Sports Business and Travel & Tourism

Sports tourism revenue reaches new heights

Visitor spending pumped $61.1 million into West Michigan economy last year, according to sports commission.

January 26, 2018
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Revenues from sports tourism have soared, creating a ripple effect on the West Michigan economy.

Visitor spending from 76 youth and amateur sporting events fueled $61.1 million in the area economy in 2017, according to the West Michigan Sports Commission. That is a 32 percent increase compared to 2016, which brought in $46.2 million.

Throughout 2017, there were 76 sporting events that brought 202,000 athletes and visitors, resulting in 43,961 sports-related hotel nights booked.

The State Games of America, the top event of more than 30 individual state game competitions, generated $10 million in visitor spending, which included lodging, food purchases and miscellaneous spending from Aug. 3-6.

The four-day, Olympics-style event featured 48 sports in 60 events at 35 venues across West Michigan. It hosted more than 12,000 athletes, 4,000 of whom were out-of-state participants, and approximately 5,500 hotels rooms were booked at 30 hotels.

Other events held throughout West Michigan included the USA Cycling Fat Bike National Championships, Professional Disc Golf Association Masters World Championships (first Masters-level world tournament), 2017 International Softball Congress Men’s World Tournament, 2017 USA Weightlifting American Series Open 3 (first USA Weightlifting national competition in Grand Rapids), NCAA DIII Women’s Basketball National Championship and NCAA DIII Women’s Volleyball National Championship. 

The third season for youth baseball and softball teams at the Art Van Sports Complex saw a 10 percent increase compared to 2016. It generated $5.5 million between April and October and featured 18 tournaments with 688 teams, 8,944 athletes and 22,360 spectators who booked 7,080 hotel room nights.

WMSC President Mike Guswiler said although the number of events is similar to last year, the organization is hosting bigger events with more participants and visitors from around the country.

Patrick Potyraj, sales manager for Crowne Plaza GR Airport, said Crowne Plaza partners with WMSC to book as many visitors as possible at the hotel. Last year, Potyraj said there were 45 sports groups (which averaged 90 athletes) and 1,500 visitors who stayed at the hotel between April and August during the State Games of America and the Meijer State Games of Michigan.

The hotel location also attracted visitors because of its close proximity to the MSA Fieldhouse, 5435 28th St. Court SE, where youth and amateur volleyball and soccer games were played.

“I’ll say we brought in about $180,000 in revenue from last year’s visitor spending relating to sports events held,” Potyraj said.

WMSC has made huge strides in getting children active in sports. In 2007, when the commission started, it hosted 21 sporting events, welcomed 33,900 visitors who booked 12,661 hotel room nights and resulted in $7 million in direct visitor spending. From 2007-17, WMSC youth and amateur sporting events have contributed $297 million in direct visitor spending.

Guswiler credited the drastic increase to collaborating with different sports organizations in West Michigan.

“(We are) working together with our local sports clubs and organizations because while we bid on fencing events, gymnastic events, basketball (and) volleyball, we are not experts in those sports,” Guswiler said. “We rely on the West Michigan Fencing Academy, for instance. So when we want to go after events like that, we touch base with them. It’s been formulating partnerships and growing our reputation and looking at our communitywide partners.”

Guswiler said the mission is not only to bid on youth and amateur events but also to help local organizations host their own sporting events that bring visitors together.

Ann Vidro, co-director of Grand Rapids Triathlon, said partnering with WMSC has helped the club grow.

“The West Michigan Sports Commission has been instrumental in the success of the Grand Rapids Triathlon,” Vidro said. “They have helped us to make connections, reach out to young athletes and help to get the word out to the general public about our events.”

In doing so, USA Triathlon chose Grand Rapids Triathlon to host the USA Triathlon High School State Championship this year. Vidro said she has seen more children involved in sports.

“The State Games of America have had an impact on our youth,” Vidro said. “They are more aware of the sports available in the community, and it gives them a chance to get involved. We have seen an increase of youth in our event, the Grand Rapids Triathlon. Kids are looking for sports that may not be offered in the schools, and this is a great way to try something different.”

Landon Bartley, a former coach at the Grand Rapids Rowing Association, said WMSC played a pivotal role in allowing the staple rowing event in West Michigan to receive national recognition.

“The Grand Rapids Rowing Association has partnered with the sports commission since the start of the (State Games of Michigan) by rescheduling the summer rowing regatta we had hosted for about 25 years a couple weeks earlier so we could make it the State Games’ rowing event. In that sense, our regatta is considered a legacy event, which I think is a little more arm’s length than some of the other State Games events.”

Bartley said WMSC’s assistance has been crucial in bids for regional and national events, such as the Mid-America Collegiate Rowing Association Championship Regatta, which Grand Rapids likely will host again in 2019, 2020 and 2021, and the USRowing Masters National Championships, which Grand Rapids also is the top contender to host again in 2019, according to Bartley.

Guswiler and the WMSC looks to continue growing the West Michigan economy and raising youth awareness of sporting events in Michigan and across the nation.

WMSC will host the Cycling Fat Bike National Championships in February, the Michigan High School Athletic Association Girls State Basketball Finals in March, NAIA Lacrosse National Invitational in May, USA Weightlifting 2018 Youth National Championships/Youth Olympic Games Trials in June, U.S. Judo Federation/U.S. Judo Association Junior National Championships in July, and the Midwest Tandem Rally in August.

“We’ve grown our event calendar from 20 events to an average of 80 events,” Guswiler said. “All those events have one thing in common, and that is it brings people together who have to stay overnight that need hotel rooms. Anytime you need a hotel room, you need to eat somewhere, so it ends up accumulating in terms of how much money these visitors spend.”

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