Derby Field

After 145 Kentucky Derbys, Louisville Knows Sports

Sports can drive a healthy economy and healthy community

by: Karl F. Schmitt Jr., president and CEO

As businesses put the final touches on 2019 and look ahead to a new decade, the Louisville Sports Commission is celebrating our 20th anniversary—and a legacy of boosting economic vitality through sports.

Our team is taking a longer view at where our community can be in the next 10 years, and we believe that a culture of active lifestyles—something that sports help to inspire—should play a bigger role in our mission.

As an organization, we are experienced in attracting and hosting events, and a relative newcomer at promoting health and wellness.

The Louisville Sports Commission was founded in 1999 by local businessman Tom Musselman and other community leaders to bring sporting events to the region for economic growth.

Working with Louisville Tourism and our industry partners, we’ve attracted and hosted events that have generated nearly a billion dollars in local economic impact.

In addition to recruiting events to town, we’ve taken an entrepreneurial approach to create, own and operate seven annual events: Louisville pure tap® 5k, Norton Sports Health 10K, Urban Bourbon Half Marathon presented by Jim Beam®, Kentucky Sports Hall of Fame fueled by the Kentucky Lottery, Live in Lou Cross Country Classic, Louisville Corporate Games presented by Humana, and the Paul Hornung Award presented by Texas Roadhouse.

Together, these events generate spending in our hotels, restaurants and shops; put Louisville in the media spotlight; provide a tremendous Louisville experience for thousands of visitors; and add to our community’s coolness factor.

Beyond that, sports events foster a culture of active lifestyles and create a pathway to better overall health, which leads to happier, more productive individuals. And a more active and healthy community helps attract businesses and retain talent.

Unfortunately, health statistics for Louisville residents continue to trail our peers. The Greater Louisville Project’s 2017 report ranked the community’s overall health last among our 16 peer cities. This must change for us to compete as a city.

As the Louisville Sports Commission enters our third decade, we are expanding our focus with a new initiative, Louisville Active. Its goal is to instill a culture of active lifestyles, regardless of an individual’s participation in organized sporting events or athletic ability.

Louisville Active was born out of my participation in the 2016 Bingham Fellows and Humana Bold Goal, now the Louisville Health Advisory Board. The Sports Commission already is uniquely positioned to be a community change agent in health and wellness. We interact with thousands of people who benefit from active lifestyles, including the athletes who visit our community to compete as well as residents who participate in our events.

Two key Louisville Active initiatives focus on young people. Kids’ participation in sports is associated with a range of physical, emotional, social and educational benefits that can last into adulthood, so it’s important to instill active lifestyles early on in life.

The first is Playing it Forward, a program to collect new or outgrown sports equipment that is redistributed to young people whose lack of equipment limits their participation in sports. Since 2017, with the help of our partners at the University of Louisville and Louisville Metro Parks, we have collected and redistributed approximately 5,000 pieces of equipment to boys and girls in economically challenged neighborhoods.

Our second program is Kids Finish First presented by Frazier Rehab Institute Sports Medicine. This program encourages kids to train for a half marathon–13.1 miles–in small increments. They log 12 miles on their own during a six-week period. Then on the day of our half marathon, they gather at the 12-mile mark and run or walk their last 1.1 miles to the finish line. Since Kids Finish First’s inception, more than 3,000 youth have participated.

As you look to set personal goals for the New Year, or even the new decade, we encourage you to join us in creating a culture of active lifestyles. If you’re already active, ask someone to join you. If you’ve lapsed into a sedentary lifestyle, recommit to adding movement activities to your life. If you’ve never been active, take the first step with someone in your neighborhood, at your place of worship, where you work or with your kids or grandkids.

You can start big or you can start small – just get active with us, Louisville.