Sports are good for our quality of life – they keep us healthy and teach us about teamwork. Sports also are good for our economic quality of life – bringing in much-needed dollars to businesses big and small in cities across the country. A tournament coming to town helps everyone – from the transportation service that picks up the team, to the hotel where they stay, to the venue where they play, to the hot dog joint around the corner where athletes grab a snack.

While we know this philosophically, hard data shows just how much impact sports make. In West Michigan, it’s significant. Throughout the United States, the youth-amateur sports industry is worth $9.5 billion annually. Parents spend a LOT of money on sports for their kids. And national rights holders need to host their tournaments somewhere. It makes sense that we should bid on as much of that business as possible to bring it to our region.

And bring it we did. In 2018, we hosted the most youth and amateur sporting events in a single year in the West Michigan Sports Commission’s history at 88 events that attracted 225,808 athletes. In dollars and cents, that translates to $51.8 million in direct visitor spending and 45,805 hotel nights booked – dollars that wouldn’t have come to our community if we hadn’t attracted these youth and amateur sporting events. Read more about our 2018 success in the recent Grand Rapids Business Journal cover story, WMSC knocks it out of park

So how did we do it – and how do we continue the momentum? Here are some secrets of our success:

1. Attract and host more national events.
National rights holders always need venues for their annual tournaments, and they bring in loads of athletes, large crowds and prestige – not to mention an exciting spectator opportunity. Last year was chock-full of prestigious events with national governing bodies like USA Cycling (the USA Cycling 2018 Fat Bike National Championships came here for the second consecutive year), National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (the NAIA 2018 Lacrosse National Invitational was a first for Michigan and the first NAIA national event in West Michigan), USA Weightlifting (the 2018 National Youth Championships), and U.S. Judo Federation/U.S. Judo Association judo(the 2018 USJF/USJA Junior National Championships was the first judo junior national championship in West Michigan). We also hosted the USA-Canada Men’s Slow Pitch Senior Border Battle and the 2018 Midwest Tandem Rally (the largest tandem bicycle event in North America).

This year, we continue that momentum with even more national events, including a few firsts such as the 2019 USA Hockey Youth Tier I National Championships in April, NCAA 2019 Women’s DII Lacrosse Championships in May, 2019 USA BMX Great Lakes Nationals in August, and two USA Softball Championship events in August – the Men’s Open Eastern Fastpitch National Championship and Men's Slow Pitch Class D Northern Championship.

2. Book more tournaments and leagues at the Art Van Sports Complex.
In 2018, the Art Van Sports Complex generated $3.3 million in direct visitor spending, hosting 17 tournaments between April and September that attracted 613 teams, 7,969 athletes and 19,922 softballspectators. Kicking off our fifth season in 2019, we have a record 23 events on the books scheduled into mid-October for our longest season yet. This is in part due to expanded agreements with Game Day USA who will increase its number of events to 13, plus adding new tournament operators like the National Softball Association (NSA). We are also partnering with USA Softball to expand weekday slow pitch leagues.

3. Grow the Meijer State Games of Michigan plus add national Olympic-style events.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of hosting our flagship event, the Meijer State Games of Michigan, which generated $2.7 million in direct visitor spending in 2018 from 9,602 athletes who competed in 69 sports between the Summer and Winter Games. Our track record for successfully hosting Olympic-style events is so strong that we’re getting tapped for national events of this caliber. Not only did we host the 2017 State Games of America, but we won the bid last year to host the 2020 USA Masters Games for the first time, June 26-28, 2020.

How to Help
We have much to be proud of in West Michigan with our leadership in hosting youth and amateur sports, and the WMSC will continue to drive our region forward as the premier place to host youth and amateur sporting events.

You can be part of growing sports tourism in West Michigan! Do you play a sport with an active local club that has a relationship with the sport’s national organizing body? Let us know if you want to partner with the WMSC to attract and host a national tournament in your sport.

Contact us if you’d like to learn more about what we do and how to get involved!

Mike Guswiler
Mike is president of the West Michigan Sports Commission.

Latest Entries

As we prepare for 2020, I’d like to take a moment to review 2019 – it was another great year for youth and amateur sports in West Michigan!