City named a sports destination to watch

February 25, 2011
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This time it wasn’t Newsweek. And the designation was much better.

An industry trade publication has named Grand Rapids and the West Michigan Sports Commission as a “Destination to Watch in 2011.” The city and the sports commission were named to that list by SportsEvents Magazine, owned by Covey Communications Corp. and based in Gulf Shores, Ala.

SportsEvents Magazine focuses on the youth and amateur sports travel market. Each year the trade publication surveys destinations and groups that hold rights to events to get a better understanding of what is going on in the market it covers. The destinations that make its elite list are given its Readers Choice Award, which the WMSC can use in its marketing efforts. The magazine featured the list in its January issue.

“They’re a pretty well respected organization in terms of the work they do in providing a resource for the amateur sports industry,” said Mike Guswiler, WMSC executive director, of SportsEvents magazine.

Guswiler said the directors of two events that played here last year — the USGA Amateur Championship held at Egypt Valley and the USA Table Tennis Championship held in DeVos Place — offered high praise for the commission.

“From the outset, the local organization had an action plan that was put together with the intent to make the organization want to bring the event back in the future. The folks working with the West Michigan local organizers were professionals, detailed oriented, and made us feel like a family,” said Michael Cavanaugh, CEO of USA Table Tennis, in the magazine article.

“They were proud of their facilities and city, and eager to find ways to make the event memorable for all participants,” Cavanaugh also said.

By having the table tennis championships here last summer, WMSC broke a stranglehold that the city of Las Vegas held for a long time. The event drew more fans here than it ever did there.

“They couldn’t say enough about all the work that our local organizers did, the beauty of the venue and the city. Really, also, the key to that is they also had the most spectators and sellouts of each of their day’s events they’ve ever had,” said Guswiler.

“We’re actually bidding for them in 2012 and 2014 again, and it looks very favorable for us to get them back here,” he added.

Guswiler said the SportsEvents designation validates what the commission has accomplished so far in setting up the city as a top-notch stop for amateur and youth sporting events. That status also sets up the commission for future bids to recapture events and to land new ones, such as an early round of the NCAA Division 1 men’s basketball tournament.

“While we didn’t get it here in our bid for 2011, 2012, or 2013, this strengthens what we can tell these sports-governing bodies and these boards of our ability to partner with their lead organizations and make it successful for everybody,” said Guswiler.

Guswiler told the Business Journal that they’ve told most of those governing bodies that WMSC made the destination-to-watch list. But more than that, he said he wants the word to get out locally so those who live here can also jump on the commission’s momentum bandwagon to help bring events here or serve on local committees. “That’s where a lot of our success comes from,” he said.

Guswiler said he will spread the good news among regional and national tournament directors and at the sporting conventions he attends. A major one is the Travel, Events, And Management in Sports, or TEAMS, Conference, which takes place in Las Vegas this October and is put on by Sports Travel, another industry publication. Another key conference is the National Association of Sports Commissions to be held in Greensboro this April. When WMSC heads there this spring, it will be partnering with other state groups to lay the foundation that Michigan is a great place to come to play.

“Obviously, you’re aware of the work that Pure Michigan did in really promoting the need for funding around their tourism campaign, and the impact that tourism not only has on the state of Michigan, but also all of our localities. So we’re working with eight other Michigan cities to promote Michigan as a first stop for sports tournament directors to think of as a sports destination. Once we do that, then we all kind of go into our own corners and kind of battle it out,” said Guswiler.

In its four years, Guswiler said WMSC has worked with 140 events that brought about 160,000 visitors here and added roughly $40 million to the local economy.

“We keep growing that. That’s just to date, and we’ve got a good list of events that we’ll be hosting this year. USA Cycling is going to be coming in on top of the Grand Cycling Classic. That was, in part, because of our success with USA Table Tennis,” he said.

“So once you can start establishing yourself with a lot of these tournament organizers and sports-governing bodies, the more success you’ll have.”

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