Travel sports a growing draw for families, municipalities
Tuesday, May 17, 2016
From exercise to teamwork, the benefits of sports for children are plentiful. But behind the new uniforms and post-game juice boxes is a burgeoning industry.
The games have induced a growth spurt in facilities across the country as communities race toward the money that teams spend traveling to and staying for tournaments. With economic impact sometimes reaching the millions and facilities that cost in the tens of millions of dollars, this is not child's play for host cities.
According to the National Association of Sports Commission's 2015 Report on the Sports Tourism Industry, visitor spending reached nearly $9 billion in 2014, with more than 25.5 million visitors.
"Every city values the dollars left behind by visitors," said Don Schumacher, the executive director of the NASC. "In sport tourism, if this money can be captured without investment in new facilities it will represent a net gain to the local economy."
He added that sales taxes provided by sports visitors provides another revenue stream for local governments.
From coast to coast, a lot of cities are investing in that kind of return. In Foley, Alabama, dirt is being moved in an attempt to draw athletes and their families to the beach. The city, located about 10 miles from the state's Gulf Coast, is building a sports complex and 90,000-square-foot event center with the focus on sports tourism, according to a report from the Alabama NewsCenter.
The facility is scheduled to include 16 natural grass fields. One will feature stadium seating, a press box and lights that will allow for TV broadcasts, according to the news website. The accompanying events center will be able to play host to cheerleading competitions, basketball, volleyball and other indoor sports, with plenty of room for trade shows and conventions as well.
Teamwork is happening beyond the field, too. In Texas, several suburban Dallas communities united to undertake a study to determine what facilities are needed to keep the region competitive in the youth sports arena going forward. One of the cities, Plano, is without soccer fields, but has multi-use facilities for sports such as rugby and cricket.
"We never master planned cricket as a sport, it just kind of evolved and happened," Plano Athletic Superintendent Ed Voss told the Community Impact Newspaper.
In Ohio, the Cedar Point amusement park is developing a complex that will feature multipurpose fields, NCAA-level baseball, soccer and lacrosse fields and sport-specific training areas, among other amenities, according to WKYC-TV's report on the development.
Caution by municipalities is encouraged by the NASC, whose organization serves as a resource for sports commissions, sports destinations, vendors and sports event owners.
"It is imperative to gauge the amount of local use the facility would get," Schumacher said. "Otherwise, a tournament-quality set of fields, diamonds or courts will stand empty and unproductive between events ... which could lead to excessive operating and maintenance costs and possible closure.
"Our industry will soon be unable to absorb the amount of speculative construction taking place and/or planned. It is time to apply the brakes and think local before building for travel."
Some municipalities come to wrestle with the investment decisions. In Mesa, Arizona, the city council is debating whether to have voters decide on building a $56 million complex, which would feature viewing towers and video-streaming capability.
Municipalities are not alone in the chase. In Attleboro, Massachusetts, outside of Boston, construction crews appear as though they're making way for new industrial buildings, according to The Boston Globe. Instead, the New England Sports Village is rising out of the ground on its way to housing an aquatics center, ice arena, fieldhouse and hotel. When completed, it's expected to be the largest privately developed youth sports complex in the state.
"It's the new frontier of real estate," Joe Fitzpatrick, whose Five Capital Management LLC joined with investors on the project, told the newspaper. "Absolutely, we're going to see more and more of these private facilities being built in coming years."
The demand supports that statement. In Sanford, Florida, the Seminole County Sports Complex was booked long before its official opening, drawing teams from the area and from out of town. The $27 million facility is expected to have a $50 million impact before the end of 2016, according to TV station MyNews13.
One of the things that fueled the rise of these complexes was the surge in children playing competitively. But that may be waning, according to a report by Community Foundations of Canada, which stated that a decline in sports participation begins after age 13. Part of the reason for that is children believe they're not among the best athletes, so they withdraw, said John O’Sullivan, founder of the Changing the Game Project.
"The problem is we are trying to select out the 'talent' far, far too young, by starting highly tiered teams with cuts," he told CBC News. "We're saying these 8-year-olds are on the top team, so they get the best coaching and best facilities, and these other kids go down this house league track."
Still, any child who wants to get in the game today has a seemingly endless supply of fields, no matter what part of North America in which they live.
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