Mid-Atlantic Sports Alliance Eyed; Wicomico, Worcester, OC Partnership On Table

SALISBURY — A new Mid-Atlantic Amateur Sports Alliance between Wicomico and Worcester counties and Ocean City is looking to bring major youth sports events to the lower shore.
On Tuesday morning, the Wicomico County voted unanimously to approve a resolution to authorize County Executive Rick Pollitt to execute an Inter-Agency Agreement with the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development (DBED) to accept funds up to $100,000 to be used to retain youth amateur sports tournaments and events in Wicomico County.
According to the resolution, “amateur youth sports tournaments and events held annually in and around Wicomico County greatly impact the local economy when participants and visitors utilize area hotels, dine in local restaurants, shop and sight-see. The county desires to continue to attract and retain amateur youth sport events, specifically the USSSA Girls World Series, MAWA Regional & National Wrestling Tournaments, AAU sanctioned events and other sports events that can demonstrate a return on investment.”
According to the agreement, the objective of the initiative between the State of Maryland and Wicomico County is to obtain and retain youth amateur sports tournaments and events and to demonstrate the return on investment for each.
Annually, amateur youth sports tournaments and events held in and around Wicomico County generate 90 percent of all the county’s annual tourism revenues. In general, the events attract out-of-state amateur athletes under the age of 18, their families, couches, media and officials for multiple days of competitive activities. While in the region, these visitors impact the local economy when they utilize hotels, dine in restaurants, shop and explore the area.
To continually grow the capacity to attract and retain amateur youth sports events, Wicomico County has made significant programmatic accomplishments over the past several years, such as increased financial investment to $300,000 annually to obtain and market sports group business and established a regional partnership with Ocean City and Worcester County to combine assets of facilities, accommodations, hospitality and increase competitive advantage.
In addition, Wicomico County has made improvements to sports facilities including Arthur Perdue Stadium in the amount of $250,000 and an economic impact and feasibility study will be completed this fall outlining measures needing to be addressed to maintain the franchise’s market share.
The county and state have recently completed an economic impact and feasibility study of the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center and equally funded restoration of the building totaling $2 million. In addition, $2.3 million was spent to acquire five acres and develop a 600-space, lighted parking lot. They have equally funded an additional $3 million project to install a mechanical curtaining system, expand the lobby and box office and upgrade corridors and lobbies which will be completed by October 2014.
The Henry Parker Athletic Complex hosts regional and national amateur sporting events, and lights have been added two softball fields and softball fence repairs are scheduled for restoration this fall. The county is currently negotiating with a national sports franchise to hold national regional events in four outdoor sports and is poised to expand the complex by constructing additional soccer and softball fields to accommodate anticipated demand. These events will draw teams from the 12-state Mid-Atlantic region.
Over the years, the county has invested over $5 million to develop and enhance youth baseball complexes at Winterplace Park East-Wicomico, West Wicomico, Fruitland, Delmar and East-Side parks. Over the past three years, the county has invested $260,000 to improve these facilities to accommodate “regional” caliber tournaments.
On top of using $100,000 of state funds to retain regional and national amateur sporting events in Wicomico County and promote the Mid-Atlantic Amateur Sports Alliance, a report will be completed by the end of May 2014 giving a summary of the initiative, a performance matrix to demonstrate a return on investment for events as part of the initiative, and the justification with recommendations for expansion of this initiative from a county/regional approach to a statewide program.
Recreation, Parks and Tourism Director Gary Mackes reported youth sports marketing is currently one of the fastest growing businesses in the United States.
For example, the USSSA Girls World Series held this past July through August in Wicomico County and Ocean City filled 13,000 hotel rooms and although the event cost Wicomico County $100,000 to acquire it created an economic impact of about $9 million overall.
“What is going on with this is they [state] have commissioned us to demonstrate a return on investment on these events because what we really need to do is establish a state fund to help us acquire and retain these events,” Mackes said. “The idea is take three to four of our events and demonstrate a return of investment so that during the next session of the Maryland General Assembly the assembly will use that information hopefully to justify a fund in DBED to help the county retain these events.”
Mackes furthered Wicomico County had partnered with Ocean City and Worcester County to accommodate the USSSA Girls World Series as the event has outgrown Wicomico County’s lodging space. The partnership has worked out as Wicomico had the land and sports fields and Ocean City has the beach destination and many hotels.
The partnership has led to the concept of forming the Mid-Atlantic Amateur Sports Alliance between Wicomico/Worcester counties and Ocean City. A formal Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) has been completed and is currently being reviewed by Ocean City officials.
Although the MOU has not been finalized, the Maryland Stadium Authority Office of Sports Marketing is already spreading the word over the Wicomico/Worcester venue to hold large sporting events and a representative from AA Basketball has already toured the facilities between the two counties to hold an event in the area.
“AA Basketball puts together huge events on the west coast primarily in Las Vegas and California. These events are so big there are thousands of teams playing in one of these tournaments,” Mackes said. “We are working on negotiations now but with the same organizers who are looking at bigger markets in Boston and Baltimore, but they like it here, and this new alliance is making that possible.”