Profile: Linda Logan on building the Greater Columbus Sports Commission

Mary Yost

The city's first sports marketer continues to hit home runs.

Family brought Linda Logan to Columbus. The opportunity to translate her passion for sports into meaningful work has kept her here. And the community is the ultimate beneficiary.

Logan is the original and only executive director of the Greater Columbus Sports Commission, an entity she helped create in 2002 after working with one of the country's original sports commissions in Kansas City.

But sports has always been a defining interest for the native of Fairport Harbor, Ohio, a village of 3,000 east of Cleveland. Logan was 10 when her father took her to a Cleveland Indians doubleheader. "I remember walking out to my seat and seeing that field and it just took my breath away," she recalls. She became "a baseball nerd, keeping stats and following this hapless team, still waiting for that World Series win in my lifetime."

Logan was a communications major at Ohio University with a work-study job in the health and physical education department, where she volunteered to sell program ads for the hockey team-another precursor to her life's work. An internship took her to Kansas City and stints working for the Big Eight Conference (an NCAA Division I affiliation that later became part of the Big 12), as well as Kemper Arena and the city's convention center.

Then her sister in Columbus had her second son and asked Logan, "Don't you want your nephews to know you better?" The plea prompted Logan to take leave from a job she loved "but I knew I was in sort of a rut." Soon opportunity knocked in the form of the Greater Columbus Convention Center that was under construction, and Logan went from operations to the sales side of the business.

"My market was not just sports. I was bringing conventions and trade shows, and it was remarkable to be part of a startup facility," Logan says. But her sports experience in Kansas City taught her that Columbus lacked a sports tourism missing link, so she "lobbied to have that created here," reaching out to city leaders who could help make it happen.

Early champions of the idea to create a Columbus sports commission included OSU's then-Athletic Director Andy Geiger, John Christie, who was president of the Franklin County Convention Facilities Authority Board, Ty Stroh, then president of the Greater Columbus Convention & Visitors Bureau (now known as Experience Columbus), and Doug Kridler, then director of CAPA and chairman of the convention bureau board. As the concept gained traction, Logan was hired away by the convention bureau for a new sports marketing position "with the idea that we could incubate the sports commission there."

Her success so far is indisputable. With a staff that has grown from just herself to 12 full-time and one part-time, Logan is most proud that the commission secured two marquee events-the NCAA Women's Basketball Final Four in 2018 and the Women's Volleyball Championship this coming December. Other accomplishments she cites are that the city is hosting the Division III Women's Basketball semifinals in March and next year will host the Division II Women's Elite Eight.

Logan has seen "a marked contrast" in the city's progress over the past two decades, going from a time when marketing targets would say, "Which Columbus are you?" to a point "where some of our big customers will tell their colleagues, 'Columbus is a great place,'" she says. "We certainly never rest on our laurels because it is very competitive," she adds.

Logan credits her staff and collaborators throughout the city for the commission's success. Word of mouth also helps, she notes, pointing to the 2012 USA Volleyball Girls National Championships-"probably the largest event we've ever hosted." It required 55,000 hotel rooms from 70 area hotels, "and most of these people had never been to Columbus before."

She fondly recalls meeting her husband, a freelance writer and videographer, at the convention center. He was creating a documentary during a United Nations summit and Logan was on loan to the project. "We always say it took the whole world to come together for us to meet."

Sports was a theme in their 1996 wedding. Their song:Take Me Out to the Ballgame.

Mary Yost is the editor.

What was the origin of creating the Greater Columbus Sports Commission?

In the early '80s I moved to Kansas City for an internship (at the Kemper Arena)…There were more Final Fours hosted in Kansas City for men's basketball-at one time, the NCAA was headquartered there. I was exposed to those marquee events and how a community came together to be the host. So when I moved here I just recognized that there was a missing link and kind of lobbied to have that created here.

Does Columbus offer enough sports venues?

We're very facility rich when you think about all the things that are at Ohio State's campus, the Crew stadium being the first of its kind, the fact that we've got this fantastic arena with two sheets of ice and arguably the nicest minor league ball park in the country. Then our convention center is probably one of our busiest sports facilities, whether it's volleyball, wrestling, the Arnold, all those things. I feel that we're probably in as good a place as any city in America when it comes to facilities.

What do you hear when you're selling Columbus as a sports destination?

We've had some really great experiences where some of our big customers will tell their colleagues, 'Columbus is a great place.' If I were to backtrack the 20+ years ago, people would say 'Columbus? Which Columbus are you? Columbus, Ohio?' There's a marked contrast from before and now…But once we get people here, our job is so much easier because they see our walkable footprint, they see that they can walk out their doors and have 100 restaurant choices-just the ease of getting here and our affordability.

What keeps you up at night?

How important it is to support these key events…(In February) we have (Olympic volleyball gold medalist) Kerri Walsh Jennings coming. We'll have over 700 people there, but we also wanted to put a face on those December (volleyball) championships, kind of our public launch for how important it is for the community to buy those tickets and how good it is for girls. We're deployed from now to December to sell those tickets. It's not a given. It's not like a Men's Final Four where all the tickets are sold and there's a lottery. So there's risk to the organization but there's such opportunity, and that's what excites me.

Linda Logan

Founding Executive Director, Greater Columbus Sports Commission

Education: Ohio University

Activities: Board member of the AAA Ohio Auto Club, Columbus Recreation and Parks and Fairport Harbor Tourism Council; 2013 Women of Achievement award from Columbus YWCA; past national board chair of the National Association of Sports Commissions

Greater Columbus Sports Commission

155 W. Nationwide Blvd., Suite 125, Columbus 43215

About: Nonprofit tourism agency focused on attracting sporting events.

Impact: Secured more than 350 new events representing $380 million in visitor spending while retaining annual events that have generated $250 million in spending.

Staff: 12.5