Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Sports Boosts Our Bottom Line

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Sports Boosts Our Bottom Line

Article excerpt

Study confirms that a growing percentage of tourism and travel dollars are tied directly to athletic events

On the weekend after the traditional end to the winter tourist season, Southwest Florida hotel rooms remained packed with out-of- town visitors.

But instead of leisurely beach lovers, many guests were here for serious play -- the Florida Scholastic Rowing Association Sweep Championships at Nathan Benderson Park, a 130-team soccer tournament, two youth baseball tournaments and the LPGA Symetra Tour at Sara Bay Country Club.

"This was the busiest weekend we have ever had in sports tourism," said Nicole Rissler, director of sports at Visit Sarasota County, the county's tourism agency. "We were completely booked, sold out across the board."

Combined, the various athletic endeavors generated a sizable -- and welcome -- boost to the region's economy at a time of year many hoteliers and restaurant operators once feared because of the drop- off in business.

"Last weekend was crazy for everybody," said Rob Ferguson, corporate director of sales at two Lakewood Ranch properties. "The hotels were oversold, and we ended up having to relocate people, and the closest rooms were in Tampa-St. Pete."

Sports-related tourism has become a key component in the growth of the region's hospitality industry and the overall economy.

And it's not just about spring baseball any more. Rowing, running, BMX, soccer, swimming, triathlons, lacrosse and -- coming in June -- a Modern Pentathlon are bringing thousands of athletes, coaches and families to Sarasota and Manatee counties throughout the year.

Tourism promoters have worked to cement the region as a global sports destination, one that attracts international athletes during what used to be some of the slower months for accommodations, restaurants and merchants.

Building the economy

A study released Monday on the impact of sports tourism affirms that Southwest Florida is succeeding in meeting that goal.

Sports Facilities Advisory (SFA) found a growing percentage of tourism and travel dollars are tied directly to sports.

"Nearly 30 percent of all trips taken in 2012 were for the sole purpose of attending an organized sporting event, which increases to more than 90 percent when all trips involving some sports activity are considered," said SFA's chief executive Dev Pathik.

That surge in tourism spending, along with the building of facilities to support sports activities, can bring higher employment and economic impact to communities, SFA notes.

"The growth of sports tourism has the potential to not only rebuild, but sustain, the economies of the cities in which they operate," said Jason Clement, SFA's chief operating officer.

Sports-related tourism filled about 54,000 rooms in Manatee County in fiscal 2013, a 23 percent gain over the previous year, said Elliott Falcione, executive director at the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The overall economic impact of sports was $78 million last year.

Falcione says the region is fortunate to have three top sports facilities -- the IMG Academy in Bradenton, the 22-field Premier Sports Campus in Lakewood Ranch and Nathan Benderson Park for rowing, triathlons and other sports -- to host events of all sizes.

"When you have those venues real close to sugar white sand beaches, you are better positioned than most destinations to gain that business," he said. …

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