Our New Normal: How Maryland Sports and TEAM Maryland Partners are Adjusting during COVID-19

Photo courtesy of Tiffany Ahalt, Visit Hagerstown

“Big challenges are managing work and the online schooling for my daughter….  Trying to set aside time for both while still being productive and getting everything accomplished.”

– Kelly Rados, Worcester County Recreation and Parks

Could any of us have imagined, one year ago, that we would be in the position that we are today? For Events Rights Holders, sport tourism representatives and DMO’s across the state of Maryland, this time of year is usually one of detailed planning and excitedly preparing for what has become the busiest time of the year for our respective organizations. The familiar stresses of hosting large scale sporting events would be a welcomed anxiety as all of us now are trying to define our “New Normal” in the midst of a global pandemic.

Recently, we reached out to a number of our TEAM Maryland partners to get their thoughts on a range of topics. We discussed everything from their new daily rituals to the shows they’re watching, their thoughts on navigating these unprecedented times and what they think the sport tourism industry will look like post COVID-19:

Eric Teisch, Visit Howard County

Are there any challenges you’re facing with the work-life balance? How are you adjusting?

I have had jobs previously that did not value work-life balance. That is one of the reasons I ended up in the tourism industry. Work-life balance has never been put to test more than it is now. My wife is a Special Education teacher in Montgomery County and we have three kids under the age of 6, including a 5 month old. It certainly has been challenging for us both to keep up with work on the computer, while helping our 6 year old on the computer for his school work, a baby who runs by her own schedule and a 3 year old who doesn’t have a care in the world but (still) wants someone to pay attention to him. To best adjust for this, we have really been sticking to creating a school schedule each day. My wife and I build in our own time for when we have meetings and then we schedule lunch, recess, and we go for an afternoon walk at the end of the day to decompress and get fresh air. Not sure what we would do if this was during winter and we couldn’t go outside. Although we have a schedule down, it is still stressful depending on what type of day the kids are having. The saving grace is that they are still young to understand what is going on and more importantly, we are altogether and healthy.

What are some of the challenges you foresee moving forward for the industry even after we start getting back to normal? What are you doing to prepare?

The biggest challenge will be money. Clearly with the economy and the astronomical amount of lost jobs, youth sports are going to decrease in participation. The challenge from a destination perspective is that the Right Holders are going to value their bid fees even more than before to survive. However, destinations are planning for their budgets to be decreased by at least 50% for the upcoming fiscal year. For a smaller destination like ours, who can barely bid on events as it is, it will be practically impossible for at least the first year back. To prepare, I have maintained communication with our Recreation and Parks team and I believe we need to dig deep into the grassroots. We have great fields for lacrosse and I believe those tournaments that can still bring teams in, including the high school showcases, will get our name out there and will hopefully bring the sports tourism industry back faster than anticipated.

Is there anything you’re doing during the quarantine that you didn’t do before or something you hope to continue to do once it ends?

My family goes on walks everyday. I would like to continue that after everything ends as well. Another thing is really paying attention to how my kids are learning. Although it has been forced on us, I am thankful that I get the opportunity to see my oldest son in a learning about the environment and that his younger brother is interested in what he is doing as he will be getting ready for preschool as well. I have also used the weekends to catch up on some sleep. Normally we run around on the weekends with birthday parties or sports but now my wife and I have time to take turns to recharge. This has actually made the beginning of the week more enjoyable as we are well rested. Lastly, I have been picking one day of the week to work with my kids on their sports skills. My oldest was due to begin lacrosse for the first time and my middle child was going to take an intro to sports class. I want to keep them as active as I can and make sure they do not lose the love of sports like I have.

What shows are you watching (TV/ Streaming, Movies, Documentaries)

My wife watched the Tiger King so I caught most of it. Personally, I don’t understand the excitement/craze over it. Felt it was a waste of my time. We also started watching the Ozark. I took interest in the Aaron Hernandez documentary on Netflix. I went to UConn at the same time his brother was there and knew a majority of the story. That is really about it… My wife and I are usually exhausted at the end of the day and try to go to bed early as we are bound to be woken up in the middle of the night.

Kelly Rados, Worcester County Recreation and Parks

How has your day changed from normal operations? 

We are closed to the public so I’ve been working from home for parts of the week and going in other parts of the week. 

What are some of the strategies you’re using to adjust to your new schedule/ working conditions? 

Even if I’m working from home, I still get up early, get dressed and begin my day as if I was in the office. I like schedules and routines so this seems to help.  I also have daily conference calls with our entire staff, it helps with communication, and keeps spirits up.

What are/ are there any challenges you’re facing with the work-life balance? How are you adjusting? 

Big challenges are managing work and the online schooling for my daughter.  Trying to set aside time for both while still being productive and getting everything accomplished.  Still adjusting and trying to find our routine.

What are some of the challenges you foresee moving forward for the industry even after we start getting back to normal? What are you doing to prepare? 

I’m worried about different event holders still existing after this is over. I know there have been layoffs and I would hate to see companies fold after this is over.  We have started to brainstorm internally about what homegrown events we can come up with.

What are you doing to break the monotony? 

I coach a youth travel softball team.  Each day I try to check in with another family to see how that individual player is doing and their family in general. Sometimes it’s through texting, other times my daughter and I will Facetime with a player.  This helps to break up the days, and gives us the social connection that we are missing. The families feel appreciate that I’m reaching out so that’s always a plus.

Have you taken up any new hobbies/ activities/ cooking? If so, what are they and do you have any to share (especially recipes!!) 

I have definitely been cooking a lot more, taking more time in preparing dinners and meal prepping for the week. 

What books are you reading?

I just finished Sunburn by Laura Lippman, I need more books to read so I’m open for suggestions!

Is there anything you’re doing during the quarantine that you didn’t do before or something you hope to continue to do once it ends?

I’m taking more walks and bike rides in my neighborhood. Usually I feel too busy to do this but it has helped break up the day and/or give myself a mental break.  I’ve been starting some days with a walk, my daughter has joined me which helps get some energy out before her school work. Afternoon and evening bike rides have helped me wind down after my day. I want to continue these after the quarantine, and make time, instead of excuses that I’m too busy.

Tiffany Ahalt, Visit Hagerstown and Washington County

What are some of the trade websites/ publications you are following?

Sports ETA

What are/ are there any. challenges you’re facing with the work-life balance? How are you adjusting?

I recently began my role at the CVB so there is a lag with getting to meet partners and colleagues face to face, everything is done via phone and email. Also, I am a people person, a Type-A Personality for sure. It is difficult to experience such limited contact.

What are some of the challenges you foresee moving forward for the industry even after we start getting back to normal? What are you doing to prepare?

We will need to restructure our planning, marketing and sales strategies. Sponsorships will be down, there will be new guidelines and restrictions from the CDC and local health departments.

What is your daily routine?

Wake up early, check my kids leaning schedule (online), make LOTS of coffee, check email, work, lunch, work, hike, work, dinner. We live close to the C&O Canal in Frederick County so we love to take in the beauty and quality of the recreational experience. In the evenings, we often enjoy a fire in the backyard.

Have you taken up any new hobbies?

Purchased an Instant Pot, feeling like a short order cook. I have two growing boys that LOVE to eat.

Is there anything you’re doing during the quarantine that you didn’t do before or something you hope to continue once it ends?

This has been a great opportunity to teach and remind my kids about wants versus needs. Most important, there is a reason why I never wanted to homeschool my children. As a Rotarian, service to my community is important. My family recently adopted an elderly couple who is not about to go out for groceries or medicine because of COVID-19. We deliver groceries to them twice a month, send notes and call them.

Cole Lacey, Wicomico Recreation, Parks & Tourism

What are some of the trade websites/ publications you are following to stay up to date?

Attending and listening to just about every webinar that is being promoted through the Sports ETA website.

How has your day changed from normal operations?

Currently, working from home and focusing on relationships with our current network. I am constantly checking in with organizers to see how they are handling and making out through these tough times.

What are some of the strategies you’re using to adjust to your new schedule/ working conditions?

Set realistic goals for each day knowing I may be distracted by my kids.

Are you keeping in contact with other members of the sport tourism industry… What are you hearing from them?

I feel like I am keeping in contact with more members and more frequently with other members in the sport tourism industry. I think there is a lot to learn from different destinations all across the country.

What are you doing to break the monotony?

Getting outside as much as possible. Getting back to simpler activities, like fishing.

What shows are you watching (TV/streaming, Movies, Documentaries) ?

I actually believe that I have been watching less TV. Not having sports on TV has forced me to find other activities to do.

Marjorie Hampson, Baltimore County Tourism

How has your day changed from normal operations?

My day has gone from promoting Baltimore County attractions and events through e-newsletters, Facebook and the tourism website to assisting local businesses find financial support during this pandemic (BaCo tourism is part of economic and workforce development). This time of year, I would be promoting our steeplechase races, the Guinness Pub Run, and updating next year’s visitors guide. The tourism e-newsletter this month contained beneficial resources for small businesses, a pitch to support local restaurants with carryout orders, and a list of virtual tours for families to take right from their sofas. The tourism Facebook page has turned into a plethora of Baltimore County restaurants listing their menus for daily take-out.

How do you think/ Do you think this pandemic will change the way we do sport tourism in the future?

This is totally my opinion – when the ban is eventually lifted and normalcy begins to return, I foresee folks NOT clamoring to events, malls, stadiums, attractions, etc.  Perhaps the fact that folks may be hesitant to engage in socializing again may deter tourism/travel efforts. Tourism in general, including sports tourism, will need to strategize to regain the public’s trust that air flights are safe, large gatherings at stadiums are safe, festivals and malls are safe. This will be a huge undertaking for all of us in the tourism industry. Am I alone in this thought? Maryland Office of Tourism and Film is organizing business heads and association directors to tackle this approaching dilemma.

What shows are you watching (TV/ Streaming, Movies, Documentaries)

My husband and I are watching tons of Netflix at night and on the weekends. Of course, we finished Tiger King (and BTW, Carole Baskin is guilty as sin!) Sneaky Pete was good – only wish there was another season to see if Pete and Julia get together! We watched a couple of Tom Segura’s comedy specials – have seen all of Sebastian Maniscalco’s – highly recommend both of these comedians on Netflix. We have turned into TV aficionados!

Elizabeth Joyner, Visit Annapolis & Anne Arundel County

What are some of the trade websites/ publications you are following to stay up to date?

MPI, PCMA, Sports ETA, STR Report

How do you think/ Do you think this pandemic will change the way we do sport tourism in the future?

If our new “normal” is a 6-foot distance requirement, it is going to change the way everything is done.

What is your daily routine?

Workout, shower/dress for the day, email catch-up, making my toddler breakfast, planning my day with my husband to juggle taking care of a toddler and both of us working full time… We say, “Happy Groundhogs Day” to each other every morning, to lighten the mood.

What are you doing to break the monotony?

Taking this time to enjoy my fourteen-month old, she is full of entertainment.

Have you taken up any new hobbies/ activities/ cooking?

Re-learning how to Rollerblade! My neighborhood just got repaved and it’s fairly flat! My parents mailed me my Rollerblades (circa 2000) and they are still in great shape!

Graham Whaples, Maryland Sports

How has your day changed from normal operations? 

We are a very schedule-oriented family. My wife wakes up early because she teaches at a local high school. I’d usually feed my son breakfast and get him off to school before my commute to the office in Baltimore. While it’s been nice not to rush around in the morning (or the evening before making lunches for the next day) it is tough juggling teleworking with my son’s school work now and my wife tele-teaching. Some days I take on the brunt of his classwork, sometimes she does. Like it has been for everyone, it’s quite an adjustment.

What are some of the challenges you foresee moving forward for the industry even after we start getting back to normal? What are you doing to prepare?

I think the tourism industry will be an area that bounces back quickly once things reopen. I think people are itching to get back out there, though maybe not in the same capacity as before. Obviously, we’re dealing with historic unemployment nationally, furloughs, job insecurity etc. I often wonder what restrictions will remain in place specifically for sports if social distancing orders remain in place. What effect will that have on the sport tourism industry, that’s an issue that all of us will have to look at closely and determine where/ how we can address that shortfall. There are a lot of unknowns out there but we’re continuing to do our part to showcase the state of Maryland and remind folks that we’ll be here for them when they’re ready to return to business.

What shows are you watching (TV/ Streaming, Movies, Documentaries)?

Better Call Saul, Bob’s Burgers, Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. Recently started Ozark on Netflix. McMillions, the HBO documentary about the McDonald’s Monopoly scam in the early 2000s. And, of course, Tiger King!

What books are you reading?

With the Anne Arundel County Library closed, my reading has gone way down except when it comes to reading with my son and the books provided on Google Slides from the school system. Right before the closures, I had just finished The Handmaid’s Tale and knocked out the sequel, The Testaments in the first few days of quarantine. Since then, my reading consists of the local newspapers and the few magazine subscriptions we have (National Geographic, Time and All Recipes). I did just get The Water Dancer in the mail so I’m excited to start that.

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About Maryland Sports:

The mission of Maryland’s Sports Commission is to enhance Maryland’s economy, image and quality of life through the attraction, promotion, retention and development of regional, national and international sporting events.

About TEAM Maryland:

TEAM Maryland is a statewide initiative designed to collectively market Maryland to the entire sports industry by creating a synergistic approach to the way we market ALL of Maryland as a sports destination.

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