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Sports tournaments drive growth of tourism in Carson City

Roger Diez

A little-known economic engine sports tourism adds a significant boost to the economy in Carson City.

From humble beginnings, sports tourism’s economic impact has grown steadily, from $3.6 million in 2005 to an estimated $16.4 in 2011 with more than $17.5 million projected for 2012. The only pause in its steady growth was 2009, when Carson City lost a few major tournaments to the new $42 million Golden Eagle Regional Park in Sparks.

The man behind the program is Joel Dunn, Carson City’s parks and recreation operations manager.

His original intent was to offset parks and recreation costs by bringing in more outside tournaments, but the program has succeeded far beyond Dunn’s original expectations.

After proposing the campaign in February of 2005, he has kept meticulous records on the number of teams, visitors, and dollars spent in the community, and differentiated between local and non-local respondents. Out-of-area attendance for 2011 tournaments was 56,388, including participants and spectators.

“We do surveys to get our numbers, and the lowest return we have had is 82 percent,” said Dunn.

Incentives drive participation in the survey.

“We offer a free beverage from our snack bars for every completed survey. The kids get a soda or water, and the adults usually opt for a free beer,” laughed Dunn.

The economic impact from visitors to both youth and adults sports tournaments is spread across several business segments. Food and beverage sales garnered the lion’s share, with $7.78 million in sales in 2011, followed by entertainment and retail at $5.07 million, and lodging at $2.37 million.

Room tax collections attributed to sports tourism amounted to over $273,000 dollars, and a sales tax boost of more than $961,000. The cumulative numbers from 2005 through 2011 include total economic impact of $77.58 million, room tax collections of $1.49 million, and Carson City sales tax share of $1.45 million (2.18 percent of the 7.475 percent sales tax).

The dollars expended to achieve these results are tiny The Carson City Convention and Visitors Bureau contributed $70,000 for 2011, of which only $45,386 was spent. Most of that went for salaries, services and supplies, and almost nothing for marketing.

“Our partners, the tournament directors, do most of the marketing for us,” said Dunn.

Dunn was quick to point out that both professional tournament organizers like All World Sports and local sports organizations such as AYSO Soccer, Little League, Pop Warner and others are key to the success of the program.

Also vital are entities like the Carson City Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Carson City Chamber of Commerce, and the Carson City School District, as well as the business community and the lodging properties. As an example, the lodging folks recently worked with parks and recreation and the Nevada Commission on Tourism to obtain a $64,000 grant for scoreboards.

The biggest problem looming on the horizon is capacity. The four facilities utilized for sports tournaments are the Centennial Sports Complex, the Edmonds Sports Complex, the Governors Sports Complex, and the Carson City Aquatics Facility. All four are maxed out between local use and the 36 outside tournaments scheduled for 2012.

In order to continue to grow, Dunn is concentrating on mid-week adult tournaments and more lucrative tournaments such as the April Comstock Shootout and the May Midnight Madness softball tournament. “Our retention rate for tournaments is almost 100 percent, except for 2009,” said Dunn. But without additional facilities, some of the smaller tournaments may be replaced with more lucrative ones.

In addition to needing more outdoor fields, an indoor facility would extend the sports tourism business through the winter months.

A proposal to renovate 90,000 square feet of the former Kmart building in North Carson is stalled at the moment due to ownership issues and financing. Lodging properties would like to see it become a reality.

“Sports tourism sustains our business on the weekends during the season,” said Terrie McNutt, Holiday Inn Express regional director of sales.

General Manager Linda Barnett of the Hampton Inn echoed the sentiment, saying, “We would not survive without sports tourism.” Barnett and McNutt both joined Dunn and Carson City Chamber Director Ronni Hannaman on a marketing trip to the Sacramento area last fall to pitch Carson City as a sports destination to tournament directors.


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