During last week’s discussion of a possible county-operated sports fields complex, the concept of sports tourism was discussed briefly, but it needs to be talked about more often.
The importance of sports tourism is nothing new. Worcester County, Ocean City and Wicomico County formed an alliance — the Mid-Atlantic Amateur Sports Alliance…. — some years ago to cultivate a relationship with the United States Specialty Sports Association to continue to host the Eastern World Series of softball, which wrapped up earlier this month. Nearly 400 teams and 14,000 players and family members from across the country attend this event annually, packing an enormous economic punch for the region.
Sports tourism should be viewed as the No. 1 growth area for Ocean City and the surrounding area. Whereas golf was once thought as a season extender, the fact is that’s no longer the case to the degree it once was, particularly compared to the magnitude of youth sports tournaments.
“Our big breadwinners are tourism and agriculture,” Commissioner Joe Mitrecic said. “… as far as tourism goes we are at critical mass. The numbers aren’t going to change. In order for that to change, we’re going to have to change. We’re going to have to have some vision and look ahead. Sports tourism is the future.”
The peak tourism season — those 75 days from mid-June to late August when schools are out — can only grow so much, if at all. The opportunities to expand tourism and bring crowds here exist in the shoulder seasons of fall and spring. Sports are the best way to do it.
Tournaments mean big bucks for the local economy. Hotels, private rental properties, restaurants, convenience stores, retail shops, entertainment centers and movie theaters also see huge boosts from these events.
In fact, according to the study presented last week on the economic impact of an eight-field outdoor complex, 17 to 21 events could be held from March 1-Nov. 30 annually attracting as many as 31,500 participants and 78,750 spectators, resulting in as many as 62,475 new hotel room nights. Total possible spending was quantified as $40 million.
The impact of youth sports tourneys is easy to see here. Besides the softball event, there’s the enormous St. Patrick’s youth soccer tourneys at Northside Park each March, the sand soccer tourneys downtown each summer and various basketball and lacrosse tournaments throughout the year..
Last week’s report deserves serious consideration from the county. This mulling may not result in the big dollars being spent on a new complex, but at the very least, it verifies efforts should be in place to further grow and market sports tourism here, utilizing the fields we have as well as those in the planning pipeline.