MANATEE -- The county’s sports tourism and performance industry keeps on picking up steam with almost twice as many events scheduled for the 2011-2012 season than this year.
A total of 112 sports tournaments are booked in Manatee County for the coming year, sports tourism leader Joe Pickett told the county’s Tourism Development Council Monday. That’s compared to 52 events this year and 33 last year.
Even more encouraging, Pickett said, are the 14 major events the county is seeking to host in the next two years. Altogether, those events have the potential to generate an economic impact of more than $10 million -- and that’s just a conservative estimate, Pickett said later Monday.
“Have we had this many bids out before? Yes, probably. But were they of this magnitude and size? No, absolutely not,” Pickett, sports commissioner for the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, said. “The majority of the bids we have out there are large in scope.”
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The county’s ever-expanding collection of high-quality, adaptable sports facilities is the biggest factor in Manatee’s ability to attract more and more sports events, Pickett said. For example, the new Premier Sports Campus in Lakewood Ranch, which features 22 soccer fields, is an ideal location for other grass sports including lacrosse, field hockey, frisbee, flag football and rugby.
“We have basically been negotiating with every grass sport you can think of,” said Candice McElyea, spokesperson for Lakewood Ranch. “The place has taken off more than we anticipated.”
The Ellenton Ice Rink, known for its world-class ice-skating rinks, also has a multi-purpose rink that is attracting the interest of archery and other sports.
The county has been focusing on the sports tourism industry for more than a decade, Pickett said, and sometimes pursuing an event time and again is essential to eventually winning it.
Another key reason for the coming year’s burst of potentially large sports events, Pickett said, is the county’s efforts over the past decade to “build our resume.”
“We’ve done a good job with building events, qualifying events, and regional events,” he said. “We’ve proven we can deliver as a host community, that we can provide a quality staff of support volunteers. So now, with the facility build-out we’re having, it’s much easier for people who have been here and held events here to go back and lobby for us so we can have a chance at these larger events.”
Below are some of the most promising events the county is vying to host over the next two years:
n Prospect Wire, a national coaches’ recruiting tournament involving 110 20-person teams. The county will formally place its bid for the tournament this weekend; potential economic impact is estimated at $1.4 million, not including gas, food and leisure spending.
n Men’s and women’s soccer tournaments for the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics. Manatee County is among about six communities bidding on the two five-day tournaments, which would take place in late 2012 and late 2013 and would generate an estimated $500,000 in local economic impact.
n The figure-skating, rugby and kickball sections of the 2013 Sunshine Games. The economic impact of the three-sport package, which would be held in May 2013, would be about $380,000, Pickett said. The events would take place at Ellenton’s ice-skating rink, Lakewood Ranch’s soccer fields, and Anna Maria Island’s community center.
n The National Field Hockey Festival, a Thanksgiving event which would generate an estimated $4.5 million. Pickett said the county is a long-shot to win this event in the next year, but will have a stronger chance in two to three years.
n The USA Archery regional tournaments, which attracts international competitors, and the Pepsi Challenge youth bowling event, which would bring 5,000 youth bowlers to the area for five weekends. Pickett did not have an economic impact estimate for either of these events.
While the convention and visitors bureau is focusing on sports events, the county’s Economic Development Council is also making sports one of its top eight target industries, said Sharon Hillstrom, the EDC’s associate director. The council has been focused for two years on attracting sports-related businesses that provide the services and products needed by not just events, but sports training facilities, Hillstrom said.
“We’re trying to create this idea that Manatee County is a world-class destination for the sports performance industry,” she said. “And one of the cool things about this whole ‘image’ idea is that we’re communicating a message that the people who live here are fitness-minded, they’re healthy, they’re energetic, and they’re ready to go to work for you.”
Christine Hawes, Herald business writer, can be reached at (941) 745-7081.