West Michigan saw 54.5% drop in sporting events in 2020

West Michigan saw a 76.1% drop in visitor spending and a 54.5% decrease in sports events in 2020 compared to 2019 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the West Michigan Sports Commission’s sports tourism economic impact report.

Despite the drastic decline, West Michigan played host to 45 sports events, which generated $13 million in direct visitor spending.

The 2020 economic impact was a far cry from the 2019 record-breaking year, where 99 events generated $54.38 million in estimated direct visitor spending.

Mike Guswiler Courtesy Mike Guswiler

“After a record year of sports tourism for West Michigan in 2019, we knew we would likely see a slight drop in 2020 because of natural ebbs and flows of the industry based on events hosted,” said Mike Guswiler, president of the West Michigan Sports Commission. “But nothing prepared us for what a global pandemic would do to the travel industry. That said, we pivoted where we could, converting some events to virtual and rescheduling others to future years. We believe that sports will be one of the first tourism markets to come back as restrictions are lifted and COVID cases drop due to increased vaccinations.”

The 45 events that took place last year, many of which were at the WMSC’s baseball/softball complex, included the first esports tournament, Grand Rapids Rift Clash, Meijer State Games of Michigan – Winter Games, and the 2020 DII NJCAA Men’s and Women’s Basketball Region XII Championships. Those events took place in February and March. The events drew 35,384 athletes and visitors who stayed 20,287 hotel room nights.

Events decreased 48.9% from the 2020 projections and 54.5% from 2019. Visitor spending decreased 73.1% from 2020 projections and 76.1 % from 2019. Athletes and visitors decreased 82.7% from 2020 projections and 84.6% from 2019. Hotel nights decreased 55.9% from 2020 projections and 59.6% from 2019.

There were 15 tournaments at the West Michigan Sports Commission’s baseball/softball complex in 2020, which generated $2.4 million in direct visitor spending. The tournaments attracted 462 teams, of which 124 were traveling teams. There were 6,006 athletes, 11,013 spectators and 2,433 hotel room nights.

The baseball/softball tournaments decreased 46.4% versus projected (28) for 2020 and a 31.8% decline from 2019 (22). Despite all tournaments being canceled in May and half of June, the season was extended into October to reschedule some of the spring cancelations.

The baseball/softball travel teams decreased 77.6% from 2020 projections and 74.4% from 2019 due to pandemic-related travel restrictions. As a result, spectators dropped 63.3% from 2020 projections and 54.6% from 2019.

Hotel room nights relating to baseball/softball tournaments dropped 65.2% from projections and 62% from 2019. Visitor spending decreased 69.2% from 2020 projections and 60.8% from 2019 ($6.1 million) due mostly to reduced travel teams/families and related spending.

Meijer State Games – Winter Games were in person and Summer Games were virtual, generating a combined $366,546 in direct visitor spending through 29 events attracting 2,528 athletes and filling 322 hotel room nights.

Meijer State Games – Winter Games events decreased 53.2% versus projections and 2019 figures (62 events). Despite the Winter Games proceeding in person, the Summer Games canceled all but 15 events.

In other Meijer State Games statistics, the number of athletes decreased 75.9%, both projected and versus 2019. Hotel room nights decreased 78.5% versus projected and 69.1% from 2019. Direct visitor spending dropped 75.6% from projected and 74.6% from 2019 ($1.4 million).

Some events were rescheduled for this year, and they include the USA Masters Games, which will be June 24-27, the Champion Force Cheer Nationals will be held from July 8-11 and WMSC’s An Evening with Jack Nicklaus fundraiser will be June 30.

Some locally produced and WMSC-assisted events were virtual last year, including the Grand Rapids Triathlon, Michigan Titanium, Amway Riverbank Run and Grand Rapids Marathon.

A golf outing replaced last year’s annual luncheon fundraiser, which has brought in keynote speakers like Kirk Gibson and drew a sold-out crowd. The golf outing was Oct. 12 at Thousand Oaks Golf Club. The second annual WMSC Golf Outing will return Sept. 27.

Despite events being canceled or rescheduled because of the pandemic, the West Michigan Sports Commission found two new revenue streams. They are partnering with Aquinas College Baseball to use the West Michigan Sports Complex as its home field, whose season begins with its first home game on March 27 vs. U of M Dearborn.

WMSC also is managing the office for the National Congress of State Games, a membership organization comprised of 30 Summer State Games and 10 Winter State Games organizations that also manages the biennial State Games of America.

“As COVID restrictions lessen on hosting sporting events, we will continue to build back our book of business,” Guswiler said. “We’re already seeing the spigot opening for booking sporting events, starting with outdoor events like baseball and softball tournaments. As we continue to follow national and state guidelines to safely bring back sporting events, we hope to lead the West Michigan tourism industry out of this economic downturn by providing much-needed business for our hotels and restaurants.”

Signature events on the 2021 calendar so far include:

  • West Michigan Futsal Cup (Feb. 19-21) – Largest youth futsal tournament in the Midwest; over 200 teams
  • USA Gymnastics Rhythmic 2021 Gymnastics Level 9 Classic* (April 14-18)
  • USA Hockey Youth Tier II 16U Nationals (April 29-May 3)
  • USBC Intercollegiate Team Championships (May 5-8)
  • 2020 USA Masters Games* (June 24-27) – Rescheduled from 2020
  • West Michigan Sports Complex baseball/softball events (including 14 by Game Day USA)
  • Game Day USA Pre-Season Championship #1 (April 16-18) and #2 (April 23-25)
  • NSA Cinco de Mayo Softball Tournament (May 1-2)
  • Game Day USA Super Regional (May 7-9)
  • BPA Husky Blowout Bash (May 15-16)
  • Game Day USA: Rumble in the Rapids 1 (May 21-23)
  • Game Day USA: Stars N’ Strikes Showdown (May 28-30)
  • Game Day USA: Rumble in the Rapids 1 (June 4-6)
  • Game Day USA – Silver Series Championship #1 (June 11-13) and #2 (July 2-4)
  • Game Day USA: State Championship (June 18-20)
  • Game Day USA: Meijer State Games of Michigan (June 18-20)
  • Game Day USA: National Championship #1 (July 8-11) and #2 (July 15-18)
  • Blue Chip Softball Summer Slam (July 15-18)
  • Game Day USA: Summer SlugFest (July 23-25)
  • USA Softball Michigan Softball Slow Pitch E State Championship (July 29-Aug. 1)
  • USA Softball Michigan Softball Fast Pitch B&C State Championship (Aug. 6-8)
  • All Great Lakes Regional Championship (Aug. 13-15)
  • Game Day USA All Star Tournament (Aug. 20-22)
  • USA Softball Men’s Open East Fast Pitch National Championship (Aug. 27-29)
  • USA Softball Men’s Slow Pitch Class D National Championship (Sept. 3-5)
  • Blue Chip Softball Fall Classic (Sept. 18-19)

*First time for Grand Rapids to host

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