A Field For Teams

July 10, 2008
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GRAND RAPIDS — A half-dozen items are on the West Michigan Sports Commission’s wish list. Just two are finding broader financial support and bringing more new tournaments to the region.

But perhaps the most important one is the commission’s interest in having a new baseball complex built here.

WMSC Executive Director Mike Guswiler touched on that subject recently with county commissioners. He told them that one of the stiffest challenges his agency faces to bring events here is a lack of a multiple-field facility: one site where several games can be played at the same time.

Guswiler said having such a complex for baseball would make the region a more popular stop for tournaments, make it easier for the teams’ followers to attend the games, and raise revenue for hotels, restaurants and other attractions.

“It might be 16 fields in one location,” he said. “The opportunity exists there.”

Guswiler continued painting the picture by saying that each field could accommodate six teams, giving a new 16-field baseball complex the ability to host up to a 96-team tournament. He said each team would bring 25 people to a field, so each field would have to be able to accommodate from 50 to 150 people for every game played.

As for how much money a baseball tournament would mean for the local hospitality industry, Guswiler estimated that each person would spend an average of $125 each day.

“There is not a ratio of 4-to-1 or 3-to-1, it’s more of a formula base,” he said.

The sports commission, which began operations this year, has had a hand in helping to secure 40 events through 2011 that will bring more than 60,000 people to the region. The American Collegiate Hockey Association, U.S. Bowling Congress and USA Gymnastics will hold respective national, state and regional championship events here next year. Those three events alone are expected to draw 6,000 people to the region.

“We’ve had some initial sales success in our first year,” said Guswiler.

Guswiler told commissioners that he and his staff were putting together a comprehensive communications plan and were continuing to look at drawing traditional and non-traditional sporting events, such as ballroom dancing, disc golf and wheelchair-based games, here. The 2008 Midwest Indoor Wheelchair Tennis Championships, being hosted by the Grand Rapids Wheelchair Association July 18-20, is expected to bring 300 to the MVP Fitness Center in Rockford that weekend.

The sports commission has dedicated $110,000 to marketing the region to youth and amateur associations this year and another $27,000 to attend conferences and make sales calls. The agency’s first-year budget is $454,500. Kent County is the biggest contributor to the spending plan at $200,000, followed by the Convention and Visitors Bureau at $150,000.

“Things are going well,” said County Vice Chairman Richard Vander Molen, who also serves as chairman of the sports commission.

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