Q&A with Visit Wichita's Brian Hargrove

  • Wichita State alum Brian Hargrove is executive director of sports development at Visit Wichita. He works to bring sports events, such as NCAA basketball, figure skating, the ECHL All-Star game and more to Wichita.
  • Hargrove and Visit Wichita worked with Wichita State to land The Basketball Tournament at Koch Arena, where fans turned out in record numbers for the games in July.
  • Hargrove said the success of Wichita State men's basketball helps his pitch when he meets with event organizers. They know of Wichita's reputation as a good sports city because they are familiar with the Shockers.

Brian Hargrove’s path to a career in sports started early and never stopped. The days and nights at games and practices ingrained the desire to be a part of that lifestyle.

His mother is Linda Hargrove, who coached women’s basketball at Cowley Community College, Wichita State, in the WNBA and as an assistant on the 1992 Olympic team. His father is Ed Hargrove, the former Cowley College softball coach who won 1,142 games in 30 seasons.

“My parents tell me, basically, from 3 days old, I was in a gym or at a field,” he said. “My mom always tells me a funny story that, growing up, my favorite song was the Star-Spangled Banner, because I heard it almost every single night.”

Brian worked as manager for the Wichita State women’s basketball team during his mother’s tenure as coach (1989-98) and graduated in 1998 with a degree in sport administration (now sport management).

He recently completed his first year as executive director of sports development at Visit Wichita. He helped bring The Basketball Tournament to Koch Arena in July and is working to bring other new events to Wichita. Those events include U.S. Figure Skating competitions, ECHL (hockey) All-Star game, wheelchair basketball, beep baseball and NAIA wrestling. Visit Wichita is also part of the group, along with Wichita State and others, that successfully bid for NCAA men’s and women’s basketball at Intrust Bank Arena.

“The first year has been extremely successful,” he said. “We’ve hosted six events that we had never hosted before and then 2020 is quickly filling up. I think we’ve currently got 10 events coming to town that are brand new, and there are three or four pending that we’re hoping to get. It’s blowing up. We’ve already added one more person to our sports department and it could be growing more in the near future.”

How did you choose sports as your career?

“I had grown up around sports and knew that was the career I wanted to go into. Wichita State had a great sports admin program, nationally known. That was an easy decision.

“I loved being in the middle of events. I loved started from ground zero, putting everything together, seeing the event come together from when you announce that you get the bid to putting on the event and all the work that goes on in between. Being a basketball manager, I had many late nights, early mornings, helping with laundry, getting practice set up. I had that lifestyle in college and after college I got a job at USA Basketball and was out there for six years. It was a great job. I traveled the world, got to work two Olympic Games. From the outside, everybody sees all the glorious stuff about sports. Those of us on the inside, we know all the hard work, long hours, sleepless nights that go into it. I couldn’t envision myself having a normal 8-5 job.”

What advice would you give to students considering a career in sport management?

“It’s all about the contacts, the people you know. Any time you get a chance to volunteer or do whatever you can to get out there and be a part of an event, do it. Put everything into it. If you have to be somewhere at 4 a.m. to volunteer and you don’t get done until midnight, give 100 percent the entire time you’re out there.

I got an internship at USA Basketball and I still remember, when I left, the one thing my mom said was . . .  ‘Do a good enough job that, when you’re done with those three months, they don’t feel like they can continue on without you.’ That was a piece of advice that stuck in my head. And I did. I did the summer internship and then got offered a full-time job and stayed out there for six years.”

How is the job market in Wichita in this field?

“Wichita has great sports facilities. People that are from here probably don’t realize how good they really are. Between Wichita Hoops, Wichita Sports Forum, the new Stryker (Sports Complex), the YMCAs in this city are the best in the country . . . It’s a great industry to be in right now, just because there are so many opportunities. You can do many different things and those (facilities) are popping up all over the country.”

What factors help Visit Wichita land events?

The success of Wichita State, starting back in 2006 with the Sweet 16 run and growing since then. People around the country now know Wichita State and they now know Wichita. When you go out to these different sports conventions and trade shows and meet with these companies that you’re trying to bring to your city, you don’t have to explain a lot.

“The NCAA Tournament – that’s one of those bucket list items. If you can host that, you’re a legit sports city. It obviously grabs their attention. When we host the NCAA Tournament, we’re the first (site) in the country to sell out tickets. People notice that. The atmosphere is a big thing.”

How did the success of The Basketball Tournament help Wichita’s sales pitch? 

“It gives us national exposure. The game are all on ESPN or ESPN2. People across the country see Wichita State, see the crazy atmosphere for this summer basketball tournament they had never seen before. There are a couple events that we’re going after in 2020 that they either saw the event on TV and they let me know . . . or I’ll send them a newspaper article talking about all the attendance records we broke.

“I tried to sell them on the idea of ‘You haven’t seen Shocker Nation. If we host this event, if we have a Wichita State alumni team, we’re going to fill that arena.’ It all worked out. We got them here and now that they’ve been here one year, I can’t imagine they won’t be here for numerous years to come.”

Read more stories like this