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Sports is economic development. That is the mantra for Sports Strategies, and we have lived by it since inception. The 2019 IEDC (international Economic Development Council) Annual Conference in Indianapolis presented an excellent opportunity to prove sports business is great business for local communities.
Sports tourism is typically generated through sports commissions, DMOs, and parks and recreation departments, but the value of hosting tournaments and events, is not lost on development authorities. Over the course of the conference, this was reinforced in discussions with community leaders who shared in our vision of how sports and recreation drives local economies.
In fact, the value of sports tourism was not lost on conference organizers, as one of the off-site sessions included a site visit to Grand Park Sports Campus in Westfield, Indiana. This 400-acre campus is one of several mega complexes across the U.S. that follows the trend of communities making substantial investments in sports tourism.
We came away from Indy more convinced that sports tourism needn’t live just inside the bubble of destination marketing organizations. Sports can be an important driver of economic development, going beyond visitor spending for a single event. Sports and recreation bring economic opportunities, including business investment and job creation, and should be considered in economic development planning.
I spent some time in Hoover, AL this month. This city is a great example of destination finding its way in the shadow of a larger metropolitan area. They are blessed with being close to a large city like Birmingham, but also looking for their own brand identity to set themselves apart. They already have some sports infrastructure that sets them apart—they are host to the annual SEC Baseball Championship, so baseball fans in the southeast are well acquainted with Hoover.
They are also home to a group of like-minded outdoor enthusiasts who are trying to brand themselves using these assets and building even more. Local home builder, Signature Homes, has even been giving up land and building trails for the community as they look to enhance the housing value in town and create a better standard of living for the residents. I see many communities looking to find ways to create outdoor recreation opportunities for their residents and visitors as it not only creates economic impact from visitors from out of town, but it attracts people who are interested in living in a town with an outdoor lifestyle. These outdoor-minded people are an attractive demographic for cities looking for people to fill the workforce and the idea continues to pick up steam around the US.
For many years, BUMP and Oak Mountain have played host to one of the best-known mountain bike events in the southeast—the Bump-N-Grind. I remember attending this race in the mid 90’s as a participant and it still is held all these years. The trails are well-maintained using a combination of State Park employees and volunteer help and they still do weekly rides there for all levels of rider. Seeing as they get a good bit of traffic from the greater Birmingham area, maintenance and new trail building are key and Jeff’s team help oversee that. Finding ways to use these trail systems that are close to urban areas for both visitors and local residents alike is an important way to take care of a sports tourism asset that can enhance the value of a community.
Sports Strategies partnered with the Multiple Sclerosis Center at Augusta University to create and host “Own the Woods,” a multi-sport festival and expo that served as a promotional platform and benefit for the medical institution. The event was held September 14, 2019 at Blanchard Woods Park in Evans, Georgia. The event featured a 3-hour mountain bike race and 5-mile trail race, as well as interactive expo with food, climbing wall, and lifestyle activities vendors.
The evening before Own the Woods, cycling advocacy organization People for Bikes sponsored DRAFT, a meetup for people to enjoy beer, while talking bikes and biz, during Own the Woods packet pickup. The event was graciously hosted by the Augusta Sports Council at Augusta and Co.