Economic Development and Sports Business

Sports commission contributes $145M to local economy

Sports tourism is a nearly recession-proof industry.

January 30, 2015
| By Pat Evans |
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Ping Pong Table Tennis
This summer’s USA Table Tennis U.S. Open filled 1,500 hotel rooms and had an economic impact of $750,000. Courtesy West Michigan Sports Commission

Youth and amateur sports can fly under the radar, but the West Michigan Sports Commission has grabbed it by the horns and made it a major part of the West Michigan economy.

The nationwide youth and amateur sports industry is worth nearly $8 billion, and since the West Michigan Sports Commission was founded in 2007, it’s brought in more than half a million visitors for 383 events.

Those visitors spent $145 million in West Michigan. It’s an industry that stays consistent through economic ups and downs.

Last year was the organization’s best yet, seeing almost $39 million in direct spending.

“Sports tourism is nearly recession proof,” said Mike Guswiler, WMSC president.

“As families we want our kids to be involved in sports and glean all the values of them, so we’re apt to spend our discretionary dollars on that and use it as a mini vacation.”

The visitors — and spending — have increased nearly every year since 2007:

2007 – 21 events, 33,900 visitors, $7 million in spending

2008 – 30 events, 40,550, $7.4 million

2009 – 37 events, 52,690, $11.8 million

2010 – 35 events, 49,310, $14.4 million

2011 – 48 events, 56,700, $17.9 million

2012 – 60 events, 96,390, $26 million

2013 – 75 events, 95,130, $21.1 million

2014 – 77 events, 131,576, $38.9 million

As the WMSC matured, so too did its relationship with area sports organizations that help drive the events attracting the participants to West Michigan.

Guswiler said when the commission was first getting started, the members went out to chat with people involved in youth and amateur sports and were immediately embraced by them.

“This is a sports community,” he said.

With the commission’s help, there have been major upgrades to the sports infrastructure in West Michigan, including major projects like the $7.8 million Art Van Sports Complex. The baseball and softball complex is expected to be the leading revenue source for the WMSC, with a projected 32 percent coming from activities hosted there. The WMSC operating budget for 2015 is $1.8 million, a number that has quadrupled since 2007.

The Art Van Sports Complex already has been booked with tournaments for 23 of the 27 playable weekends for the first full operating season, expected to bring 10,000 participants and 25,000 spectators and generate an estimated $5 million impact in 2015.

A major event that has helped the WMSC grow is the Meijer State Games of Michigan.

The event began with 15 sports in 2010 and grew to 51 sports last year with more than 8,500 athletes. The 2014 Meijer State Games of Michigan contributed $2.9 million in direct spending.

In 2014, the WMSC added the Winter Games, which boosted the number of participating athletes by 32 percent.

Late in 2014, it was announced West Michigan was awarded the State Games of America in 2017. That event invites the winners of each state’s tournament to a large Olympic-style athletic competition.

Guswiler said the State Games of America could attract up to 20,000 athletes to West Michigan.

Other large events in the future include the 2015 and 2017 NCAA DIII Women’s Basketball National Championships; the 2015 and 2016 NCAA DII Outdoor Track and Field Championships; the 2015 USA Synchro Masters National Championships; the 2015 and 2017 NCAA DIII Women’s Volleyball National Championships; and the 2016 Western Collegiate Hockey Association Final Five.

That infrastructure, along with other events such as the Meijer LPGA Classic, is important when competing against other regions in the country for new sports events.

“We’ve been challenged with saying who Grand Rapids is,” Guswiler said. “There are major destinations with professional franchises always in the news. We’re not, necessarily, so we have to step up our game a little bit and show off how much we have going on.”

With the foundation set in place, the WMSC will continue to grow the impact of youth and amateur sports on the West Michigan economy.

“It’s an industry that is projected to continue growing as new, unique sports enter the marketplace,” Guswiler said.

“Grand Rapids is perfectly poised to capture more of this business with our first-class venues, extensive selection of quality hotels, easy access via freeway and air travel, and safe pedestrian-friendly downtown.”

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