Historic Triangle eyes further growth in sports tourism

jojacobs@vagazette.com

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that there were 24 million sports tourists who spent $10.5 billion in the United States, not just the Williamsburg area, in 2016.

The sports tourism business has been good in the Williamsburg area. And further expansion is on tap for the near future.

In 2016, 24 million people spent $10.5 billion at sporting events in the United States, said Lisa Pacheco, who is Sports Williamsburg’s director of sports development.

"This is a very strong and viable market," Pacheco said.

Locally, there were about 41,000 room night stays in the area related to sports tourism, translating to a $10 million economic impact, Pacheco said after the forum.

Sports Williamsburg markets the area’s sport facility resources and helps support sporting events in the Historic Triangle. It’s part of the Greater Williamsburg Chamber & Tourism Alliance. The organization held a forum to recap its recent successes and plans for the future Friday in James City.

High on the list for future plans is expansion — in terms of number of events, types of events and support for events.

The organization would like to provide expanded programming, especially in golf and fishing. Events such as health expos and road races have gained popularity in recent years, and Sports Williamsburg would like to consider adding such events to its calendar, Pacheco said.

The organization plans to attend four trade shows in the coming year, including stops in Salt Lake City and Kentucky, to talk up the Williamsburg area's variety of venues. Sports Williamsburg also wants to explore multi-day and regional events, Pacheco said.

Sports Williamsburg is also looking to improve its grant funding muscle. In 2017, the organization had a $100,000 grant budget and was able to provide money to 29 events before running out of money in the third quarter. The money went toward marketing the events. Sports Williamsburg hosted 69 different groups, which translated into 43,000 room stays at local lodgings and at least $9 million in revenue in 2017, Pacheco said.

“The grant program is fantastic. It really allows us to focus on running good events,” said Virginia Legacy Soccer director Bobby O’Brien.

The Williamsburg area’s soccer, baseball and other sports venues mesh well with its historic tourism and shopping options, providing a variety of activities off the field for visiting sports fans, O’Brien said.

Virginia Legacy Soccer programming creates 20,000 room nights annually, Pacheco said.

The forum also featured a panel of local parks, recreation and athletics officials, who weighed in on some of the challenges that face their programs.

“Trash is definitely an ongoing challenge,” James City Parks operations coordinator Kyle Loving said.

The size of local venues coupled with large crowds can also pose a challenge. Since existing city facilities were built with community events in mind, some events are too large to host, Williamsburg Parks and Recreation director Robbi Hutton said.

Jacobs can be reached by phone at 757-298-6007.

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