Catching Up With… Michelle Pippin
CEO, Augusta Sports Council
Augusta native Michelle Naval Pippin has been part of the city’s Sports Council for 12 years, starting as an intern. She’s served as CEO since November 2021. These are edited highlights from an interview.
What is the Augusta Sports Council?
We are a nonprofit, focused on marketing Augusta and our surrounding area as a sports destination. We want to be known as a place where [people can make] sports memories.
Why are sports so important to Augusta?
Obviously, with our history with the Masters tournament, the city has made [its] mark with that tournament. But sports tourism as a whole is a huge business throughout the U.S., about $91 billion [each year]. We see it as an economic driver for our city and our area. It’s also a way to provide quality of life and different experiences for folks in our community. They’re able to participate in a national or regional event in their backyard, or they’re able to volunteer for something like that.
How do you market Augusta as a sports destination?
We work hand in hand with our convention and visitors bureau, Destination Augusta. We’re both marketing our city, but the Sports Council is more focused on selling the city of Augusta and our area as a sports destination. We do that by attending different association conferences, where we sell our cities. We sell the facilities. The cost of having an event in Augusta is very different from having it in a larger city. We get everything ready locally, so that all [visitors] need to focus on is getting here. We’ve lined everything up from road closures to medical needs to hotel needs, volunteer needs.
What are some events that Augusta regularly hosts?
In July, just across the [Savannah] river in North Augusta, South Carolina, [was] the Nike Peach Jam. It is Nike’s largest travel tournament for boys’ basketball. We’re hosting another USA Cycling national championship in August, the USA Cycling Masters Road and Paracycling Road National Championship. The last Sunday in September, we’re hosting the Ironman 70.3 Augusta. It is one of the largest Ironman events in North America. In October, we are hosting the USSSA Military World Softball Tournament. We’re expecting about 2,500 people all with military backgrounds for the four-day softball tournament.
What is the economic impact of sports in Augusta?
Our 2022 estimated economic impact came out to $23 million for sports tourism that we brought/supported in Augusta.
What are some of the highlights of the Sports Council over the last 30 years?
When we first started 30-plus years ago, we hosted events like the Georgia Games. From there, it grew with the 1996 Olympic Games. We hosted different crews on the river for rowing. We hosted a couple of boxing events. That’s when we started to look broader and into events like an Ironman or USA Cycling.
In the coming years we’re looking at hosting more Georgia state high school events. The youth market is huge, and we want to be a destination for events within our state. We’re also looking to host most adaptive sports.
How does the Sports Council work with the local community?
We support and stay in close communication with about 65 different community sports groups. We look to them as those partners that may hold a couple of tournaments that’ll grow into regional tournaments. We provide grant funding for local groups that need help to cover different costs to host their first tournament, that kind of thing.
We rely on our community to volunteer for events. We recruit annually between 1,500 and 2,000 volunteers. We award 10 $1,000 scholarships to local graduating senior student athletes through our G.A.M.E.S. program. We own the Ray Guy Award, a national award for the nation’s best collegiate punter. So, we’re able to get exposure through ESPN every year during their college football awards show.
We’re multifaceted on everything that we do. We’re not just bringing in events. We’re an active part of our community.