Youth sports tourism a home run
By BECKY GILLETTE
Some parents encourage their kids to get involved with sports as a way to keep them from spending too much time with their phones and electronic devices, or from getting into trouble. Sports are also helpful to help build self-esteem and combat childhood obesity. But the bottom line is that many kids love to play sports and it is a great way for families to spend time together.
Youth sports also have a major financial impact. TD Ameritrade found that about 63 percent of American families whose kids are involved in sports spend from $100 to $499 per child per month on the sporting activities. Another 18 percent pay $500 to $999 per month and about 11 percent spend $1,000 to $1,999. And 8 percent report spending $2,000 per month or more amounting to $24,000 per year.
One city that has invested big in youth sports tourism is Vicksburg. In February, the Sports Force Parks on the Mississippi in Vicksburg opened providing professional-level synthetic turf fields, on-site recreation and entertainment options, and high-quality concessions, said Laura Beth Strickland, Deputy Director, Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB). Activities at the Sports Force Parks bring in a lot of visitors.
“We host tournaments including youth travel baseball, softball, soccer, football, and more throughout the year,” Strickland said. “The majority of the activities at the Sports Force Parks on the Mississippi are for youth tournaments. Having a state-of-the-art facility for sports has increased our family travel significantly. You can see all of these families by looking around at restaurants and hotels around town on the weekend.”
This year the facility is expected to host 1,845 tournament teams and attract 175,000 visitors. The impact on hotel rentals is estimated at 25,000 room nights. The total economic impact is expected to be $24 million.
“Vicksburg hospitality collections are up 17 percent over collections this time last year,” Strickland said. “We attribute that growth to the large amount of conventions and sports tournaments that Vicksburg is hosting. Vicksburg is a top destination in Mississippi and, with our increased amenities, has become a leader in the region as well.”
Sports Facilities include 100 percent synthetic turf fields, three 90-foot baseball diamonds, 12 youth baseball diamonds, 12 softball diamonds, seven lacrosse fields, seven soccer fields and an ADA accessible stadium field. Family amenities include nine-hole miniature golf, a zip line, and multiple playgrounds.
Another city in the state that has a lot of offer for youth sports is Tunica. Mary Catherine Webb, sales manager, Tunica Convention & Visitors Bureau, said they have seen an increase in interest for youth sporting events being held in Tunica in the past two to three years.
“We do not have any annual or ongoing events such as club baseball, but we have been hosting sporting championships and tournaments ranging from cheer competitions to volleyball tournaments,” Webb said. “We hope to welcome more in the coming year.”
Jackson also hosts a large number of youth sports tourism events. Shun Hatten, vice president of sales, Visit Jackson, said one of the larger youth sports tourism events this year was American Youth Barrel Racing held at June at the Equine Center.
“When a lot of youth are participating in competing, we find you often have not just your mom and your dad, but often grandparents who tend to come in town, as well, depending on long that event is,” Hatten said. “So, we are seeing an increase in families coming into the area. One of the selling points for Jackson is that we are a family destination with all the museums. We have an amazing Mississippi Children’s Museum, one of the largest museums in of its kind in the South. It gives families an opportunity to not just be at their event during the day, but be off site and experience some of the fun things to do in our city.”
Another big hit is the Mississippi Museum of Natural History which currently has a dinosaur exhibit very popular with families. Hatten said activities there are great not just for out of towners, but local families looking for summer vacation activities for their kids.
“A lot of the exhibits are interactive,” Hatten said. “The summer programs they have at all of the museums are awesome.”
The Mississippi Gulf Coast is also having a major impact from sports groups this summer. Some of the major youth sports groups coming to Coastal Mississippi this summer include the National Fastpitch Association Championship, the National Gridiron League Championship, and the USSA Baseball Summer Games 1&2. The estimated economic impact for this summer’s youth sports groups booked by Coastal Mississippi is more than $2 million.
“Youth Sports and travel sports are absolutely a big deal here on the Coast,” said Jase Payne, marketing manager for the City of Gulfport. “The impact is enough that we, the City of Gulfport, just added an $8.5 million expansion last year to expand our facility with a six-field artificial turf facility and adding two soccer fields. Just at the Sportsplex alone we are now averaging more than 100,000 visitors (players, coaches, spectators) a year through 60 plus tournaments and practice throughout the week. This brings an estimated $15 to $17 million dollars in economic impact to Coastal Mississippi.”
Payne said that with their expansion, they also are seeing more and more organizations inquiring about Coastal Mississippi.
“For instance, July 15–20 a new softball tournament is bringing in over 130 teams from the following states: Alabama, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and West Virginia,” Payne said.
Another popular draw for families is the Gulf Islands Waterpark. Milton Segarra, CEO of Coastal Mississippi, said this is a great option for visitors looking for a unique way to cool off during the summer months.
“With wild rides, miles of slides, and plenty of fun for all ages, this is one of the many phenomenal family-friendly hidden gems that The Secret Coast has to offer,” he said.
Tupelo Conventions & Visitors Bureau Executive Director Neal McCoy said youth sports is a major driver for tourism in Tupelo, as the city is home to some of the premier sports facilities in the state.
“The centerpiece of Tupelo’s sports portfolio is the $12 million, state-of-the-art Tupelo Aquatic Center,” McCoy said. “It will play host to the Mississippi Long Course State Championship July 18-21 and the USA Southern Zone Championship July 31-August 4. Tupelo continues to invest in facility upgrades to increase sports tourism. In FY 2020, Tupelo will invest $2 million to turf nine softball and baseball fields. Likewise, $2 million is slated to upgrade the city’s tennis courts and soccer fields.
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