Landing youth sports tournaments a goal for region’s tourism groups

File photo by Colleen McGrath/Staff Photographer
Boonsboro High School's Ian Varney shoots the ball past Smithsburg High School defender Adam McCunn during the boys lacrosse playoff in May at Boonsboro High. Convention and visitors bureau officials across the region have been trying to lure sports tournaments to their counties, hoping to tap into the revenue those players, families, coaches and staffs could generate at local businesses.

Sidelines and goal lines, baselines and finish lines add to the bottom lines of businesses when youth sports events come to town.

Sports can be such big business that, in Maryland, for example, the Maryland Sports Commission has been set up to “enhance Maryland’s economy, image and quality of life through the attraction, promotion, retention and development of regional, national and international sporting events.”

Through its TEAM Maryland initiative, it markets the Free State to the sports industry. Convention and visitors bureaus in Frederick and Washington counties are among the TEAM Maryland members. The TEAM Maryland website has information about the communities and their sports facilities, from ice rinks to minor league baseball stadiums.

Maryland is not the only state that has such an approach. PA Sports bills itself as “a team of the leading sports tourism organizations from throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Our mission is simple — to attract quality sports events to Pennsylvania, and service them at the highest level.”

PA Sports has 12 regional members, the closest being Sports York in York County, and the Hershey Harrisburg Sports and Events Authority in Dauphin County.

Youth sports tournaments, in particular, can be winning targets because of the number of people they attract, said Dan Spedden, president of the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

For example, in late October, Washington County will again host the National Fall Lax Festival, a youth lacrosse tournament.

Last year, Spedden said, 125 teams participated, and each team has 22 players. A standard equation, he said, is to multiply the number of players by three, to account for parents, coaches and others who also attend. That leads Spedden and his staff to conclude that the tournament attracted more than 8,700 people.

Ripple effects

Those people did more than play games. They stayed in hotels, shopped at local stores and ate in local restaurants, he said. And the bureau markets those types of attractions to people coming for the tournament.

“You’re telling me you’re not going to go to the (Premium) Outlets to the Under Armour store?” Spedden said, citing one example. “You’re going to go there twice, probably.”

In fact, Spedden said, lodging establishments are not the chief beneficiaries of tourism.

“There’s a lot of money that gets spread around before you settle into your room at night,” he said.

In Washington County, for example, the No. 1 recipient of tourism dollars are food and beverage establishments — $70.8 million in 2015, for example. Retail was No. 2 at $57.5 million, followed by transportation-related establishments at $48.7 million. Lodging was fourth at $39.7 million, according to figures released by the bureau.

Those kinds of numbers are important to other communities, too. Becky Bickerton, director of sales and marketing for Visit Frederick, that county’s tourism bureau, said the organization also works closely with the Maryland Sports Commission to market its sports venues.

“They’re very helpful in bringing groups to Frederick County,” she said.

Like other bureaus, the Frederick County group also attends trade shows and markets itself directly.

One of the top youth tournament events in Frederick County is a lacrosse tournament each year at Mount St. Mary’s College, she said.

Like Spedden, Bickerton said the spending of youth sports groups is not limited to hotel rooms.

“All of these groups have to eat,” she said with a laugh, “and kids have big appetites.”

Groups receive the bureau’s visitor guide to help them find places to spend time in Frederick County, she said.

Finding partners

In May, the Washington County bureau announced that the county will host another big event — USA Cycling’s 2018 and 2019 Amateur Road National Championships.

The cycling events, which last several days, are expected to bring 700 riders and thousands of spectators to the county over four nights. Spedden compared the excitement and community engagement of the events to that of the annual JFK 50 Mile ultramarathon, which brings more than 1,000 national and international runners to the county every November.

The request for proposals to host the event was received through the Maryland Sports Commission. Washington County’s proposal highlighted several possible routes for three different style races — a time trial, a road race and a criterium course.

“Job No. 1 when something like this crosses our desks is to find a local expert,” Spedden said.

In this case, the CVB credited area cycling clubs, particularly the Antietam Velo Club, along with city and county governments and state agencies, for helping land the events.

“Our job is not to say, ‘No,’” said Audrey Vargaso, director of sales for the CVB. She said the organization sought local expertise and put together a proposal that was 44 pages long.

“It included everything from letters of support to a marketing plan,” she said.

Spedden, Vargaso and Betsy DeVore, the CVB’s director of marketing and digital communications, said proximity to Interstates 81 and 70 and major East Coast population centers helps the area attract visitors. For some families, DeVore added, other area attractions provide reasons to extend their stay.

“It makes a vacation,” DeVore said.

In the long run, Spedden added, facilities, events and attractions that lure tourists to an area can benefit full-time residents, as well.

“Whatever benefits tourism is also an amenity for our citizens — local folks,” he said.