On the final day of Economic Development Week 2021 and just shy of 16 months since the U.S. confirmed its first case of COVID-19, we are emerging to see a world that looks more familiar. Unprecedented achievements in medicine have enabled rapid vaccinations, and the CDC just relaxed masking guidance for those who are vaccinated. It’s hopefully not a minute too soon as the country begins to slowly rebuild from the financial and psychological toll the pandemic has left on our collective psyches.
While the financial markets may appear to indicate differently due to the huge amount of cash flooded into them, below the surface the damage is staggering. The U.S. alone has lost over 560 thousand lives, over 22 million jobs and an estimated $16 trillion for the cumulative cost related to health reduction and lost job output (The Covid-19 Pandemic and the $16 Trillion Virus, David M. Cutler PhD; Lawrence H. Summers PhD.).
Our industry in particular was hit hard by the pandemic. While the retail sector of the outdoor recreation industry saw big gains as consumers sought out activities to keep busy and active during the quarantine, the tourism sector, along with the destinations and locations took a major financial hit as travel stopped and cities closed for tourism. With the rollout of vaccines and the acceleration of them being administered, over half of the jobs lost have been recovered and people are beginning to travel again.
This is great news for sports tourism, along with the Destination Marketing Organizations and economic development agencies in communities that will rely heavily on sports events and outdoor recreation as part of their recovery plan. Sports - particularly related to travel and outdoor recreation - will serve as a lifeline to communities in need revenue to refill coffers drained during a bleak 2020.
While there have been isolated outbreaks related to sports events, it has also been proven that with a solid COVID-19 mitigation plan, events can be run safely and successfully. As we strive to reach herd immunity, outdoor events are ideally suited to operate safely. At Sports Strategies, we lived it firsthand at the 2020 Pikes Peak APEX in Colorado Springs last September. With valued input from medical professionals, the support of state and local government officials and the safety buy-in of the competitors and race staff, we developed and executed a COVID-19 Mitigation Plan that proved an event could run safely while still being enjoyable for the participants. We are currently working on other events that will take place in the coming months, and we expect those events to operate according to a much more relaxed plan, but everything is fluid in this new post-COVID environment and dependent on herd immunity.
The most important thing for communities post-COVID will be to safely attract people en masse. Sports events have been proven effective in this regard, and sentiment indicates people are ready to travel. While we wait for the time when we can all gather safely at mass capacity in arenas and natatoriums, we can meet outside in some amazing outdoor spaces. Outdoor endurance events have an incredibly low chance of spreading the disease. So, this is the time to get creative and find ways develop and drive in sports events that will fill up your fields, trails, rivers and open spaces.