Talking a Good Game

December 28, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — The West Michigan Sports Commission ended the year on a high note by getting some event leads, and at least two of those could be coming to the region in the near future.

Commission Executive Director Mike Guswiler and Convention and Arena Authority Executive Director Rich MacKeigan recently traveled to Louisville and attended the TEAMS Conference, an annual meeting of sports suppliers and destination cities. Sports Travel Magazine puts the meeting together, which is attended by tournament organizers.

The fall conference focused on youth and amateur athletic events, the two groups the WMSC has targeted to bring here. Because SMG, the firm that manages Van Andel Arena and DeVos Place, was one of the event’s sponsors, MacKeigan said he and Guswiler were assured of face-to-face get-togethers with meeting planners from the various organizations.

“You’re guaranteed to walk away with a lot of leads,” said MacKeigan, a WMSC member who is also SMG general manager of the arena and convention center.

“It’s probably one of the larger ones in the industry, and it’s been growing each year,” said Guswiler of the event. “The conference center floor had over 300 booths and destination representatives, and the same amount, or more, of sports-governing bodies.”

The sports commission shared a booth with SMG. Guswiler said that reduced his cost to participate in the conference, and being tied to an event sponsor like SMG ensured that he was able to meet with representatives from organizations like the Amateur Athletic Union and the U.S. Figure Skating Association.

“Many of these sports directors or tournament organizers came to the appointments with requests for proposals, and I came back with some that seem to be a good fit for our area,” said Guswiler, who spent seven years with the Convention and Visitors Bureau before coming to the WMSC in May.

Guswiler is currently working on a pair of events, including an AAU Beach Volleyball Midwest Qualifying Tournament in 2008 at Muskegon’s Pere Marquette beach, an effort he is coordinating with the Port City’s Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Guswiler is also trying to convince U.S. Lacrosse to hold an Under 15 National Youth Festival at Forest Hills, which he said could bring as many as 3,000 people here in June of 2009.

“There is great support in the community for lacrosse. We’re working with the Forest Hills Lacrosse Club on that right now,” he said. “That is where our success will lie; in working with local people who are enthusiastic about their sport and partnering them up with these opportunities that exist out there.”

Forest Hills will host the Great Lakes Lacrosse Invitational in April at the Forest Hills high schools and Grand Rapids Township Park. But one hurdle that Guswiler may have to clear to get the national festival here is that U.S. Lacrosse prefers to hold its events in an area that has at least a dozen adjacent fields.

“We don’t have that. I’d like to see something like that get developed so we could become more competitive. But we’re putting together our best bid that would include that many fields but in a four locale-type of situation,” he said.

County Commissioner Richard Vander Molen chairs the WMSC. Assistant County Administrator Wayman Britt serves as vice chairman for the organization, which has an 11-member executive committee and a 44-member board. Contributions made by Kent County, the CVB, the CAA and the private sector this year ended up giving the WMSC a first-year budget of $475,000.

The underlying mission of the WMSC is to increase business for the local hospitality industry by bringing more sporting events to the region, and Guswiler felt he got that effort off to a good start at the recent TEAMS conference.

“What I wanted to do was let people know that the West Michigan Sports Commission is out there, and we desire to bring events into our community,” he said. “And we were able to do that and generate some interest.”   

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