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Industry Perspective: Amateur Sports: It’s Gold and Highly Competitive

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Are you one of those people who think sporting events will happen anywhere and everywhere, no matter what happens? Do you think kids’ games are just for fun and recreation?

In truth, it can be a daunting task to bring some of these events to fruition, while at the same time showing the rewards to the state’s economy, if done well and done right.

This past year, Maryland Sports touched 250-plus events throughout Maryland at some level. These events saw hundreds of thousands of visitors, if not millions, make their way to Maryland in FY15 (July 1, 2014–June 30, 2015) to partake in amateur sporting events.

A small subset of those events were measured based on the Direct Spending Calculator that Maryland Sports developed as part of its economic analysis of amateur sports. Here are some of the basic findings for Maryland: 63 events generated $81 million in direct spending, 47% of attendees stayed overnight for an average of 2.1 nights, the average travel party is 2.4 persons and the events owners on average spent more than $635,000 per event in the community.

Competition Is Not Just on the Field

This year in Howard County, numerous events took place with significant direct spending impacts for the county. Without the efforts of Howard County Tourism & Promotions leadership, participation at recommended tradeshows and a dedicated workforce, the impact of some of these events would have been missed and gone to other destinations.

The sports event industry is extremely competitive, and that competition keeps getting tougher, especially at the amateur sports level. More than 450 destinations across the United States have designated sales forces looking for quality business through sports that accomplish heads in beds (lodging), food in bellies (restaurants and grocery), gas in cars (transportation), credit cards and cash on counters (retail) and butts in seats (spectators/scouts). Amateur sports are big business. It’s an $8.9 billion industry, with more than 25.6 million visitors entertained nationally in 2013, and is more competitive than ever.

Howard County Events

Several events happened in Howard County during the past year that, in some cases, even had significant spillover into surrounding counties, impacting the entire region. Without Howard County’s leadership, these events would not have grown to the level where regional impact could be felt. Here are two examples.

Event 1: The Soccer Association of Columbia’s (SAC) Columbia Invitational is managed by Howard County-based Elite Tournaments. This past year, this three-plus–day event over Memorial Day weekend brought in close to 700 teams (more than 80% not from the area) and 11,500 participants, and generated more than 15,000 room nights. Fields were leased (and hundreds of thousands of dollars spent) in five counties, and officials were secured and paid. Teams and officials were put in hotels rooms in at least six counties.

This is the true definition of regional; thus, the impact is regional too: $7.2 million in direct spending to Maryland’s economy. Howard County, as the base of the event, saw the greatest impact — through social media, direct spending and media impact — but most importantly, through the direct contact with the visitors who were traveling into the county.

This year, Howard County Tourism & Promotions had direct access to send messaging to all the teams heading to the county prior to the events. Direct communication with travelers prior to their arrival is gold in the travel industry.

Event 2: The National High School Lacrosse Showcase saw a significant growth in team participation in fiscal year 2015 — not as large as the above-mentioned event, but significant to Howard County because the entire event was captured in the county.

The event rooted itself in the county in 2013 as a high school showcase for college scouts to see elite teams and players. With a projected 40% growth in the next year, this event will, year in and year out, provide to Howard County exposure, direct spending impact and direct access to travelers prior to their arrival to Howard County.

These and other events may have started and/or are based here; however, they are highly sought after by competitors both regionally and nationally. Thus, the county cannot afford to take anything for granted; its dedication to host them must remain strong, and in some cases, it may need to find them more venue access to grow. If it doesn’t, its competition will.

Terry Hasseltine, CSEE, is executive director of Maryland Sports and vice president of the Maryland Stadium Authority. He can be reached at 410-223-4158 or thasseltine@MarylandSports.us.