Alan Verlander has been around sports most of his life.
His playing days as a youth at The Bolles School, then Samford University. Administration jobs that led to him becoming Jacksonville University’s athletic director. Hired by the mayor to be the city’s sports and entertainment director.
Now he’s chief operating officer of Gator Bowl Sports and executive director of its event side, JAX Sports.
The sports business often is portrayed as sexy and fun, he said, and at times it is. But his first year with Gator Bowl Sports has brought new perspectives of learning how the industry impacts the community and what it takes for sports to work in Jacksonville.
“Everyone talks ‘heads in beds’,” he said, “but there’s more of a trickle-down effect than that.”
Events bring jobs and jobs provide local paychecks, supporting families and the community around them.
Verlander said his time with the city opened his eyes about what it took to put on local large-scale events. That came from building relationships with employees and staff at SMG, which operates the city’s venues.
JAX Sports is a private nonprofit with the mission to attract sporting events to Jacksonville to boost quality of life. It works with the public side to achieve this, but funding is entirely private.
Verlander notes landing the SEC women’s basketball tournament in 2016 and supporting the Florida Country Superfest and Jacksonville Light Boat Parade all were wins in the organization’s first year. This weekend will be the Florida Cup, followed in March by the city hosting the second and third rounds of the 2015 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.
Verlander said he expects the organization’s funding source and volunteer base to continue to grow, which will help in marketing and attracting events.
Board members and corporate sponsors have contributed both time and funding, but it also will take time. The public side largely has been charged with luring events. The private-side entity is still fairly new, Verlander said.
“You can’t change 30 years of doing things one way in just six months,” he said.
Becoming similar to peer cities like Charlotte, Indianapolis and Nashville, all of which have strong private organizations dedicated toward bringing sports, is a goal.
It will be a challenge, but one with the familiar surroundings.