Sports tourism on the rise in Manatee County

November 26, 2012 

Last week Herald staff writers Josh Salman and Nick Williams did an outstanding job reporting a three-part series that highlights the incredible growth and possibilities for East Manatee County and Lakewood Ranch.

Williams' piece on Lakewood Ranch's sports culture struck a special chord for me because it ties in with an editorial I had prepared for this week.

Last year, more than 44,000 visitors -- athletes and their families, friends and fans -- came from all over the country to the Bradenton area to compete in and or view more than 100 different sporting events hosted around our destination.

Their hotel stays, restaurant visits and trips to the mall and local stores generated millions of dollars in impact to Manatee County. A local study earlier this year points out that for every $1 million in sales, more than 28 Manatee County jobs are supported in the sports promotion sector, while another 26 gain employment in fitness centers.

As Williams reported Wednesday, athletic events in Lakewood Ranch alone brought in more than 100,000 people to the area, generating a $65 million impact over the last 18 months. Those returns are only going to grow in future years as Schroeder-Manatee Ranch continues to refine its facilities into an international multiuse sports facility.

World-class facilities such as Lakewood Ranch's Premier Sports Campus, IMG Academies, Nathan Benderson Park and others are helping to make a name for our destination as a serious contender in Florida's sports tourism arena.

Athletes and their followers came for the Sarasota Rowing Invitational, Tour De Cure Cycling Meet, Dragon Boat Regatta, Nations Baseball World Series, Labor Day Nike Cup Soccer Tournament, and US Soccer Winter Showcase, and to watch a winning season of minor league baseball with our very own Bradenton Marauders.

Soon we'll add McKechnie Field to the list of facilities that have undergone a facelift. This winter the Pirates' longtime spring training home is receiving a $7.5 million renovation that will include a host of fan-friendly amenities.

The project will make McKechnie a more marketable facility for sports tournaments and other entertainment uses, adding to Manatee County's portfolio for attracting sports tourism. The project is being funded by the tourist tax, not local property tax, and the Pirates will increase their commitment to market Manatee County in Pittsburgh $150,000 to

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