Milwaukee, Wisconsin is like many sports destinations, attracting thousands of athletes each year across a range of events, including baseball, volleyball, basketball, hockey, fencing, table tennis, speed skating and gymnastics. The economic benefits of sports tourism are clear, and Milwaukee has been quick to seize the opportunity to attract visitors, generate revenue, and create jobs.
Here are some of the strategies Milwaukee has used to increase its economic benefits, from innovative marketing campaigns and hosting major sporting events to investing in state-of-the-art sports facilities. All were designed to help the city capitalize on its sports offerings to attract visitors and generate significant economic benefits.
Overcoming Pandemic Challenges
Successfully hosting high- profile events requires a common goal among many groups. One example of bringing together civic, hospitality and sports leaders to maximize the impact of a major sporting event was the 2021 NBA Finals. The Milwaukee Bucks won their first championship in 50 years, resulting in an economic impact of $57.6 million over the course of about a month of games.
Despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the city, the Bucks and local hospitality businesses worked together to ensure a safe and fun atmosphere for all.
“This collaboration injected much-needed revenue into hotels, restaurants and bars that had been devastated by the pandemic,” said Claire Koenig, the senior director of communications and public affairs at VISIT Milwaukee.
The visuals that resulted from the 2021 NBA Finals in Milwaukee were nothing short of priceless to the city, as scenes from Fiserv Forum were broadcast around the world. These scenes showcased the city’s hospitality, its love for sports and its ability to come together to make the most of a challenging situation.
“The city, the Bucks and local hospitality businesses did everything they could to ensure a safe, fun atmosphere while also finding ways to provide needed revenue streams into local businesses,” Koenig said.
Venues Play a Role in Boosting Economic Impact
The city’s sports infrastructure plays an integral role in hosting both local and national sports events, with a wide range of sports venues, as well as retail space, all designed to drive business.
Marissa Werner, director of Sports Milwaukee, notes that Milwaukee’s growing reputation as a top sports tourism destination is due in large part to continued investments by the city.
“We have a rich history of sports in this city and a dedicated team working to attract and host some of the most exciting events in the country,” she said. “And while the city’s reputation as a sports destination only continues to grow, it has taken decades of investment to evolve Milwaukee into the city it’s known as today.”
For Maximum Impact, Development Can’t Slow Down
No matter how good a city is or how much it offers, it needs to keep adding to its attractions in order to keep attracting tourism.
The venues of Milwaukee’s Wisconsin Center District (WCD) have been a vital component of the city’s rise as a sports tourism destination are an example. Following a $456 million investment in the expansion of the Baird Center, the District’s continued growth is set to have an even more significant impact on the city’s economic landscape.
According to the Wisconsin Center District, the expanded facility is expected to attract an additional 100,000 out-of-state visitors annually, generating an estimated $12.6 billion in additional economic impact for the state over the next 30 years. Additionally, the expansion project itself is expected to create over 2,300 new FTE jobs throughout Wisconsin.
For the local hospitality community, the expansion also means more active days with heads in beds and table turns, as overlapping load-in and load-out phases allow for more events to be booked.
“This translates to more economic benefits for the community, as businesses have more opportunities to generate revenue from convention center attendees,” Werner said.
Creative Use of Existing Spaces
Sports Milwaukee and the Wisconsin Center District are working to facilitate the creative use of venue space throughout the city for potential events, including those from the dance and cheer market; events in this sector have experienced growth.
In addition, there are a variety of attractions, including the Bradley Symphony Center, 3rd Street Market Hall and the Milwaukee Night Market. These options keep convention attendees’ dollars circulating throughout downtown.
“Milwaukee’s renewed investment in its downtown is setting it apart from other cities, with projects like the Baird Center expansion bringing dollars into the area and rippling outward to every neighborhood through the 42,000 hospitality employees in Milwaukee County. This investment keeps the city’s downtown vibrant and economically active, even as other cities struggle with the return to office work and downtown life,” Werner said.
Collaborative Approach to Sports Tourism
Milwaukee’s growth in the sports tourism industry is due in large part to collaboration with the hotel community, restaurants, attractions, professional sports teams, universities and local authorities, as well as state, county and city entities. One arena where these cross-collaborations are most often seen is in Sports Milwaukee’s youth events, where attendees generally range from 10-18 years in age.
“Sports events, especially youth sports, kept Milwaukee’s hospitality industry afloat during the worst of the pandemic,” Koenig said. “Local industry and civic leaders realized those events were a lifeline and, because of that, have become even bigger champions of the impact sports events represent. This new energy means even more eager collaboration that is mutually beneficial for the community, planners, and their guests.”
VISIT Milwaukee, the convention and visitors bureau, local sports teams, event organizers, and businesses collaborate to promote the city to prospective sports tourists.
This constant collaboration is beneficial not only to event planners but also creates an economic impact on the community. It has allowed the city to be agile in anticipating and adapting to the needs of planners, maximizing the impact of events on the local economy.
An example of creative collaboration includes a forthcoming Bandwango deals pass. Within weeks of the launch, dozens of local businesses signed up to offer exclusive deals, including free drinks, desserts, half-off experiences and more, all within a mile and a half of the Baird Center. This initiative keeps attendees spending money to support Milwaukee area businesses, further boosting the city’s economy.
“Our relationships with our partners are critical to our success,” Werner said.
By the Numbers
The results of these collaborative strategies are easy to see. Last year alone, sports tourism filled over 60,000 room nights in Milwaukee County, generating an overall economic impact of $71 million. And by tracking metrics such as hotel occupancy rates, visitor spending and tax revenue generated by sports events, the city is better able to understand the industry’s benefits fully. The impact on the local economy is also measured by the number of jobs created and the boost to local businesses.
It is worth noting that according to studies conducted by SportsETA, the sports tourism industry is a significant contributor to the national economy. In 2021, sports-related travel accounted for more than $39.7 billion in direct spending, generating an estimated 66.5 million room nights across amateur sports and collegiate championship events in the United States.
“We understand that competition is fierce, and we must be creative and flexible to win bids,” Werner said.
To continue attracting major sporting events, Milwaukee has implemented a variety of strategies. The city works closely with event organizers to understand their needs and tailor proposals to meet them. Incentives such as tax breaks and reduced facility rental fees are also offered to organizers to make Milwaukee an attractive destination for their events.
Milwaukee has also benefited from its professional sports teams. American Family Field, home of the Milwaukee Brewers, has created $2.5 billion in economic impact for Wisconsin over the last 20 years, averaging $125 million a year. In 2021, Sports Milwaukee hosted numerous events responsible for actualizing 53,572 room nights and creating an estimated economic impact of $128.9 million. This figure includes only a fraction of the NBA Playoffs, which accounted for $57.6 million in economic impact, and it does not include the entire estimated impact of the PGA’s 2021 Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits, which accounted for 15,195 room nights and generated a $9.5 million economic impact to the Milwaukee area alone.
“We want the benefits of sports tourism to be felt across the city,” Werner said. “By prioritizing the community’s needs, we can ensure that everyone benefits from the industry’s growth.”
Be Ready for Future Growth and Economic Impact
The success of the industry has been a driving force in keeping the local economy afloat during challenging times, and the city’s commitment to collaboration with local businesses, organizations, and event planners ensures a mutually beneficial relationship for all involved.
With an eye to keeping venues updated, growing cultural attractions, and constant investment in downtown areas, Milwaukee, as well as other cities, can leverage economic impact while continuing to grow their sports business. SDM