Porter County officials are setting out with a clean slate as they explore options for expanding into the sports tourism market, but a couple of areas of interest already have taken base.
Hockey and swimming top the list, followed by soccer and softball, said Indiana Dunes Tourism Executive Director Lorelei Weimer.
These are areas of the amateur sports market that have generated the most inquiries and interest over time, she said.
Identifying what opportunities exist, if any, will be the county's first challenge, said Don Schumacher, executive director the National Association of Sports Commissions. He will be leading a workshop for local officials Aug. 19 and 20.
This determination will depend on several factors, including the types and quality of facilities available locally and the potential for the creation of organizations and partnerships to handle the new business, he said.
"The industry is tremendous," Schumacher said. "It's growing, growing and growing."
Weimer said sports accounts for 4 percent of the tourism expenditures in Porter County, as opposed to 79 percent from leisure travelers and 17 percent from business travelers.
Porter County commissioners announced in April they were expanding the local tourism board by two seats to go after the amateur sports market. The commissioners appointed Chuck Williams and Doug Olson to fill the Republican and Democrat appointments, respectively.
Commissioner President John Evans, R-North, said participants in these sports travel the country, which offers economic opportunities for the county.
While the county has outdoor sporting fields, he said there will be a need to expand upon those and look at building indoor facilities such as a pool and hockey rink.
Schumacher said the largest share of the amateur sports market falls in the 10- to 14-year-old age range, though there is also a good number of adults involved.
The commissioners also agreed in June to help move the process along by modifying a feasibility study at the Expo Center to include plans for the amateur sports market. That report could be done in three to four months, Weimer said.
The addition boosted the cost of the contract from $91,000 to $134,000.