SALISBURY — World Series Softball is coming to Wicomico County in 2012 and, according to officials, it will be the largest sporting event it has ever hosted.
“This event dwarfs everything we’ve done,” said Wicomico County Executive Rick Pollitt.
Pollitt revealed on Tuesday the United States Specialty Sports Association (USSSA) will bring its 16U A and B and 18U Open and C Eastern World Series to Wicomico in July. Though Wicomico has hosted softball tournaments before, including USSSA events for the last six years, the July World Series will have more teams and is expected to bring in more attendants than anything up to this point, said Pollitt.
More than 320 girls’ softball teams are anticipated and Pollitt believes that the event will draw enough attention to fill the county’s hotel room inventory, creating a spillover of business to neighboring counties like Worcester and Somerset.
Estimates from Wicomico’s Tourism Department predict that more than $12 million worth of economic impact will hit the Delmarva region because of the event, with $5.8 million expected to go to Wicomico itself.
“What we’re doing today is an investment,” said Pollitt.
USSSA representative Bill Dowell explained that his organization was attracted to Wicomico for a number of reasons, including its parks and the Delmarva Shorebirds, the Salisbury-based Minor League Baseball team.
“The Shorebirds have played a crucial role in staging opening ceremonies,” said Dowell.
Also factoring in are the condition of Wicomico’s more than 75 parks. Dowell noted that the fields are in great shape and that Wicomico’s Parks and Recreation Department continuously makes improvements to their facilities, including those to areas requested by USSSA at previous events.
“They’ve stepped up,” said Dowell.
Dowell noted the synergy between Parks and Recreation, the tourism department and the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center. Cooperation between the agencies with a special focus on sports marketing was a major reason USSSA chose Wicomico, according to Dowell. It’s a trinity he believes other counties in Maryland should seek to emulate.
“Their omission is Wicomico’s gain,” he said.
The World Series announcement was followed by an overall examination of how Wicomico tourism has evolved, especially in regards to attracting sporting events.
“We figured out this niche is good for our county,” said Tourism Board member Stephanie Willey.
There were 33 sporting events held in Wicomico in 2010-2011, 10 of which were at the national level. Those events brought in $10.7 million worth of economic impact to the area and officials hope the World Series will continue that pattern.
Because the tourism department is funded through a dedicated hotel room tax, Willey pointed out that bringing in more visitors through the World Series will automatically mean an increase to the department’s budget, which in turn will allow officials to campaign for and attract other popular events in the future.
“We’re going to continue an aggressive sales approach,” said Willey.
Wicomico isn’t the only one benefiting from the events either. Tourism surveys suggest that 49 percent of those who go to special events in Wicomico are driving at least one hour to do so, while 28 percent are visiting from out-of-state. Thus, by generating so much attention, Wicomico is bringing money to the region and Maryland in general.
According to Pollitt, an aggressive approach to tourism does more than bring in dollars, however. It makes Wicomico a better county to live.
“It’s not just about the money,” he said. “It’s about quality of life.”