OCEAN CITY – Worcester County and Ocean City are partnering with Wicomico County to expand sports marketing, starting with the USSSA Girls Works Series this summer, with more events promised to come.
Last week the Tourism Advisory Board (TAB) reviewed a proposal from the USSSA Girls World Series organizer for an Ocean City event in conjunction with the girls softball series held in Wicomico County. This week during a Mayor and City Council work session, TAB requested approval to provide seed money of $22,000 to support the event.
Tourism Director Donna Abbott explained Wicomico County Director of Recreation, Parks, and Tourism Gary Mackes had come to her with the idea of expanding the USSSA Girls World Series held in Wicomico County over the last few years to Ocean City.
“We have already seen the impact of it favorably in Ocean City as these teams are coming in across the region and are looking to stay at the beach while they are playing softball in Wicomico County in July,” she said.
The USSSA intends to hold its Girls World Series in the Wicomico/Worcester County region for its seventh consecutive year in 2013. The requested funding would enable the event to hold one of its opening ceremonies in Ocean City. Worcester County has already pledged $3,000 toward the event from the Economic Development Office.
The USSSA Girls World Series is an amateur girls’ softball tournament featuring teams ranging in age from 8 to 18 and represented by 13 states and Canada.
Last year, 292 teams and over 4,000 players plus coaches and families participated making it the second largest girls’ softball tournament on the East Coast.
This year it will be July 17-Aug. 3, and the organizer is anticipating 320 teams, over 4,500 players, and a total attendance of 75,000 people, which represents a 10-percent growth. The event’s economic impact is over $8 million.
The tournament will expand from 11 days to 17 and will be divided into three segments requiring three different opening ceremony celebrations, compared to two ceremonies in the past. Each opening ceremony costs $12,000, and the plan is to have the final ceremony in Ocean City.
“They want to grow this event and by providing funding we will basically help them create another opening ceremony, this one in Ocean City hopefully on the beach,” Abbott said. “This is really a first step in what we hope is a regional sport marketing approach … because Wicomico and Worcester County has fields that we don’t have. We have the beach and the Boardwalk and the restaurants that they don’t have.”
Mackes furthered the 2013 USSSA World Series will require at least 15,000 hotel room nights.
“We have a lot of fields in Wicomico County, but we don’t have that type of capacity with our hotels, which inspired this partnership,” he said. “Probably 33 percent or more people staying will stay in Ocean City, and they did last year.”
The Wicomico Hotel-Motel Association and the Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association has been requested to block over 200 rooms per night during peak times of the event through the Meeting Max online housing system and has agreed in concept to pay $10-a-room rebates to defray the event costs.
“Where are we going from here?” Mackes said looking ahead. “We won’t be coming to you all the time when we have tournaments, it all depends on capacity, but there is a lot of business out there to retain in other states and we can even develop our own events putting together all of our fields, your convention center, our youth and civic center, and we have quite an inventory. We are only 27 miles apart so we have this regional approach.”
Mackes furthered, a meeting is scheduled with Maryland Office of Sports Marketing Director Terry Hasseltine next month to discuss marketing strategies between what the counties and Ocean City have to offer. Additionally, there is currently legislation being introduced in the General Assembly, and upon approval it will grant $500,000 in seed money to bring sporting events to the area.
“I feel really good about it … the state is benefiting as well, as far as sales, income tax and corporate income tax,” Mackes said. “We are having this nice approach here to go after this business not only in the summer but hopefully in the shoulder seasons as well, leveraging our facilities. There will be more to come.”
Mayor Rick Meehan views the USSSA Girls World Series as a great opportunity to begin a regional sports marketing partnership.
“I am glad to see us get involved and do what we all have been talking about for years and that is working together regionally,” the mayor said. “This is a big step and just the first step in what will be very productive and beneficial to all of us.”
The council voted 6-0, with Councilman Joe Mitrecic absent, to approve TAB’s request to provide funding for the series.
TAB had also reviewed a proposal from OC Jams, LLC, requesting $15,000 in funding for OC BikeFest that will be held Sept. 12-15. That allocation was also approved.
During the presentation, TAB Chair Greg Shockley provided a brief update. When the Tourism Commission was abolished in 2010, TAB was formed to provide an application, screening process and funding, $300,000 a year allocated by the town, for new events to come to Ocean City.
“It is a great vetting process, it allows us to see how organized and how strong the promoters of these events are before they get too far along in the process, and also weed out the ones that are not up to … what the city desires,” he said.
According to Shockley, since TAB was formulated, 22 applications for new events have been received and 17 were approved, while staying within their budget. One of the successful new events TAB brought forward is the weekly fireworks and laser light shows in downtown Ocean City during the summer put on by T.E.A.M Productions.
As events brought forward by TAB are beginning to mature, Councilwoman Margaret Pillas questioned TAB’s policy on how and when funding is cut off for proven successful events to bring in other new events.
“When TAB was first started we didn’t know what the future held, so now we are getting events that are maturing, we need to decide or set guidelines on what point do we step back or at what point do you continue,” Shockley said. “Are there events that are important enough that TAB will continue to fund or will the city take over the funding?”
Pillas asked for such a discussion to take place with TAB in the near future.