Birmingham’s successful grab of the 2021 World Games is largely the result of one man’s curiosity after a sports excursion with his wife and a friend.
When Scott Myers traveled to the 2013 World Games in Cali, Colombia, his only intention was to enjoy the sporting event.
He ended up with much more.
“We took our wives down there to see the games and have a good time,” he said. “Upon our return to Birmingham, I started talking and thinking about all the venues we have and all the opportunities.”
Myers is executive director of the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame and a longtime fixture in Birmingham and regional sporting circles.
His experience in Colombia evolved into a mission to bring the international gaming event to his hometown. Myers was joined on the Colombia trip by David Benck, vice president and general counsel of Hibbett Sporting Goods and board member for USA Gymnastics.
Myers said the nature of the World Games made the possibility of bringing it to Birmingham more palatable.
“I saw the games going not to the biggest cities in those countries. We knew we had the facilities and we knew we had the capacity for a first-class event,” Myers said. “And here we are today.”
Myers spoke to AL.com while sitting on a train through the Swiss Alps. He’ll return home as a victor, being the chairman of the committee that applied for and won the games for the Magic City.
The road to success has taken more than a year as Myers assembled a team that included Edgar Welden, businessman and chairman of the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame.
“We immediately went to Edgar Welden, and he loved the idea,” Myers said. “Across the board, everyone was universally supportive of the idea.”
It is estimated to cost about $75 million to host the games, a figure that includes both cash and in-kind services.
Myers and his team now face the task of securing the funding. The city of Birmingham had already committed to $3.5 million as part of the bid package.
An effort well worth it
If he has any trepidation about the next phase of his mission, Myers isn’t showing it.
“The corporate community in our community has always been solid for these types of events,” he said. “When you talk about leaders in our business community, all of them were supportive in our bid.”
While Myers noted that the cost is substantial, he said it will be well worth the reward.
The World Games could have a $256.5 million economic impact to the Birmingham region, according to estimates.
The event will bring about 4,000 athletes from 100 countries. The last World Games in Colombia drew 500,000 spectators. Myers was among them.
About 10 cities were interested in presenting the 2021 games, and the list was then whittled to three finalists. Birmingham prevailed over Lima, Peru and Ufa, Russia.
How Birmingham won:
Myers said there are several factors that led to Birmingham’s winning bid.
Unlike the larger, more popular Olympics, the World Games caters to smaller cities and focuses on existing venues, rather than requiring massive redevelopment or new facilities.
A look at Birmingham and surrounding areas shows that facilities already exist to meet the needs, he said.
“We have significant venues,” Myers said, noting the Crossplex, Boutwell Auditorium, BJCC and nearby college campuses.
The campuses will provide housing and a village environment for the athletes, in addition to extra training and performance venues.
Myers said other positive factors included the solid team of Birmingham bid committee members, early corporate support, and government endorsement on local, state and federal levels.
City officials are already touting the potential the World Games could have regarding local, regional and state collaboration.
Birmingham Council members, along with Mayor William Bell and senior staff are all noting the potential of the games, both long-term and short-term.
“It goes beyond being a sporting and entertainment destination to being a global destination,” said Chuck Faush, Bell’s chief of staff. “People have always wanted to; the mayor has talked about it, and now people are starting to see some of the fruits from it. It is happening all across the board.”
Faush underscored the sentiments of World Games supporters, who say the impact could touch a cross-section of the city and region.
“Not only will they be using city facilities, they will be using private facilities. Certainly, from one-man-band entrepreneurs to the large corporations will see across-the-board benefit,” Faush said. “That’s why you see a harmonious spirit.”
Myers is modest about his contribution to the city’s new found success, preferring to list others who should receive credit.
“There are so many that put in a lot of time and did great work for us,” he said. “On a personal level, to have the opportunity to expose our home to the world is just exciting. It’s just a significant privilege.”
By: Joseph D. Bryant of www.al.com