Amateur sports, facilities sought to spur local economies

by The City Wire staff ( 241 views 

Families across the country and local region may not go for out for dinner, but research shows they will plunk down an average of almost $300 per weekend when they travel with their children’s youth sports teams.

Dev Pathik, CEO of Sports Facilities Advisory in Clearwater Fla., told The City Wire that spending on sports travel has steadily risen during the past few years and is largely fueled by youth sports. He said families collectively spend $192 million per day supporting their children’s sports activities. That ranges from gear, uniform fees, private lessons and travel to games often played each weekend during their appropriate seasons.

“Many think they must invest this in their children from a young age if they are going to have the skills necessary to make a high school team, or perhaps secure a college scholarship,” Pathik said.

SFA research released in December 2013 found that net positive spend from 2012 to 2013 increased 22.6% in team sports at school, 16.7% in team sports outside of school and 15.9% in lessons and sports camps.

Youth sports and sports-related travel is creating an approximate economic impact of $7 billion per year, according to Pathik. Cities across the country have taken notice in recent years and competition for hosting tournaments for travel ball has become intense, he added.

“It’s not enough to just build a complex and think the masses will come,” Pathik told The City Wire.

He said municipalities can take advantage of the resilience of sports travel but these efforts need to be properly evaluated and planned. There are certain criteria that make a city attractive or unsuitable to events owners and decision makers.

His firm has worked with cities such as Gatlinburg, Tenn., to study the impact that large sports complexes can have on their communities. SFA also is engaged in the lead development and will provide ongoing management of facilities.

He said the $20 million Rocky Top Sports World in Gatlinburg is set to open this summer and features seven outdoor fields, including a track and stadium suited for championship play. There is also an 86,000 square-foot indoor facility that features six basketball courts and 12 volleyball courts.

Nestled in the Smoky Mountains, Pathik said Gatlinburg already gets its share of visitors and soon there will also be a major sports draw to that community.

Kalene Griffith, CEO of the Bentonville Convention and Visitors Bureau, said all of the major cities in Northwest Arkansas actively work to recruit youth and amateur sporting events to the region because they have long benefited from the economic impact of the extra visitors related to sports travel.

Studies show that 27% of all trips made in the U.S. relate to attending a sporting event of some kind, from professional and college games to youth and amateur sporting events.

“A few years ago, we held an AAU basketball tournament, ‘Real Deal on the Hill,’ and over a four-day period the economic impact was $1.2 million for the local region” as 200 teams took part, playing games in all of the four major cities, Griffith said.

That tournament is now played in Little Rock, she said.

In February, Griffith said the city will host the Bentonville Classic, a NCAA preseason softball tournament for 29 teams from up to 8 states.

“This tournament has grown from 12 teams just three years ago. Each team brings in between 18 and 20 people,” Griffith said. “This is one way the city works to keep the local hotels full in months when convention travel is typically low. It is also a great draw for our local residents who enjoy watching college softball.”

Pathik said research shows girls’ sporting events tend to have a slightly larger payback than similar events from boys sports.

“Girls bring more parents and grandparents to their games and they like to shop more I guess,” he said.

Springdale and Rogers also each recognize the value associated with constructing new sports complexes, not only for local use, but also to spur tourism within their cities throughout the year.

In August 2012, Springdale residents approved a $71 million bond issue that included $17 million for a proposed multi-use park that would be a combination of recreation space like Murphy Park and sports facilities like Tyson Park. Mayor Doug Sprouse said Tyson park was built in the 1980s and the city has just added three softball fields since that time.

“Our city has experienced tremendous growth since the late 80s and we just don’t have nearly enough recreation space for our own residents. Not to mention we are missing out of added sales tax revenue from the hospitality side of this issue because sports teams are going elsewhere to host tournaments,” Spouse said.

Roger Davis, general manager for the Holiday Inn and Convention Center in Springdale, said the city and chamber have increased efforts to recruit more sports teams to host tournaments in Springdale. Davis also serves as a member of the local advertising and promotion commission.

“We have a great deal of interest from soccer associations to hold tournaments in Springdale, but there simply aren’t enough fields. The same is true with softball and baseball. Meanwhile our neighbors in Rogers are building new fields and Bentonville has done a terrific job tapping this market,” Davis said.

He said when the city has hosted large sports events like Pitch for the Cure, hotels are full with players and families from outside the area, who eat, buy gas and stay over for two days or more. Griffith said the entire region helps accommodate Pitch for the Cure because 200 teams participate and bring thousands of dollars to the region over the three-day period.

Sprouse said he has become a believer that parks are part of the quality of life piece that Springdale must promote like it’s neighbors to the north and south if it’s going to continue to grow a certain segment of its population.

“The city has bought 70 acres on the southeast side of town for a large park that will have new baseball fields, soccer fields, a football field, tennis courts and a splash pad. We hope to equip these baseball fields with all-weather infields,” Sprouse said.

He said the fields should be finished by spring 2015. Meanwhile three of the softball fields at Tyson Park will be converted to baseball fields once the softball fields in the new park are completed.

Another 120 acres have been purchased by the city of Springdale for a large sports complex on the west side of town, with completion in the next couple of years.

The city of Rogers earmarked $26.8 million of a 2011 bond issue for new ball fields and an $12.9 million aquatic park that opened last May.

The new softball/baseball park opened this past year with six fields and by 2015 the city will have added five new soccer fields and a football field at Veterans Park on the east side of the Rogers, said Frank Adase, sports marketing manager for the Rogers Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Adase works full-time at recruiting sports tournaments to the city and said the new fields which opened in 2013 made a huge impact in the number of tournaments and visiting teams. The city parks division confirmed they hosted 26 tournaments during 2013, a 225% increase from eight tournaments held in Rogers in 2012. There have been 17 tournaments scheduled so far for 2014, according to Jody Sands, spokeswoman with the parks department.

Adase said the competition for large youth sporting tournaments is fierce and top notch facilities are an absolute necessity.

“Between March 1 and July 1 there are 19 weekends, we have tournaments booked on the new fields for 15 of those and our city recreation league will be using them during the weeknights,” Adase said.

He said as lacrosse is growing in popularity the city now hosts two large tournaments in April for that sport.

A report released in November by SFA found there were 12.224 million teams of youth sports for ages 10 to 14 across the U.S. in 2008. Over the next three years the number of team sports for the same age groups increased by roughly 2%.

In total, there are some 50 million youth participating in team sports across the country.

Participation in team sports for children between the ages of 6 and 12, compared to 2009:
• Gymnastics 52%, up 4%
• Soccer 45%, down 3%
• Baseball 37%, up from 32%

Between the ages of 13 and 17, participation in team sports compared to 2009:
• Track and field 48%, up from 44%
• Football 40%, up from 34%
• Lacrosse 34%, up from 33%
• Court volleyball 31%, up from 29%
• Cheerleading 30%, down from 35%