Sports Business

WMSC building ball fields and the countys future

August 10, 2012
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It appears everyone is winning — at least, when it involves the West Michigan Sports Commission and its capital campaign to build a 12-field baseball and softball complex in northern Kent County.

The two-year old campaign, called Everyone Wins, is nearing its goal. “We’ve reached $5 million in pledges to what is a $7 million goal,” said Mike Guswiler, executive director of the sports commission.

Guswiler appeared before county commissioners last week to provide an update on the campaign’s progress for the field, which would host youth and amateur tournaments and bring tourism dollars into the county, and on other activities like the Meijer State Games of Michigan and the recently completed Transplant Games of America.

Guswiler explained that the current campaign is for the complex’s first construction stage, which is being designed by Progressive AE. It would build eight of the dozen playing fields. He then pointed commissioners to an economic impact study by Grand Valley State University that estimated the 10 Mile Road complex in Plainfield Township would be worth up to $25.4 million to the local economy from direct spending by visitors over its first five years.

“The dollars don’t come to the sports commission; they go to the hotels and restaurants,” said Guswiler. “To put it very simply, we produce sporting events that bring people here, who spend money. We want to become a premiere sports destination and a go-to organization for youth and amateur sports.”

WMSC got started in 2006 after county commissioners agreed to a five-year funding package worth $1 million. It seems to have been a good investment.

“Our growth has been significant,” said Guswiler. “We’ve seen significant growth in the events we’ve put on.”

The commission has hosted 57 events this year, which have drawn 72,450 visitors who have spent $26 million. Just two years ago, WMSC put together 40 events that brought 43,905 to the county, and they spent $13.5 million locally. Over its short life, the commission has booked and helped draw 250 sporting events that resulted in more than 280,000 athletes and spectators spending more than $80 million during their stays.

The sports commission’s growth began in 2010 when the agency established its signature event: the Meijer State Games of Michigan. Guswiler said that event raised revenue for the commission but also raised its expenses. Annual revenue in 2009, the year prior to the state games, was $530,000. This year that number has jumped to roughly $830,000. But expenses have also grown quite a bit, to $825,000 this year from $410,000 in 2009.

So, even though the sports commission has succeeded in bringing more events, more people and more hospitality spending here, it really hasn’t benefitted financially from its success. “It’s a no-net situation,” said Guswiler.

Still, the state games featured 31 sports this year patterned after the Olympics; the events took place at dozens of venues in June. The games drew 5,780 athletes from 72 counties and generated $2 million in spending from participants and their families.

Another signature event for the commission, but one of a different nature, is the Transplant Games of America. “This was a very special event,” said Guswiler. “It was about the need to grow our donor organization. It was more than a sporting event.”

According to Donate Life America, 14,144 individuals donated organs last year, and 28,535 transplants were performed, but another 113,115 patients needed transplants. The games, which primarily took place on GVSU’s Allendale campus, drew 1,600 visitors from 40 states for a dozen sports, filled 2,000 hotel rooms and captured $1.7 million for the local economy.

But what pleased Guswiler the most were the comments WMSC received from those who participated in the event. His favorite went like this: “Team Northeast wants to give a huge thank you to the West Michigan Sports Commission for the fantastic Transplant Games.” Another was, “Take a couple of bows, Grand Rapids. You did yourselves and all of us from Michigan proud.”

The sports commission gets 37 percent of its revenue from the events it holds. Kent County gives it 24 percent, as does Experience Grand Rapids. Businesses and other groups account for 11 percent, and the Convention and Arena Authority provides 4 percent of the funding.

One of those vital revenue-raising events will take place Sept. 20, when WMSC will hold its annual luncheon in the JW Marriot ballroom. MSU Athletic Director Mark Hollis is the featured speaker and tables are still available. Contact Natalie Rose at WMSC for more information. The event has drawn 700 each year, with most attendees coming from the business community.

County Commissioner Stan Ponstein asked Guswiler what he would tell someone who feels that government has no business in supporting agencies such as the sports commission with tax dollars. The county is giving the commission $100,000 this year.

“We’ve got to play an integral role to build the future,” he replied. “We have to bring people in to help grow our businesses. We have to build our future.”

To that response, Ponstein said, “All your staff represents Grand Rapids well.”

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