Jan. 31, 2018 -

West Michigan Sports Commission Celebrated 10 Years of Sports Tourism in 2017


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich., – The West Michigan Sports Commission (WMSC) closed its strongest year yet in sports tourism in 2017, hosting 76 youth and amateur sporting events that attracted 202,000 athletes and visitors and generated $61.1 million in direct visitor spending – its highest year ever in economic impact. The year caps off a decade of attracting and hosting youth and amateur sporting events that have contributed a cumulative $297 million in direct visitor spending since the sports commission was founded in 2007.

“Youth and amateur sports is a $9.5 billion national industry, and the West Michigan Sports Commission is proud to have played a part these past 10 years in bringing some of that revenue to West Michigan,” said WMSC President Mike Guswiler. “This is a growing and thriving industry, and we’re ready to enter a new decade where youth and amateur sports will continue to strengthen our region’s economy and quality of life.”

The West Michigan Sports Commission was founded in 2007 as an economic generator to harness some of the 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 646 sporting events and tournaments that attracted more than 1 million athletes and visitors, generating $297 million in direct visitor spending.

The West Michigan Sports Commission charted the following highlights in 2017:

• Hosting 76 sporting events that attracted 202,000 athletes and visitors and $61.1 million in estimated direct visitor spending (a 32.2 percent increase in spending from $46.2 million in 2016 and 30.4 percent increase in athletes/visitors from 143,850 in 2016).

• Generating $10 million in direct visitor spending from the State Games of America, an Olympics-style event held Aug. 3-6 as the pinnacle event of more than 30 individual state game competitions. Held in Michigan for the first time, the biennial event featured 48 sports in 60 events at 35 venues across West Michigan. It attracted 12,000 athletes (4,000 from out of state) and 25,000 attendees, and filled 5,500 hotel rooms at 30 hotels, in addition to generating $10 million in economic impact.

• Attracting and hosting more national events, including the 2017 USA Cycling Fat Bike National Championships (second location since the event debuted in 2015, and to be hosted again in 2018), 2017 Professional Disc Golf Association Masters World Championships (first Masters-level world tournament), 2017 International Softball Congress Men’s World Tournament, 2017 USA Weightlifting American Series Open 3 (first USA Weightlifting national competition in Grand Rapids), NCAA DIII Women’s Basketball National Championship, and NCAA DIII Women’s Volleyball National Championship. Last year, the WMSC also won the bid to host the MHSAA Girls State Basketball Finals, USA Weightlifting Youth National Championships/Youth Olympic Games Trials, NAIA Lacrosse National Invitational, and NCAA DII Women’s Lacrosse Championship in 2019.

• Contributing $5.5 million in direct visitor spending in the Art Van Sports Complex’s third season (a 10 percent increase from $5 million in 2016), hosting 18 tournaments between April and October that attracted 688 teams, 8,944 athletes and 22,360 spectators who booked 7,080 hotel room nights.

Peer recognition through industry awards, including the Champion of Economic Impact in Sports Tourism for the State Games of America by Sports Destination Management, Best Sports Venue nomination for the Art Van Sports Complex in the Best of Michigan Awards by Michigan Meetings + Events, and nominee for Mike Guswiler as a 2017 Newsmaker in Sports by the Grand Rapids Business Journal.

The WMSC also has tracked a dramatic increase in metrics from its founding year in 2007 to 2017:

Number of sporting events – 76 events in 2017 from 21 in 2007

Number of visitors – 202,000 visitors in 2017 from 33,900 in 2007

Direct spending in millions – $61.1 million in 2017 from $7 million in 2007

Hotel room nights – 43,961 sports-related hotel nights booked in 2017 from 12,661 in 2007

“While the number of events on our calendar was almost the same as last year, we are attracting larger and more prestigious events on a national scale – and that says a lot for establishing our region as a premier destination for youth and amateur sports tourism,” said Guswiler.

As the West Michigan Sports Commission enters 2018, 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 two years:

2018 USA Cycling Fat Bike National Championships – February

2018 MHSAA Girls State Basketball Finals – March

2018 NAIA Lacrosse National Invitational – May

USA Weightlifting 2018 Youth National Championships/Youth Olympic Games Trials – June

U.S. Judo Federation/U.S. Judo Association Junior National Championships – July

Midwest Tandem Rally 2018 – August

2019 NAIA Men’s & Women’s Lacrosse National Invitational – May 2019

NCAA Women’s DII Lacrosse Championships – May 2019

NCAA DIII Cross Country Regionals – November 2019

The commission also remains committed to promoting the importance of youth and amateur sports in West Michigan. As part of this effort, it debuted a weekly sports talk radio program this month, "The Sports Project," in conjunction with Steve Prawdzik on Wyoming-based station WYGR (94.9-FM, 1530-AM) and at WYGR.net. Guswiler co-hosts with Prawdzik, bringing in local sports representatives such as coaches, players and other area sports personalities. The WMSC’s signature Meijer State Games program also launched a new West Michigan Corporate Challenge Sept. 5-8 to encourage West Michigan businesses to get active through friendly competition and employee camaraderie. The commission also is hosting its 12th annual luncheon May 2 featuring University of Michigan Men's Basketball Head Coach John Beilein.

The third area is leading the conversation about sports infrastructure needs in West Michigan. The WMSC assembled a facility needs committee to take a closer look at the area’s sports venue needs. In cooperation from the outcome of a Destination Asset Study led by Grand Action and Experience Grand Rapids, WMSC is taking the lead in identifying the feasibility of another multi-field sports complex concentrating on rectangle field sports. Another area of growth may include developing the river in conjunction with GR Forward, and Grand Rapids Whitewater with the possibility of Riverside Park as an anchor for an all-paddle sports venue.