Front Office Education

 At the highest end of the new spectrum will be a program called Front Office Education. Individuals who complete these courses, which would be eight to 12 hours per course, would take deep dives into specific topics through a curated curriculum. They would have the ability to earn a designation as a certified sports tourism professional or master sports tourism executive.

The difference between this highest tier and the Certificate Playbook will be that those completing the higher course will be tasked with practically applying what they’ve learned as opposed to completing a course to get a certificate, Stoll said. The program will also have strict admission criteria that must be met.

“Everyone will be required to take same core curriculum classes,” Stoll said of the Front Office Education program, more details of which will be unveiled in 2021. “Not only will they be knowledge-based, they’ll also be-skilled based. We’ll provide the information but also assess your ability to implement this as a practitioner.”

A Future in Education

Kidd said the response to the program’s rollout has been positive so far.

“We wanted to offer programming to help anyone and everyone at any level and allow them to take it when they want,” he said. “That’s essentially what we have now. It’s functional and it’s high-level content. Some of the complaints we got (about CSEE) was that the education level was low and the quality of delivery wasn’t great.”

Stoll said the program is a new era in educational offerings for the association, and one she would have taken advantage of when she had started her own sports commission in Grand Junction.

“This gives us the opportunity to think about education as a long-term asset for our industry,” she said. “Launching the Sports Tourism Learning Institute is day one. But this is going to be the future of the association.”