One of the events drawing visitors to Grand Rapids was the USA Cycling Fat Bike National Championships. Courtesy West Michigan Sports Commission
Last year was one for the record books for the West Michigan Sports Commission.
The organization hosted the most youth and amateur sporting events in a single year, orchestrating a bid for 88 separate sports competitions to be played in West Michigan for 2018.
Its effect was felt throughout the region as 225,808 athletes and visitors generated $51.8 million in economic impact.
“West Michigan clearly is on the radar of event planners and national rights holders as a premier destination for hosting youth and amateur sporting events, as last year demonstrated with our most events hosted annually to date,” said Mike Guswiler, president of the West Michigan Sports Commission. “Coming off a successful 2017 with hosting the State Games of America, we maintained our momentum and continued to attract and host top national and regional events that boosted our region’s economy.”
Some of the national sports events included the USA Cycling Fat Bike National Championships, NAIA Lacrosse National Invitational, USA Weightlifting Youth National Championships, U.S. Judo Federation/U.S. Judo Association Junior and Grassroots National Championships, USA-Canada Men’s Slow Pitch Senior Border Battle and the Midwest Tandem Rally.
One of the sports events that made its second consecutive appearance in Grand Rapids was the USA Weightlifting Youth Championships, which took place at the DeVos Place in June. According to Pedro Meloni, director of events and sponsorships for USA Weightlifting, the organization has multiple events throughout the year in different cities such as Columbus, Ohio; Philadelphia; and Milwaukee.
Meloni said Grand Rapids was chosen in back-to-back years because it is a midsize city that has easy access to different attractions — restaurants, venues and hotels — athletes can explore.
“There are a lot of opportunities for people to go around walking, the convention center is very well equipped next to a beautiful river,” he said. “It made sense for our athletes because after they were finished with competitions, they can go around and enjoy the city. A lot of our memberships are from there, as well.”
The 88 events were spread across different venues, but the Art Van Sports Complex contributed to much of the more than $5 million in direct visitor spending. In its fourth season, the complex alone generated $3.3 million in direct visitor spending.
It hosted 17 tournaments between the months of April and September that attracted 613 teams, 7,969 athletes and 19,922 spectators.
The Meijer State Games of Michigan generated $2.7 million in direct visitor spending, with 69 sports between the Summer Games and Winter Games in 2018 that drew 9,602 participating athletes.
As the sports commission closed out 2018 hosting the most youth and amateur sporting events in a single year, it will continue to host a slew of national sports events in 2019.
This year, for the first time, West Michigan will host the USA Hockey National Championships, NCAA Women’s DII Lacrosse Championship, USA BMX Great Lakes Nationals, USA Softball Men’s Open Eastern Fastpitch National Championship and USA Softball Men's Slow Pitch Class D Northern Championship.
The National Junior College Athletic Association Region XII basketball tournament, NAIA Men’s and Women’s Lacrosse National Invitational, USRowing Masters National Championships and the 10th annual Meijer State Games of Michigan will return this year.
In addition to new events in 2019, the WMSC already won the bid to host the USA Masters Games in 2020.
“Winning the USA Masters Games is a feather in our region’s cap and continues our strong track record of hosting youth/amateur Olympic-style games — first, our own State Games of Michigan, then the State Games of America in 2017 and now the USA Masters Games in 2020,” Guswiler said. “We have much to be proud of as a sports destination.”