EDITORIAL ADVISORY BOARD: Sports is an economic driver in south suburbs

2013-05-05T00:00:00Z EDITORIAL ADVISORY BOARD: Sports is an economic driver in south suburbsJim Garrett nwitimes.com
May 05, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Every year, we see more families building vacations around their child’s sporting events. Whether it’s a golf tournament at a prestigious course, a 300-team softball tournament or an NCAA sanctioned AAU basketball tournament, sports are driving family decisions on travel.

Sports travel produces 23.9 million visitors annually who spend more than $7.6 billon, according to National Association of Sports Commissions. The Chicago Southland CVB is continuing to increase the amount of new sports business coming to the region through aggressive sales and marketing campaigns.

The Chicago Southland has hosted a number of high-profile golf events in the last few months. Olympia Fields Country Club in Olympia Fields hosted the eighth annual Junior Ryder Cup last fall and Ravisloe Country Club in Homewood, recently hosted the American Junior Golf Association Preseason Junior event. Both events attracted top junior golfers from around the world to the Chicago Southland.

The majestic Olympia Fields Country Club was selected to host the oldest golf championship in the country, the 2015 U.S. Amateur Championship.

The CVB is constantly positioning the Chicago Southland to host other high-profile golf events and marketing the region as a golf destination.

Youth basketball tournaments are valuable for scouts and coaches to recognize emerging talent, and families will travel across the country for exposure in hopes of a major scholarship. This is a rapidly expanding portion of the sports market, and the CVB is attracting these tournaments to the region.

The recent Nike Spring Showdown was the first event in the Big 3 Nike Series at the Matteson Community Center. The AAU- and NCAA-sanctioned event attracted 205 teams from 12 states and generated more than 650 room nights for the three-day tournament and more than $1.2 million in estimated economic impact for the Chicago Southland. The last two events in the Nike Series are coming back to Matteson this July with more than 200 teams and a significant economic impact for each event.

Local municipalities recognize this trend and are responding with bigger and better facilities. Take a ride on the Tri-State Tollway near Midlothian, and you’ll catch a glimpse of five completely renovated softball fields at Memorial Park. Along Interstate 57, you’ll see four completely refurbished softball fields at Centennial Park in Blue Island.

Communities like Midlothian and Blue Island understand the potential for economic development through outside tournaments and events. With a recent outside review of these fields garnering an “A” rating, other communities are taking notice and positioning themselves to improve and expand their facilities.

Of course, the CVB is still continuing to push for a multi-use mega sports complex that would serve the sporting needs of the region, but the collective efforts by our municipalities are doing a great job in its place.

The Chicago Southland will continue to evolve into a destination for sporting events and in turn, create more economic prosperity for the region.

Jim Garrett is president and CEO of the Chicago Southland Convention & Visitors Bureau. The opinions are the writer's.

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