The Economic Pros of Amateur Sports
River Region forms commission
to host highly profitable youth, recreational sporting events
by David Zaslawsky
The new rage in the travel industry is sporting events, and the River Region hopes to capitalize on that growing market with a centrally located multipurpose facility.
Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange said that the goal is to have a multipurpose facility built within five years. “From a regional standpoint, it is the highest priority next to the outer loop,” Strange said.
He estimates the cost of a new facility between $7 million and $8 million and it would hold 5,000 to 6,000 people. Strange rattled off some of the events that could be held at a multipurpose facility: indoor soccer, indoor tennis, recreational leagues, badminton, volleyball, cheerleading and gymnastics. And it’s all in the name of economic development.
Strange sees the cost of a multipurpose facility as an investment that all the cities and counties in the River Region will make. All the government entities would benefit from increased sales taxes and lodging taxes.
“At the end of the day, we want to build a complex somewhere in the River Region that will be able to accommodate these indoor activities that we may or may not have available today,” Strange said. “If you are going to do these events, you have to have a venue and frankly these events are driven by the venue.
“If we just had the right facility – we are centrally located in the state. It beats Huntsville, it beats Birmingham, and it beats Mobile.”
And hosting youth sports events is big business, according to Berkeley W. Young, director of client services for Charlotte, N.C.-based Randall Travel Marketing, which conducted a survey for the City of Montgomery and the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce. Young said that hotel owners want sporting events.
“Occupancy rates for business travelers are declining because everybody is cutting their budget,” Young said. “Occupancy rates for meetings, conventions and groups are declining because everybody is cutting their budget, but people are still playing sports.”
Young said that youth sports in particular “generate huge amounts of money” because parents accompany their children and often bring along other siblings and maybe a grandparent.
He said that a typical two-night stay for a soccer tournament, including meals, could mean $500 for a family and it also means revenue for the region’s hotels, restaurants, shops and gas stations.
“Competitive sports is growing and growing and the economic impact is very, very big,” Young said. “There are growth opportunities.”
He said that establishing a sports commission adds “some structure and legitimacy” and can be more aggressive in sports marketing. “You need a sports commission to help with fundraising, soliciting corporate sponsors and upgrading facilities to attract the tournaments,” Young said, “and then the money will roll in.”
That’s why the Central Alabama Sports Commission was created and its executive director, Ken Blankenship, is tasked with assessing the region’s venues for sporting events, keeping the sporting events that are already here and attracting additional events on the local, state and national level.
Blankenship said another key goal is creating relationships with the organizations that sponsor the sporting events. It certainly helps that he has an extensive background in state high school athletics as both a coach and athletic director, as well as being the executive director of the Alabama High School Athletic Directors and Coaches Association.
The Alabama High School Athletic Association has 18-20 championship events, and Blankenship will work “with those people to host as many as possible” in the River Region.
The week-long All-Star Sports Week will return to Montgomery next year, according to Blankenship, who said the Alabama High School Athletic Association event brings 3,000 coaches to town for clinics and features five or six all-star games in various sports, including football, baseball, softball, basketball and soccer.
Both Blankenship and Strange talked about the possibility of using the 70,000-plus square foot convention center as a sports venue.
“Obviously, the Renaissance has a big box over there and I don’t know what fits in there and what doesn’t,” Strange said about the convention center.
Blankenship would like to have the state’s first major boxing event at the Renaissance Montgomery Hotel & Spa at the Convention Center. He also mentioned the possibility of volleyball tournaments at the convention center.
He hopes to attract American Softball Association regional and national tournaments to Montgomery.
“We’re also going after non-traditional sports,” Blankenship said, referring to the recent success of the Montgomery Half-Marathon where about 1,100 runners participated. Strange estimated that the event had a $1 million economic impact with perhaps as many as 500 runners, each with one guest, staying in hotel rooms.
Blankenship is also looking at a bicycle marathon, Ultimate Frisbee events, creation of a Frisbee park and a national horseshoe event, which could be held near the Riverwalk Amphitheater.
“There is a long, long list of non-traditional sports and they all bring people into the city,” Blankenship said.
While he identifies infrastructure needs of the area’s various sports venues, Blankenship already knows the River Region has some fantastic resources in the Alabama River, where major Bassmaster events are held; Riverwalk Stadium, home of the minor league Montgomery Biscuits; whitewater rafting and kayaking in Wetumpka; and the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail’s Legends at Capitol Hill, home to the LPGA’s Navistar Classic.
Softball and tennis tournaments are currently held at Lagoon Park and Fain Park and there are soccer tournaments at the complex in East Montgomery.
Already, the College Bass Tour announced that it will hold its 2010 College Bass East Super Regional tournament in Montgomery on the Alabama River. Two-person teams from colleges and universities in the East will compete in the April event, which will be televised for the first time. The event will be broadcast on ESPNU.
Strange said the region can expand the tournaments it currently has by using multiple venues in multiple cities.
“We want to partner with Troy, partner with AUM, partner with ASU, partner with Faulkner, partner with Huntingdon – any of those who have sports facilities – and the same thing in Prattville and Wetumpka,” Strange said.
“Does it make sense for us to partner with Wetumpka to get a big event in whitewater canoeing?” Strange asked, “In five years, they may have (a lot of) hotel rooms, but they don’t have them today.”
Blankenship: “There is an incredible interest in this community in pursuing this area and in terms of what it can mean to the community beyond economic development. It creates a positive image of the area; creates a better community and place for people to bring their businesses and come and live.”
Central Alabama Sports Commission
President and Director of Economic Development for the Prattville Area Chamber of Commerce
President of Alabama Real Estate Holdings/PCH
Vice President of the Southern Division of Alabama Power
Vice President of Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce Convention and Visitor Bureau
JACK HAWKINS JR.
Chancellor of Troy University
Executive Director of the Elmore County Economic Development Authority
Legislative and Political Consultant for the Business Council of Alabama
Executive Director of the Alabama High School Athletic Association
Director of Parks and Recreation for the City of Montgomery
KARL K. STEGALL
Retired Minister at First United Methodist Church in Montgomery
EX OFFICIO MEMBERS
PRATTVILLE MAYOR JIM BYARD JR.
MILLBROOK MAYOR AL KELLEY
MONTGOMERY MAYOR TODD STRANGE
WETUMPKA MAYOR JERRY WILLIS