Sports is one of the first segments of the tourism industry to rebound – and the Meijer Sports Complex in Rockford is concrete proof.
The West Michigan Sports Commission closes a successful 2021 baseball/softball season at its championship-caliber Meijer Sports Complex with one final tournament in early October – wrapping the season with 25 tournaments between April and October attracting 684 teams, 8,892 athletes and 22,230 spectators who will have booked 5,973 hotel room nights and spent an estimated $5,618,365. These figures are at least double 2020 figures, and only slightly lower than in 2019.
“The 2021 season at the Meijer Sports Complex has been a complete success, proving that sports tourism is leading the comeback of our regional tourism economy,” said Mike Guswiler, president of the West Michigan Sports Commission. “The return of more baseball/softball tournaments, especially those that attract travel teams, is a bellwether of more positive change to come in the sports tourism industry.”
Following are highlights of the season:
- More tournaments than 2020 and 2019 – The sports complex will have hosted 25 tournaments by the end of the 2021 season – up 67 percent from 2020 at 15 tournaments and up 14 percent from 2019 pre-pandemic levels at 22 events. And bookings kept the complex busy almost nonstop, with 19 back-to-back weekends from April through August. Among the 25 tournaments were 14 by Game Day USA and five by USA Softball.
- Travel teams doubled from 2020, increasing hotel room nights – Travel teams comprised 50 percent of the teams playing in the 2021 season at 342 teams out of 684, compared to 27 percent in 2020 at 124 teams out of 462. Team travel representation came from Southeast Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Tennessee, Pennsylvania and Ontario. The influx of travel teams also resulted in a 145 percent increase in hotel nights booked in 2021 at 5,973, versus 2,433 in 2020 – and only a 7 percent decrease from 2019.
- Direct visitor spending more than doubled from 2020 – With increased tournaments, travel teams, athletes and spectators, visitor spending through hotel nights and other purchases more than doubled 2020 levels at $5.6 million – up 134 percent from 2020 at $2.4 million. It also was only 8 percent below pre-pandemic levels in 2019 at $6.1 million.
- Complex filled to capacity in June – The complex experienced a blockbuster month in June, with all four weekends booked with tournaments that attracted more than 50 teams per weekend and several age groups filling to capacity. Signature tournaments included three Game Day USA events (including the Game Day USA State Championships) and the Meijer State Games of Michigan.
- National tournament operator filled weekends – Chicago-based Game Day USA booked 14 tournaments this season, including Game Day USA Pre-Season Championships (2), Super Regional, Rumble in the Rapids (2), Stars N' Strikes Showdown, Silver Series Championship (2), State Championship, Meijer State Games of Michigan, National Championship (2), Summer SlugFest and the All Star Tournament. The WMSC just signed a new, three-year operating agreement with Game Day USA and has already secured 14 dates on the 2022 calendar.
- Two national USA Softball tournaments – The Meijer Sports Complex hosted two national USA Softball tournaments this year: the USA Softball Men's Open East Fast Pitch National Championship Aug. 27-29 and USA Softball Men's Slow Pitch Class D National Championship Sept. 3-5. These generated a collective 372 participants and 600 spectators who booked 300 hotel room nights and spent more than $500,000 in estimated direct spending. USA Softball also hosted three state tournaments in 2021.
- Aquinas College played first full season – Aquinas College Men’s Baseball returned to the complex as its home baseball field, playing its first full season in 2021 since the baseball season was delayed in 2020. The college continues with fall baseball this year and returns in 2022 for its competitive spring season.
Future Complex Growth and Expansion
Owned and operated by the West Michigan Sports Commission, the Meijer Sports Complex opened in 2015 for its first full season, featuring eight baseball and softball fields, including a 385-foot fenced Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation Championship Field with covered grandstands seating 1,000 spectators; Nate Hurwitz Miracle League Field; warm-up areas, restrooms, concessions and maintenance building; and parking for more than 400 vehicles. The Rockford-based baseball/softball complex was named the Meijer Sports Complex May 4 in a 10-year partnership between Meijer and the WMSC.
Costing $7.5 million and funded exclusively through philanthropic donations, the championship-caliber baseball/ softball complex has remaining acreage to the south that the WMSC plans to develop to offer more access for athletes, such as building a championship softball field. Other plans may include expanding dimensions of a few of the fields to accommodate collegiate-level play, plus the addition of more parking. The WMSC is in the first phase of a feasibility study to determine possible expansion plans and related costs.
“We have always envisioned this complex as growing with the needs of the baseball/softball community, and we have high hopes of expanding upon the successful work we have started with additional uses of the remaining acreage,” said Guswiler. “We want to provide parity for all types of ball players – from baseball to softball – and from high school through masters level.”
Since opening its doors in 2015, the Meijer Sports Complex has attracted more than 120 events and 170,105 visitors with an economic impact for Kent County in excess of $33 million, including cumulative hotel room night stays of more than 35,000.