Sports tourism industry seeks comeback after worst financial year

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The local sports tourism industry took a big hit in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic, making for its worst financial year.

“A typical year, around 50 million (dollars),” said Mike Guswiler with the West Michigan Sports Commission.

Last year, around $13 million was generated as a result of events being canceled due to COVID-19.

The commission usually puts on 90 events per year. That number was cut in half last year.

Even though summer baseball and softball tournaments drew good turnouts last summer, they weren’t a financial success.

“The different ratio of travel teams versus local teams was much higher for local,” Guswiler said. “So, you don’t have as much spending (or) new dollars coming in.”

The commission’s signature event, the Meijer State Games, was also impacted.

The 2020 state summer games brought in 8,000 competitors in more than 50 events.

“Some events were able to happen and socially distance, some we had to cancel,” Guswiler said. “We went virtual.”

With high school winter sports back in action and restaurants operating at 25% capacity, the commission hopes it’s a sign of a prosperous year for the sports tourism industry.

“The lodging tax, that’s how we get a prominent amount of our funding,” Guswiler said. “If we don’t have people staying in our hotels, our funding goes down.”

One of the biggest events scheduled for 2021 is the NCAA Division II outdoor track and field championships in late May.

“That’ll bring almost 2,000 athletes to town,” Guswiler said. “That’s a big one.”

He understands though, everything depends on how COVID-19 numbers trend in the long run.

“We all know we have to play our part. It’s masks, social distancing and vaccinations,” Guswiler said. That’s going to be a key for us moving forward.”