95.3 / 88.5 FM Grand Rapids and 95.3 FM Muskegon
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

West Michigan Sports Commission reports 2023 generated second most tourism spending in its history

Meijer Sports Complex
Meijer Sports Complex

WGVU talks with West Michigan Sports Commission President Mike Guswiler about the economic impact of sports tourism.

Mike Guswiler: As a sports commission, we formed in 2007. So, this is 16 years that we've been generating economic impact through sports tourism.

Patrick Center: And when you see the numbers, what are the metrics? What are you looking for?

Mike Guswiler: You know, our key performance indicators, our key metrics are going to be number of events that we host. and those events, you know, anytime that we get involved in working with a local who might have an event and they want us to participate or be part of that, or that we're bidding on and bringing an event, is that it's bringing visitors into our community. So, it's putting people into our hotels, into our restaurants. These are new dollars that would be coming into our community. So that's the kind of the parameters of, okay, yes, we're going to go after this or we're going to get involved. And so, you know, with that it's averaging well over 100 events on our event calendar annually now. So, events are key to it. And then that visitor component of the new dollars coming in is put into a calculator. It's, it's a pretty widely accepted calculator throughout the country for sports tourism formed by Destinations International, and then hotel room nights, you know, looking at, okay, what are the number of people that are coming in? Because there's always a component of local participation at many of these different events. And those aren't dollars that we calculate because they could choose to do anything else with their dollars. It's the visitors that are coming in that are new to the community.

Patrick Center: Let's break down some of those numbers for 2023 and some comparisons too. I know you like to compare and contrast to get a sense of where you are now, where you've been and where you're heading.

Mike Guswiler: Yeah, each year is going to be a little bit different. We've got a good swell of repeat events, the local groups and clubs and organizations that we work with that these events come back year over year and they're significant. And it varies anywhere from youth hockey to volleyball to gymnastics to tennis and cheer. So those are the bread and butter certainly of our event calendar and what make an impact. Many times they fly under the radar. You know, they're not necessarily the big sexy events. And we love when we can land on some of the Olympic and Paralympic events and many other NCAA events. But each year is going to be a little bit different in terms of how many events, the number of visitors that are coming in, and then, you know, the hotel room night and the spend. So, 2022 was a record year for us. Coming out of the pandemic, you know, we saw quickly that people were pent up with a desire to come out and participate in sport. And we're talking youth and adult amateur. Definitely jumping into 2023, it continued the trend of growth, but in different ways. So, our number of events were higher than 2022, but the concentration of athletes or participants and spectators at those events were slightly lower. The spend. because of differences in some calculations and inflation and some growth in the per spend per family did grow our economic impact. So those are some of the fluctuations that happen year over year. But you know, it's really diving into, okay, what events did we host and what are we looking at into the future to continue that growth?

Patrick Center: There's also reinvestment in facilities because you're growing the Sports Commission, the events that you can host. This is not a stagnant process. What's on the horizon? What are you working on to establish the venues here in West Michigan as a go-to place across the region?

Mike Guswiler: I'm glad you asked that question. And it's not just ourselves. It's certainly as a community, the number one thing you have to have to host these sport tourism events, which are events that will travel either across the state or across the country, is you have to have venues that can accommodate them. So, we realized that quickly in our early forming years and our board, you know, was very forward thinking and, hey, you know, let's, let's make sure that we have the appropriate tournament quality venues. And that's when we reached out at our first capital campaign and built what was at the time, the Art Van Sports Complex in Northern Kent County near Rockford and it's had nine significant impactful years. Now it's a complex that tracks visitors through diamond sports. So predominantly baseball, softball, but when we built it, it was a partnership with Kent County and Plainfield Township and it brought other sports to the table. So, there's the West Michigan Archery Center up there. There's Rock City BMX where we've held a USA National BMX race. There are a couple of soccer fields Plainfield Township invested in. And then there's the Merrill trails, West Michigan Mountain Bike Alliance developed hiking and mountain biking trails. and all sports destination. And so, after nine seasons up there of hosting USA Softball National Championships, you know, a lot of youth baseball and softball championships and games, it's been significant annually, probably generating nearly 5,000 room nights. Last year, $8.7 million in visitor spend. And so, we want to grow that impact. We've got a winning streak campaign going on right now. The dollar figure goes up 10 years later, but to grow our impact up there with another quad of fields that bring parity and equity to the complex. So, we're talking about a championship softball field. We've got a partnership with Aquinas College and their men's college team plays at the championship baseball field. And we know that the same would happen in having a championship softball field with the women's softball team. So, we're excited about having collegiate ball up there. And then pickleball, you can't really talk about sports without bringing up pickleball. And we're working with Rockford Pickleball to look at a championship pickleball complex as part of the Meijer Sports Complex. And lastly, I'll talk about adaptive sports. It's near and dear to my heart. I truly want to invest and ensure that sports are open for all. And so, the Miracle Field up there is a jewel of the complex and it's made many families and young and adult athletes with disabilities, be able to play the sport of baseball. And we want to resurface the Miracle Field up there. So, a lot of exciting things. And it starts with venues.

Patrick Center: Looking ahead to 2024, what are your expectations?

Mike Guswiler: You know, each year we kind of surpass ourselves, you know, exceed some of our goals. You know, and again, each year is going to fluctuate in which numbers and metrics we might exceed, but so much opportunity in the landscape of sport. And so, we just did a strategic plan in 2023 that we're implementing now for the next several years. A lot of its community alignment. It's pulling together community partners that now understand in our 16 years, the impact of sports tourism and finding mutual goals. So it might be, how do we reach out as a community and host bigger events? NCAA portal is open. We've always partnered with our D-II schools, Grand Valley State University, Davenport, and our D-III school in Calvin, and going after the different championships throughout the variety of sports that are offered. And we've made two attempts going after D-I sports. And we're going to go after it again with Western Michigan University. We're going to go after D-I Women's Basketball Regionals in 2027, and then see if we can't be part of March Madness in 2028 as we bid on men's D-I basketball with Western Michigan University and trying to attract First Four or the first and second rounds.

Patrick Center: Mike Guswiler, president of the West Michigan Sports Commission, thank you so much.

Mike Guswiler: Thank you. Appreciate it. And keep in touch and keep looking at what we're doing around sports.

Patrick joined WGVU Public Media in December, 2008 after eight years of investigative reporting at Grand Rapids' WOOD-TV8 and three years at WYTV News Channel 33 in Youngstown, Ohio. As News and Public Affairs Director, Patrick manages our daily radio news operation and public interest television programming. An award-winning reporter, Patrick has won multiple Michigan Associated Press Best Reporter/Anchor awards and is a three-time Academy of Television Arts & Sciences EMMY Award winner with 14 nominations.
Related Content