Sports Business

WMSC prepares to strut its stuff as host of national symposium

April 1, 2016
| By Pat Evans |
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As a relatively young organization, the West Michigan Sports Commission will get a nice feather in its cap this week when 1,000 peers — and potential clients — visit downtown.

The 24th annual National Association of Sports Commissions Symposium is at DeVos Place April 4-7, and will offer the 10-year-old WMSC access to national sports governing bodies coming to the city for the first time.

Along with the hundred-plus governing bodies, there will be more than 700 sports commission and visitor bureau representatives sharing best practices for creating youth and amateur sports destinations.

When the NASC was founded in 1992, there were only seven or eight communities trying to attract their business because of the potential benefit to the local economy, said Mike Guswiler, WMSC president. Today, youth and amateur sports have grown into a nearly $9 billion industry.

“Communities are now coming to understand it,” Guswiler said. “It’s grown in terms of travel sports. Operators saw a way to make a buck and expand beyond their communities. It’s been a gradual growth, and cities are seizing this opportunity.

“We’re seeing more and more — millions and millions of dollars — (spent) in creating infrastructure to create these destinations for sports tourism.”

This week’s conference is expected to generate approximately $1 million in direct visitor spending, but Guswiler said future opportunities are what excited him about hosting it. A variety of organizations, from individual governing bodies of the U.S. Olympic Commission to the Amateur Athletic Union and NCAA sports organizing bodies, will be in town.

As communities across the country begin to build up their infrastructure to host these sporting events, Guswiler pointed out that Grand Rapids and its surrounding communities have already done a phenomenal job, exemplified by some of the events it has hosted in its first decade.

He said U.S. Rowing is looking to bring its national regatta back to town, and DeVos Place has hosted the U.S. Table Tennis Open, bringing competitors from across the globe.

Guswiler is confident more organizations will see the positives West Michigan has to offer for sporting events when they’re here. By working with Experience Grand Rapids — “which has done a phenomenal job branding our city as a tourism destination” — and working to build up the infrastructure, WMSC has done well.

In 2015, WMSC hosted 86 events and more than 114,000 athletes and generated more than $39 million in direct visitor spending.

One symposium session of great interest to Guswiler is being hosted by the parks and recreation director from Salem, Virginia. Guswiler made sure to invite Grand Rapids Parks and Recreation Director David Marquardt to the session to discuss how to better partner the organizations to attract more events.

“Parks and rec departments are focused on residents, but there are opportunities for them to generate more revenue through hosting external events,” Guswiler said. “They’ve really been experts in Salem — certainly, at the NCAA D-III level, and we want see how they work together to bring those events.”

The symposium also offers organizations a “boots-on-the-ground” look at the city and its venue options, which bodes well for future events, Guswiler said.

As it competes with more than 700 cities for all these sporting events, Guswiler said both this symposium and next year’s State Games of America are great milestones for such young organizations. The Meijer State Games of Michigan is seven years old.

“I think we’ve done things right, aligned ourselves, put on great events, and that’s brought with it a reputation and the ability to put on these events of national scale.”

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