Sports tourism wins out over Great Recession

Most towns want to host girls because they act better, bring more fans, expert says
U.S. Cellular Sports Park drew more than 178,000 participants playing in 4,100 games during 2012, an indication of the power of sports tourism.file photo

Sports tourism — from softball and soccer to horse shows — has drawn thousands of visitors and millions of dollars into the local economy in recent years.

There is no reason the bar can't be pushed to new heights, Jon Schmieder of Huddle Up Group told a Chamber of Medford/Jackson County Forum audience Monday at Rogue Valley Country Club.

"Our industry is largely immune to market trends," Schmieder said. "When you go from a two-income family to one or go through a bad economy, when you have war or 9/11, those things don't generally touch grass-roots sports tourism.

"When your daughter is 14 years old ... and you have one choice for your summer vacation, are you going to go to grandma's house, Disneyland, or are you going to put her in the van and go to Kansas City for a soccer tournament? There is no way you are going to steal the opportunity from your kid."

He said the increase in those kinds of family outings has fueled a steady increase in that sector of tourism.

"I don't know that there will be a saturation point in the next 20 years," Schmieder said. "But in the last 20 years there's no indication we're reaching the saturation point."

He said there were more events nationally with more participants than ever last year.

At the U.S. Cellular Fields in Medford, for example, there were 178,103 participants playing in 4,100 games during 2012, up from 86,490 visitors participating in 2,500 games when the park opened in 2008.

There is also growing competition among cities to host youth tournaments and a particular interest in hosting girls events.

"There will be five or 10 cities bidding on the boys and there will be 30 bidding on the girls," Schmieder said. "Our industry has become very advanced. We all want to host the girls. First of all the hoteliers will tell you they just travel better. They also take care of our facilities better. There are studies in our industry that show girls sports — high school down — travels as much as three times better than boys for the same event."


One national study showed 3.1 people traveled with every girl athlete to a tournament, compared with just under one person per boy.

Schmieder was complimentary of the Medford area's efforts, especially noting the U.S. Cellular sports park, but said there's room to grow. Working with Travel Medford, the chamber's visitors bureau, Schmieder has interviewed key players in the community to help craft a plan to do that.

In an interview after his talk, the consultant said a critical element in getting disparate groups from runners and cyclists to college athletic department leaders is developing cooperative efforts.

"When you have 15 people, you want all of them pulling the rope in the same direction," he said.

The region's demographic advantages come into play as well.

"The trails system (Bear Creek Greenway) is being extended all the way to the Expo now," he said. "That will be huge and you may want to allocate some resources to cycling for that. A lot of times it's venue-based and you need that community champion.

"If you can identify an emerging sport and get in on the front end of a venue, and build the best venues for that sport and develop relationships with people who know that sport, it's an absolute home run."

Reach Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregMTBusiness, and read his blog at www.mailtribune.com/Economic Edge.



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