West Michigan Sports Commission reports record year for economic impact

Mike Guswiler. Courtesy Mike Guswiler

Sports continue to be an important factor in the West Michigan economy as the region saw its best-ever year for sports tourism.

The West Michigan Sports Commission said Monday, Jan. 23, it generated $90.5 million in direct visitor spending in 2022, the best year in its 15-year history. WMSC hosted 113 sports events during the year, a 63% increase from 2021 ($55.4 million) and a 65% increase compared to 2019 ($54.9 million).

The year also recorded 60,520 hotel nights; a 41% increase compared to 2021. Those hotel nights came from drawing 254,498 athletes and visitors to the city.

“While 2021 was a rebuilding year for youth and amateur sports tourism, 2022 has proven to be a blockbuster year in West Michigan across all metrics, even when compared against pre-pandemic times, proving the resilience and growth of sports tourism,” said WMSC President Mike Guswiler. “We look forward to continuing this upward trend as we build back even more.”

The year was bolstered by a strong season at the Meijer Sports Complex, which generated $8 million in direct visitor spending from hosting 21 tournaments. That was a 44% increase from 2021.

The big year at the complex was capped off by the WMSC announcing it is starting a new $11 million capital campaign to expand the complex.

The biggest individual event was the ICB Junior Gold Championships held in July, which hosted 4,000 youth bowlers from across the U.S. at eight bowling centers in West and Central Michigan. The championships generated $7.3 million in in economic impact.

The Meijer State Games, meanwhile, held 60 events and drove a 4% direct spending increase from 2021, up to $1.68 million.

The WMSC started in 2007 as West Michigan tourism leaders looked to capture some of the $39.7 billion youth and amateur sports industry in the Midwest. Since the founding of the WMSC, it has helped attract more than 1.9 million visitors and generated more than $557 million in direct visitor spending.

Moving forward, the WMSC plans to continue its growth and hired Phoenix-based sports tourism consulting firm Huddle Up Group. The consultancy will help identify opportunities for sports tourism in West Michigan.

Among major returning events this year are the Meijer LPGA Classic and the APP Pickleball Tour Beer City Open. New to the region this year will be a Spartan Race in October, as well as the annual convention of CEOS of Olympic governing bodies.

“We’re finally back to ‘business as usual’ in the sports industry, and now we’re building back our travel team base and booking those last events that may have been postponed, plus keeping an eye on new bidding opportunities,” Guswiler said. “We’re also looking to the future at how we can grow this industry, which includes expanding our sports infrastructure to meet increased demand at venues like the Meijer Sports Complex. We see a bright future for youth and amateur sports in West Michigan.”