The Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation held its inaugural Honors Luncheon on the turf of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The organization gave special recognition to Steve Gleason as well as inducted its first-ever Sports Foundation Hall of Fame class, while highlighting and celebrating the Sports Foundation’s 31-year successful history of bidding upon and managing major sporting events.
The luncheon program also included the awarding of two future events coming to the Crescent City: the inaugural ESports Pipeline Convention in 2020, and the return of the SEC Gymnastics Championship in 2021. As a special addition, Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser led a ceremony honoring the Eastbank Little League Girls Softball and Boys Baseball teams and coaches for their recent wins and designated them as official tourism ambassadors for the State of Louisiana.
Team Gleason founder Steve Gleason was the 2019 Honors Luncheon Special honoree and speaker. The Congressional Gold Medal Recipient was honored for his inspiration on the field as a Saints player, and off the field for his world-wide leadership to raise awareness and find a cure for ALS.
“The Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation strives to have a positive economic impact in this region by attracting and managing sporting events,” said Team Gleason Founder Steve Gleason. “Since I have been in New Orleans, the Sports Foundation has been wildly successful in those areas. You should pat yourselves on the back. Like the Sports Foundation, Team Gleason also strives to have a positive impact on lives, not only in this region, but throughout the country.”
The inaugural Sports Foundation Hall of Fame class inductees included Senate President John A. Alario, Jr., Dr. Mervin L. Trail and Ron E. Gardner. Senate President Alario, inducted by Gov. John Bel Edwards, served on the Advisory Committee for every major event in the history of the Sports Foundation, including the 1992 U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials, three Super Bowls (1997, 2002, 2013), three NCAA Men’s Final Fours (1993, 2003, 2012) and three NBA All-Star Games (2008, 2014, 2017). Dr. Mervin L. Trail, posthumously inducted by Ron Maestri, was the founding chair of the organization and remains chairman emeritus of the Sports Foundation. Dr. Trail spearheaded the effort to bid upon and manage the 1992 Olympic Track and Field Trials, multiple NCAA Men’s and Women’s Final Fours and was named Chairman of the 2002 New Orleans Super Bowl XXXI Host Committee (posthumously). Ron E. Gardner, posthumously inducted by Paul Valteau,served multiple terms as chairman of the Sports Foundation Board of Directors as well as a perennial R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl Chairman, where he remains the namesake of the annual R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl Inspirational award.
On the 2019 Hall of Fame Class and Honoree, Jay Cicero, president and CEO of the Sports Foundation, reflected on their impacts on the organization, and on their contributions to the community as a whole, “The time, effort and expertise of our three Hall of Fame Honorees has directly led to the success of the Sports Foundation over the last 31 years,” said Sports Foundation President and CEO Jay Cicero. “In the mid-late 1980’s, they all recognized the need for a full-time, non-profit designed to bid upon and manage major sporting events. Dr. Trail had the vision to create and stabilize the organization, Ron Gardner was tireless in his 27 years of service in numerous volunteer and event chairman roles, and Senator Alario has provided the steady leadership at the State necessary for the Sports Foundation to keep Louisiana competitive for hosting major events.”
After a record-breaking event in 2019, LSU Gymnastics Head Coach D-D Breaux took to the podium and announced to the sold-out luncheon crowd that the SEC Gymnastics Championships will return to the Smoothie King Center in 2021, just two years after the Sports Foundation and SMG partnered to bid upon and manage the event this past Spring. This year’s event was especially memorable as LSU was crowned the SEC Champion and continued their winning ways through the post season, eventually earning a spot in the NCAA Four on Floor National Championship. Coach Breaux attributed the SEC’s decision to return to the record-breaking experience that New Orleans delivered as a host city, “Thank you to the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation for the tremendous privilege and honor to have hosted the SEC Gymnastics Championship here in the Crescent City in 2019,” said LSU Gymnastics Coach D-D Breaux. “The gymnastics coach at the University of Kentucky summed it up when he said, ‘New Orleans really knows how to do it – they got the job done.’ We had a record setting crowd and it was a three-peat SEC championship performance for the Fighting Tigers. We’re happy to announce that this championship will be back in New Orleans in 2021.”
The Sports Foundation also announced that the inaugural ESports Pipeline Convention, and accompanying ESports Skills Global Combine, will be held in New Orleans in April of 2020, adding to the city’s growing portfolio of emerging new sports. The Esports Pipeline Convention will convene the biggest ESports brands, investors, suppliers, developers and industry stakeholders at the New Orleans Convention Center, while the 2020 Skills Global Challenge will simultaneously connect aspiring video gamer talent with collegiate and professional teams and leagues looking to recruit and develop players through scholarships or professional roster spots.
Co-founder of the ESports Pipeline Kerry Gumas praised the efforts of the Sports Foundation and other tourism stakeholders for recognizing the value of the sport, and its effort to host the inaugural event, “We are thrilled to bring the ESports Pipeline & Invitational Combine to New Orleans in 2020,” said Co-founder of the ESports Pipeline Kerry Gumas. “From our first conversations with the Sports Foundation and the New Orleans & Co. team, it was clear they understood the significance of establishing a national event in New Orleans focused on player development and commercialization opportunities to serve the professional ESports community whose audience is now rapidly approaching 500 million worldwide. Because of the Foundation’s role in fostering the development of New Orleans as a center for sports excellence and leading destination for the full spectrum of sporting events, they have not only embraced our event as gracious hosts, but also demonstrated a deep understanding of ESports through their superb efforts to support us in staging a world class event.”
The SEC Gymnastics and ESports event announcements add to an already impressive lineup of awarded events over the next five years. From its inception in 1988 through 2024, Sports Foundation events will have generated more than a $3.4 billion economic impact for the State of Louisiana and City of New Orleans.
The Sports Foundation has hosted hundreds of sporting events benefiting the city and state, generating billions in economic impact, and garnering invaluable media exposure. The success of the organization has elevated Louisiana and New Orleans as the premier destination for major sporting events, as witnessed by the lineup of events to be managed by the Sports Foundation and their many citywide partners between now and 2024:
- 2020 College Football National Championship (in partnership with the Sugar Bowl)
- 2020 NCAA Women’s Final Four (University of New Orleans, Tulane University and the Sugar Bowl)
- 2020 ESports Combine (Morial Convention Center and GNO, Inc.)
- 2021 SEC Gymnastics Championships (SMG)
- 2022 NCAA Men’s Final Four (Tulane University)
- 2024 NFL Super Bowl (New Orleans Saints)
The Sports Foundation has already played host to some of the largest sporting events in the world, including three Super Bowls, two WrestleManias, three NCAA Men’s Final Fours, three NCAA Women’s Final Fours, three NBA All‐Star Games, four Bassmaster Classics, the USA Olympic Track and Field Trials, the USA Olympic Weightlifting Trials, 18 R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowls, three AAU Junior Olympic Games, and numerous NCAA Men’s and Women’s Basketball 1st/2nd Rounds and Regionals.