The West Michigan Sports Commission (WMSC)hosted the most youth and amateur sporting events in a single year in its history with 88 events in 2018 that attracted 225,808 athletes and visitors, generating $51.8 million in direct visitor spending and filling 45,805 hotel room nights.
The year was highlighted by a number of national events by rights holders such as USA Cycling, USA Weightlifting, U.S. Judo Federation, National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) and National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).
“West Michigan clearly is on the radar of event planners and national rights holders as a premier destination for hosting youth and amateur sporting events, as last year demonstrated with our most events hosted annually to date,” said Mike Guswiler, president of the West Michigan Sports Commission. “Coming off a successful 2017 with hosting the State Games of America, we maintained our momentum and continued to attract and host top national and regional events that boosted our region’s economy.”
The West Michigan Sports Commission was founded in 2007 as an economic generator to harness some of the $9.5 billion national youth and amateur sports industry for the region. One of its key tenets is generating overnight stays from event visitors, which drives spending in area hotels, restaurants and other businesses. Since its inception, the WMSC has booked 734 sporting events and tournaments that attracted more than 1.2 million athletes and visitors, generating $344 million in direct visitor spending.
The West Michigan Sports Commission tracked the following highlights in 2018:
- Hosting 88 sporting events attracting 225,808 athletes and visitors and $51.8 millionin direct visitor spending while filling 45,805 hotel room nights.
- Attracting and hosting more national events, including the 2018 USA Cycling Fat Bike National Championships (second year and second location since event debuted in 2015), 2018 MHSAA Girls State Basketball Finals, 2018 NAIA Lacrosse National Invitational (first NAIA Lacrosse National Invitational in Michigan and first NAIA national event held in West Michigan), USA Weightlifting 2018 Youth National Championships (second USA Weightlifting national championship ever held in Grand Rapids), U.S. Judo Federation/U.S. Judo Association Junior National Championships (first judo junior national championship in West Michigan), USA-Canada Men’s Slow Pitch Senior Border Battle(first-time event), and the 2018 Midwest Tandem Rally (largest tandem bicycle event in North America).
- Contributing $3.3 million in direct visitor spending in the Art Van Sports Complex’s fourth season, hosting 17 tournaments between April and September that attracted 613 teams, 7,969 athletes and 19,922 spectators. New this year was the Consumers Energy Picnic Pavilion between Quads A and B – a 24’ x 52’ lighted pavilion constructed in the wooden architectural style as the Championship Field canopy, holding 12 picnic tables to accommodate up to three teams at a time.
- Generating $2.7 million in direct visitor spending from the Meijer State Games of Michigan, with 69 sports between the Summer Games and Winter Games in 2018 that drew 9,602 participating athletes.
- Peer recognition through industry awards, including the Connect Sports Tourism Excellence Award of “Homegrown Sporting Event of the Year” for the Meijer State Games of Michigan,and a Grand Rapids Business Journal 2018 Newsmaker of the Year in Sports finalist for Mike Guswiler.
The WMSC also tracked a dramatic increase in metrics from its founding year in 2007 to 2018:
- Number of sporting events– 88 events in 2018 from 21 in 2007
- Number of visitors– 225,808 visitors in 2018 from 33,900 in 2007
- Direct spending in millions– $51.8 million in 2018 from $7 million in 2007
- Hotel room nights – 45,805 sports-related hotel nights booked in 2018 from 12,661 in 2007
As the West Michigan Sports Commission enters 2019, Guswiler and his team are focused on a few strategic areas. The first is continuing to attract national events to West Michigan. The WMSC won and will host the following national sporting events over the next year and beyond:
- National Junior College Athletic Association2019 Region XII basketball tournament– March
- 2019 MHSAA Girls State Basketball Finals– March
- 2019 USA Hockey National Championships* – April
- 2019 NAIA Men’s and Women’s Lacrosse National Invitational– May
- NCAA 2019 Women’s DII Lacrosse Championships*– May
- 2019 USA BMX Great Lakes Nationals*– August
- 2019 US Rowing Masters National Championships– August
- USA Softball 2019 Men’s Open Eastern Fastpitch National Championship*– August
- USA Softball 2019 Men's Slow Pitch Class D Northern Championship*– August
- USA Masters Games* – June 2020
*First time for Grand Rapids to host
The sports commission also remains committed to promoting the importance of youth and amateur sports in West Michigan – a key part of which is continuing to host its successful flagship Meijer State Games of Michigan, which celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2019. Additionally, the WMSC won the bid to host the USA Masters Games June 26?28, 2020, in Grand Rapids. The third edition of the USA Masters Games, this multisport, Olympic-style event for athletes 21 and over will be held at venues across West Michigan in conjunction with the State Games of Michigan-Summer Games. The inaugural USA Masters Games was held in Greensboro, N.C., in 2016, where 2,500 adult athletes from 10 countries and 45 states competed in 24 sports. The second USA Masters Games was held last summer in San Diego, where 2,000 athletes from nine countries and 38 states took part.
“Winning the USA Masters Games is a feather in our region’s cap and continues our strong track record of hosting youth/amateur Olympic-style games – first our own State Games of Michigan, then the State Games of America in 2017, and now the USA Masters Games in 2020,” said Guswiler. “We have much to be proud of as a sports destination.”
The third area is leading the conversation about sports infrastructure needs in WestMichigan. The WMSC’s facility committee regularly examines the area’s sports venue needs and has taken the lead in identifying the feasibility of a multi-field sports complex concentrating on rectangle field sports.