The Boston Marathon ,being run today in eastern Massachusetts, is an annual event that attracts thousands of participants and hundreds of thousands of spectators who spend money in hotels, restaurants and stores. The hospitality industry in western Massachusetts is taking steps to boost sports tourism in the other half of the commonwealth.
The Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau has formed a new division to attract sports events of all kind to venues throughout western Massachusetts. Bureau president Mary Kay Wydra said the new Western Massachusetts Sports Commission will coordinate the bidding for and marketing of sporting events.
According to tourism industry research, $422 billion was spent on sports in the United States in 2011. Sporting events generated 50 million hotel room stays that year.
The chairman of the sports commission, John Heaps, said the group’s focus will be on sporting events that will have a significant economic impact and high visibility.
Heaps said the first step will be to indentify all of the facilities in the four counties that can host sports events. This includes civic centers, college campuses, ski resorts, water bodies, bike trails, and golf courses. Then ,Heaps said, the commission plans to look at up to 50 events that could fit the venues.
With the draw of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, Springfield has landed many basketball tournaments through the years. The Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference held its postseason tournament and championship games in Springfield the last two seasons and has one year left on the contract. Officials acknowledge ticket sales have not been what was hoped for.
The MAAC tournament had a strong run in Albany, but that coincided with a golden era for host school Siena that helped boost ticket sales.
Steve McKelvey, a professor of sport management at UMass Amherst, and a member of the new commission, said most of the sports events held in western Massachusetts now are done on an ad-hoc basis. He believes the region has only scratched the surface of its potential in the sports tourism market.
But there is also intense competition to host top sports events. The are roughly 400 sports commissions throughout the United States, all working to do the same thing as this new one in western Massachusetts. Shannah McArdle, the director of sports marketing for the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism believes western Massachusetts can successfully compete and draw top events
The ten member Western Massachusetts Sports Commission will have full time staff, and a three year funding commitment of $130,000. The money comes from the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority, the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism, and MassMutual Financial Group.