Visit Mississippi Gulf Coast’s Craig Mackay Is a “Future Game Changer”

By Matt Swenson, June 15, 2017

What Craig Mackay, sports development manager at Visit Mississippi Gulf Coast, may lack in experience, he makes up for with enthusiasm. Perhaps that’s what makes the 28-year-old a perfect fit for the role, which he assumed in November 2015. As Mackay further grows into the role, the destination will continue to develop its reputation as an ideal host for sports events.

Mackay is “a breath of fresh air, to be honest,” says Jon Schmieder, president and CEO of Huddle Up Group.

Such high praise is made more impressive in context.

After leaving a golf events company to join the CVB, Mackay was forced to learn on the job quickly. One of his first tasks from Visit Mississippi Gulf Coast Executive Director Renee Areng was to tour the destination with Schmieder and Gary Alexander, a principal at Huddle Up Group.

The objective was simple: See Biloxi and its surrounding counties through the eyes of a sports planner. Huddle Up would develop of a strategy based off its findings and Mackay would learn how to market the destination. It was a real eye-opener for the young sports professional.

“I had to wrap my head around what they were seeing,” Mackay recalls. “I learned we have tons to offer any sporting event.”

At Mississippi Gulf Coast, it starts with the beach, which extends 26 miles over three counties. The CVB sponsored a homegrown marathon last December that drew about 3,000 runners. Part of the event’s appeal was highlighting the region’s pleasant temperatures during a time much of the country is cold.

Organizers also tied in the region’s latest sports facility: MGM Park, a minor league stadium in Biloxi, the finishing stage for the race.

The Game’s Afoot

Maximizing existing strengths is the backbone of Huddle Up’s strategy, says Schmieder.

“Renee and Craig’s team there really embraced the concepts we put forth around using sports to connect the various assets they have on the Gulf, and to fill in the gaps that were created by Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill,” he says. “This was one of the few projects we have worked on that can change the entire industry and the way we all look at things.”

National Veterans Golden Age Games participants saw first-hand what the region has to offer in May. Biloxi also hosted the Conference USA baseball championships for the first of three years it will be at MGM Park.

As for youth events, Gulfport Sportsplex remains the biggest tool for Mackay to work with planners. Already a hit with USSSA, the 250-complex is in the midst of an expansion adding six synthetic turf fields, two stadium multipurpose fields and new meeting rooms and amenities.

Mackay says U.S. Quidditch is on his radar. Don’t bet against a successful future bid.

Schmieder says the potential is vast for Visit Mississippi Gulf Coast and for Mackay. “We love working with him, and we know he will be a future game changer for the industry,” Schmieder says.