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Amateur sports are a growing economic driver for Southwest Florida: Moore about Business

Gulf Coast Showcase at Hertz Arena (2020)
Gulf Coast Showcase at Hertz Arena (2020)

Jeff Mielke, executive director of Lee County Sports Development, recently talked to local business community leaders about the impact of sports tourism on the local economy. He started with a comparison of this year’s statistics to 2022, which he said was heading towards a record year.

"We were on pace to shatter our all-time sports story. We were gonna fill over 200,000 hotel rooms, we were gonna generate $90 billion of direct visitor spending," said Mielke. "So when we start talking about January through June impacts of this year again, I’m happy to say that we're right on pace as we were in 2022 so I think it's going to end up as a really good year. So far for the first six months of the calendar year we’ve filled 73,000 hotel room nights and about 73,000 visitors have come to Lee County through amateur sports events. $30 million of direct visitor spending has come out of the visitor’s pocket spending in our community and we hosted 76 events. In 2022 at the end of July we were at 78 events."

Beyond spring training for the Twins and Red Sox, Mielke said these 76 events include amateur baseball tournaments, the Roy Hobbs baseball tournament, a women’s state bowling championship and college sports events.

"Most of our events are stealth. You don't see them you don't feel them as much," he said. "Basketball though, is starting to emerge into something special in our community: 10:43 basketball is starting to take its seat at our placemaking table."

Placemaking is creating quality places where people want to live, work, play and learn. It is accomplished through improving public assets like streets, parks, beaches, buildings, and even sporting events, like basketball tournaments. Placemaking is a big part of what the local Visitors & Convention Bureaus use for their out-of-area marketing efforts to potential visitors.

Mielke talked about how placemaking is starting to work in Southwest Florida.  

"What's cool about placemaking is that people who live here are starting to understand that Thanksgiving week is synonymous with basketball. If you want something to do that week and you don't have you're not going out of town you don't have a bunch of family coming into town, you can go to Suncoast Arena or Hertz Arena and take on some really good college basketball."

He then made a bold claim, "There's no better place in the United States that you could watch college basketball than right here in our destination the week of Thanksgiving. We’re really starting to emerge as a basketball powerhouse destination."

The continued development of sports tourism is proving to be an important driver for our economy as we re-build and restore the number one economic driver post-Ian—our local beach communities.

Karen Moore is a contributing partner for WGCU and the publisher of SWFL Business Today.