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Focus on Manatee: Sports tourism continues to score even during times of adversity

Rep. Vern Buchanan tours IMG Academy in Bradenton, touts economic success

Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, touted the economic success of IMG Academy at a visit and tour Wednesday. Buchanan said he would be open to looking at federal funding opportunities for the organization.
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Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, touted the economic success of IMG Academy at a visit and tour Wednesday. Buchanan said he would be open to looking at federal funding opportunities for the organization.

Year after year, the Bradenton area places heightened focus on its sports tourism sector, working to bring events to the destination that not only provide residents and visitors with world-class contests to enjoy, but also leave a positive economic impact on the destination and entice visitors to book a return trip.

And 2018 was no exception.

The year began with Manatee County Government’s acquisition of Premier Sports Campus in Lakewood Ranch, which is home to 23 laser-leveled, multi-purpose FIFA regulation fields with a 3,000-plus stadium and has historically supported a variety of local, regional, national and international level events for athletes of all ages and abilities.

For years, the campus has greatly aided in the Bradenton area’s efforts to establish itself as a leader in the sports tourism market, and the purchase enabled the destination to remain competitive and continue to bring in high-level events.

Premier Sports Campus.JPG
Premier Sports Campus in Lakewood Ranch hosts a variety of local, regional, national and international level events for athletes of all ages and abilities. Bradenton Herald file photo

In April, Premier served as host to the 2018 Sarasota Cup — the largest in the history of the event — that brought in more than 280 teams.

Last month, Premier once again hosted for the prestigious Nike International Friendlies, which saw the U.S. Under-17 men’s national team take on Portugal, Turkey and Brazil.

The Nike Friendlies were held in conjunction with U.S. Soccer’s Winter Showcase, featuring both boys and girls teams, including 74 Under-15/16 and 72 Under-17/18 academy clubs, with all matches being streamed on ussoccer.com.

Premier also hosted the AS Roma Showcase featuring the top 11-15 year-old athletes in the country.

In October 2019, the campus will host the USAFL National Championships, a tournament for Australian rules football.

Fort Hamer rowing.JPG
The Fort Hamer Rowing facilities welcomed top collegiate teams, including Dartmouth, Harvard, Georgetown and Pennsylvania. Bradenton Herald file photo

Of course, Premier is not the only facility to attract national sporting events to the Bradenton area.

The Fort Hamer Rowing facilities welcomed top collegiate teams, including Dartmouth, Harvard, Georgetown and Pennsylvania.

The Beach Bums Regional Volleyball Championship took place on our beaches and Lakewood National Golf Club is gearing up to host the Suncoast Classic, a new Web.com tournament taking place in February with 144 players competing for a $550,000 prize.

Lakewood Ranch National Golf Club is the venue for a Web.com Tour event over the next five years, starting Feb. 14-17, 2019.

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IMG Academy in Bradenton also continues to bring in high-level spectator events and provide year-round, world-class sports instruction and training for the planet’s top athletes.

It brings in so many visitors, in fact, that it opened a 150-room boutique hotel on the northern edge of its 500-plus campus. The Legacy Hotel at IMG Academy now serves guests and clients of the training institution, including visiting teams, coaches, athletes, staff and parents, while also being open to the public.

The Legacy Hotel, built adjacent to Bradenton's IMG Academy at a cost of more than $13 million, is scheduled to open Oct. 11.

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Next year will also bring with it the International Goal Keepers Conference as well as USA Baseball Performance Development League play.

With events and facilities such as these, it should come as no surprise that sports tourism has contributed greatly to the destination’s past seven consecutive years of record-breaking tourism.

Wolverines are spending their spring break with spring football practices in Bradenton at IMG Academy. Video by Jason Dill.

That is because visiting spectators and athletes not only take in the games, but they also enjoy our hotels, explore the area, shop, dine and visit our beaches and attractions, in many cases ultimately leading to the booking of a return visit.

What many might not realize, however, is the importance of sports-related visitation during times of adversity. The hosting of major sporting events is one of the top ways we can help keep visitation up, in slower seasons and when conditions at other top assets — such as our beaches — are not ideal, which we experienced this year with the arrival of red tide.

Since August, red tide has strongly impacted sea life, business, tourism and the environment on Anna Maria Island.

It is my hope that our residents continue to embrace the many exciting sporting events planned far into the future and that visitors who descend on the area to see some of the world’s best athletes compete continue to fall in love with our destination and return time and time again, contributing to the economic impact that benefits everyone who lives here.

Elliott Falcione is the executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau and can be reached at Elliott.Falcione@BACVB.com or 941-729-9177, ext. 3940.

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