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Opinion: Youth sports more than just a game

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Throughout the history of the United States, there has been one industry above others that seemed to be immune from recession, wars and other major national and global challenges. We’re talking about youth sports activities.

That was the case until the COVID-19 pandemic, when even the youth sports industry came to a grinding halt.

For our Springfield community, we will never know the total implications of the loss of youth, high school and collegiate athletics from spring 2020. From local teams losing the ability to compete in high school state championships to collegiate national tournaments and spring sports not coming to fruition, students, parents and our community were negatively impacted emotionally, socially and economically.

In our return to normalcy, if we can borrow a term from former President Warren G. Harding, the spotlight has shone even brighter on the sports tourism industry.

According to the National Association of Sports Commissions, sports tourism is a $1.4 trillion industry worldwide. It is expected to grow to $5.72 trillion in the coming years. Within the trillion-dollar industry, the youth sports category represents $15 billion. Sports tourism is big business.

With so many issues today, why is it vital for community leaders to come to the table to realize the full potential impact of youth sports? Sports tourism is a revenue generator for a community. On average, an out-of-town visitor spends $150 per day in the community for a sporting event. This impact is felt from convenience stores to hotels and restaurants, and from city attractions to retail. Revenues generated from sports tourism can be poured back into communities to help with infrastructure needs. It also can help to fund programs that are not revenue generators but are needed services in the communities.

For example, an event that attracts 10,000 visitors with an average length of stay, a city could conservatively realize $4.8 million in visitor spending. A more traditional sports tournament over a weekend with just 70 out-of-town teams (800 participants, with about 2,000 visitors total), could generate $600,000 in visitor spending for two days. Funds generated by sports tourism can help improve local sports infrastructure as well as create recreational opportunities for the community and increase the tax base for a city or county through the spending generated by out-of-town visitors.

Successful communities are intentional and collaborative when attracting events to their destination. In order to effectively lure events to a city, organizational leaders must collaborate not only in the bidding process but also in the planning, development and renovation/construction of sports infrastructure. These collaborative relationships often encompass parks departments, colleges and universities, cities, counties and other civic organizations with the support and efforts of the private industry in their community. Event organizers often select communities that have a more holistic strategy and approach for hosting their events.

It is no secret that sports tourism is big business for communities large and small. Communities that rest on their laurels are in jeopardy of losing events they have hosted, and not winning desired bids or landing that marquee event. It takes an intentional effort to build partnerships and improve venues, while also keeping an eye on emerging sports and activities, not just traditional sports. The sports tourism industry is vibrant. It is extremely visible, and it can be game changing and transformational for a community. Sports connects people to their community.

Lance Kettering is executive director of the Springfield Sports Commission, and Josh Scott is chair of its board. Scott works as athletic director for Springfield Public Schools. They can be reached at lkettering@springfieldmo.org and jescott@spsmail.org.

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