The economic impact of sports tourism in West Michigan exceeded pre-pandemic levels in 2021.
The West Michigan Sports Commission (WMSC) generated $55.49 million in direct visitor spending in 2021. This represents a 309% increase over 2020 ($13.5 million) and a 1% increase in direct spending by visitors compared to 2019 ($54.9 million).
Direct visitor spending is generated by hotel nights, restaurants and commercial transactions.
WMSC hosted 100 events last year, a 122% increase from 2020 (45 events) and a 1% increase from 2019 (99 events).
“People missed the sport” said Mike Guswiler, president of the WMSC. “They missed what it means for their children, to travel, to have social engagement and the health and well-being that comes from the activities. There was pent-up demand and we saw that in 2021. As vaccines rolled out, as people became less wary of travel and the pandemic, they felt protected by the vaccine and the fact that many events were taking place outside that we were promoting. All of these things combined have really opened the floodgates for sports tourism, one of the many tourism sectors, to really bring people back to our hotels and restaurants. Overall, it’s really the impact we’ve seen that’s why we’ve had success in 2021.”
While there has been an increase in direct spending from 2019, there have also been some decreases along the way.
The 100 sporting events attracted 184,360 athletes/visitors and there were 42,847 hotel nights. The number of athletes/visitors increased by 421% compared to 2020 (35,384) but decreased by 20% compared to 2019 (230,382.)
The number of hotel nights increased by 229% compared to 2020 (13,042) but decreased by 15% compared to 2019 (50,245.)
The Meijer Sports Complex generated $5.6 million in direct visitor spending as it hosted 22 baseball/softball tournaments in 2021. There were 684 participating teams, of which 342 were travel teams. The teams represented 8,892 athletes, and 22,230 spectators followed the events. 5,973 hotel nights were purchased.
Visitor spending of $5.6 million increased 134% from 2020 ($2.4 million), but there was an 8% decrease in visitor spending from 2019 (6. $1 million).
The number of tournaments held in 2021 increased by 47% compared to 2020 (15) and they equaled the number of events held in 2019, which was 22 events.
The number of travel teams in 2021 increased by 176% compared to 2020 (124), but the number of travel teams decreased by 24% compared to 2019 (448).
There was a 102% increase in attendance compared to 2020 (11,013); however, the number of spectators did not reach the level of 2019 as there was an 8% decrease compared to 2019 (24,245.)
The number of hotel nights increased by 145% compared to 2020 (2,433) but decreased by 7% compared to 2019 (6,407).
Despite some COVID-19 restrictions in place at the start of 2021, the Meijer State Games, both winter and summer editions, generated $1.68 million in direct visitor spending across 37 events. They attracted 6,149 athletes. Some of the events included indoor archery, basketball, cross country skiing and disc golf.
This represents a 126% increase from 2020 ($744,764) in direct visitor spending, but a 17% decrease from 2019 ($2 million). Events in 2021 increased by 12% compared to 2020 (33 events) but fell by 40% compared to 2019 (62).
Similarly, the number of athletes jumped 38% from 2020 (4,471) but fell 41% from 2019 (10,441).
Guswiler said some events scheduled for 2020 were being held in other states that did not have the same restrictions in Michigan earlier in the year, but WMSC was able to reschedule some events for West Michigan, including the USA Masters Games and the Champion Force Cheer Nationales in 2021.
In addition to the sporting event rebound for 2021, Meijer has become the new naming rights partner for WMSC’s baseball/softball complex in Rockford. WMSC also extended its partnership with Meijer for another 10 years to promote youth and amateur sports.
Guswiler and his team are focused on increasing the number of athletes and traveling visitors and associated hotel revenue, as well as bidding for new events for 2022 and beyond.
To ensure this happens, WMSC has promoted Melissa Brink becomes Marketing Manager for WMSC. She was previously a marketing specialist for the organization’s signature Meijer State Games. In his new role, Brink will report to Guswiler and provide day-to-day marketing support to WMSC and its operating entities – State Games of Michigan, Meijer Sports Complex – developing email marketing campaigns, overseeing marketing initiatives, designing graphics and creating and managing online content.
WMSC also hired Conner Hicks as National Sales Manager. He was Director of Sales for Aimbridge Hospitality at the Holiday Inn Grand Rapids Airport, where he oversaw all group sales initiatives.
WMSC has also hired Alyssa Bey as the event coordinator. She graduated from Grand Valley State University with a master’s degree in higher education and a bachelor’s degree in sports management. She was a graduate assistant in sports management and worked seasonally for the West Michigan Whitecaps in 2021.
A new hub has been added to Marquette for outdoor snow sports events.
“It will be another year of rebuilding as we continue to rebuild our travel team ratio at Meijer Sports Complex, increase the number of events and participating athletes with our signature Meijer State Games program, and win more new business deals that bring visiting athletes. and the fans,” Guswiler said. “In the meantime, we are delighted to host prestigious national events this year, including the The NCAA Division II Outdoor National Championship in Athletics returns to GVSU and the 2022 Junior Gold Bowling Championships, bringing 5,000 athletes to the region over three weeks. I am very optimistic about the future of sports tourism in West Michigan.
Highlights of the 2022 calendar so far include:
- Western Michigan Futsal Cup (February 4-6)
- Meijer State Games – Winter Games (February 18-20 – Grand Rapids; 25-27 – Marquette)
- Cheer MHSAA Competitive Finals (March 4-5)
- MHSAA Boys Swimming & Diving D3 Finals (March 11-12)
- 2022 Griff’s Sledge Hockey Classic (March 18-20)
- Third Coastal Fencing Cup (March 19)
- USA Rhythmic Gymnastics 2022 Elite Qualifier (May 20-22)
- NCAA Division II National Outdoor Track and Field Championship (May 26)
- MJVBA AAU Volleyball Tournament (June 3-5)
- Meijer LPGA Classic (June 16-19)
- 2022 Junior Gold Championships (bowling) — youth U12-U20 (July 11-23) – first time Grand Rapids to host
- Beer City Open—APP Pickleball Tour (July 20-24)
Meijer Sports Complex baseball/softball events (including nine per Game Day USA):
- Game Day USA Pre-Season Championship (April 22)
- USSSA/BATL for Western AA (April 29-May 1)
- Game Day USA Super Regional (May 6-8)
- BPA Husky Blowout Bash (May 13-15)
- USSSA/BATL Military Families United Classic (May 20-22)
- Game Day USA Stars N’ Strikes Showdown (May 27-29)
- Game Day USA Rumble in the Rapids (June 3-5)
- Game Day USA Silver Series Championship #1 (June 10-12) and #2 (July 1-3)
- Game Day USA State Championship (June 17-19)
- Game Day USA Meijer State Games of Michigan (June 23-26)
- USSSA/BATL for the State Open (July 7-10)
- Game Day USA National Championship (July 14-17)
- Blue Chip Softball Summer Slam (July 14-17)
- USSSA/BATL End of Summer Party (July 21-24)
- USA Softball of Michigan State Championship Men’s Class E (July 30-31)
- ISSA Border Battle (August 5-7)
- Game Day USA All Star Tournament (August 19-21)