Grand Rapids has become the #1 youth baseball destination in Michigan
Thanks for 10 great years! #WMSCTurns10
And just like that, we’re 10 years old.
I remember that June day in 2007 when the inaugural WMSC Board of Directors brought me in to lead the newly formed West Michigan Sports Commission (WMSC) as a staff of one at the time. The mission was simple – to promote West Michigan as a premier venue for hosting youth and amateur sporting events to enhance the region’s economy and quality of life.
We’re now a team of nine and counting, and while we’re not the new kids in town any more, our work at attracting youth and amateur sports to West Michigan is busier than ever. None of this could have happened without the community’s support. We owe a debt of thanks to so many – for believing in our cause, for partnering with us, and for helping us with time, expertise and donations.
In the spirit of our 10th anniversary, I thought I’d reflect on the core of what we do, what we’ve accomplished in ten years, where we’re headed, and how you can continue to participate or join us if you are just learning about this organization.
What do we do?
The WMSC is one of about 110 sports commissions around the country whose purpose is to attract and host (or produce) sports events in the local region. Why pursue sports? As a $9.45 billion national industry, youth and amateur sports is a serious economic driver, bringing athletes and their families to not only play but stay in our hotels, dine in our restaurants and shop in our stores.
Even with 10 years in business, I still run into people who don’t know about us and how we help drive this industry locally. That is because we’re in the background promoting West Michigan so that national organizing bodies bring their events to West Michigan. If you think of any major amateur sports event in West Michigan in the last 10 years –USA Table Tennis-US Open, WCHA Final Five, NCAA Championships, USA Rowing Masters National Championship, National Golden Gloves; those and 575 events like them came because the WMSC competed for and won bids to host them here versus other cities in the country.
In addition to pitching regional and national sports organizations to bring their tournaments here, we also help with on-the-ground hosting support – whether it’s identifying blocks of hotel rooms, recruiting volunteers or promoting their events. We also help local sports clubs with attracting their sports’ respective national events.
What have we done?
The numbers tell part of our story. We hosted 21 events with 33,900 visitors our first year that generated $7 million in economic impact. Even with the recession of 2008, sports tourism held steady as families sacrificed in other areas while still allowing their children to play travel sports. Fast forward to 2016, when we hosted 80 sporting events that attracted 154,850 athletes and visitors and $46.2 million. And over our 10-year history, we have brought 575 sporting events and tournaments to West Michigan that attracted 880,000 athletes and visitors, generating $240 million.
How did we do it? By methodically building a youth and amateur sports culture in West Michigan. Over the years, we have partnered with numerous local sports clubs, from Grand Rapids Rowing to Grand Rapids Table Tennis Club; in order to pursue top national tournaments in those sports. In 10 years, we also have watched our region boom with development, including area colleges and universities who have added state-of-the-art tracks, arenas and other sports facilities that allow us to jointly bid on regional and national tournaments from MHSAA Finals to NCAA events.
And when something didn’t exist, we built it ourselves with community partners – we started the Meijer State Games of Michigan, now an annual signature event, in 2010. By 2016, we nearly tripled the number of sports, doubled the number of athletes, and doubled direct visitor spending. We added a Winter Games in 2014. We also built a tournament-quality baseball/softball complex, the Art Van Sports Complex, in 2014 using almost exclusively private contributions. (For our top 10 contributions over the past 10 years, see my December blog post.)
Where are we headed?
While we’ve had 10 great years, we’re just getting warmed up. We want to keep driving the local conversation about infrastructure. As more sports enter the scene (think emerging sports like fat biking, quidditch and even e-sports), more tournaments are being scheduled that need venues. And more venues means more tournaments that we can host – and more dollars we can bring into our community. We have a team taking inventory of area facilities and making recommendations to our city leaders, and we’re weighing in on potential projects like a possible multi-sports complex for sports like soccer, rugby, lacrosse, flag-football and other field sports to an all-paddle sports venue on the Grand River. We also plan to host the best State Games of America in history – and we’re proud to bring it to Michigan Aug. 3-6 for the first time, growing the State Games of Michigan brand that promotes health, wealth and fitness.
How can you participate?
Our success has always been because of the community. And there are many ways to get involved!
Volunteer - With approximately 80 events per year, we’re always looking for volunteers to do everything from athlete check-in to event set-up. (Register for our volunteer newsletter to get alerts.) The biggest opportunity is the 2017 State Games of America, which will need 1,000-plus volunteers to pull off! Sign up here to volunteer for the SGA.
Donate – As a 501(c)(3), we always need private dollars to support our operating budget to continue marketing our region. We also need to pay our small staff, manage and operate the Art Van Sports Complex – and ideally raise enough funds to support a Phase II of another quad of fields. We’d love your support, whether to our general operating budget or to a special cause like the Art Van Sports Complex.
Partner – Do you play a sport that has a national tournament? We can help you pitch, win and host your sport’s tournament. Do you have expertise to loan to the WMSC? We’re always looking for committed individuals to join our Board of Directors or Advisory Council. Or maybe you (or a family member) happen to be studying sports management in college. Apply for one of our coveted internships!
Follow us – We invite you to follow our news and updates. Visit us at westmisports.com, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as well as our anniversary hashtag, #wmscturns10. You can also read about us in the June issue of Grand Rapids magazine (pg. 64) or the Summer issue of Michigan Meetings & Events (pg. 74).
We’ve had a great run this past decade, and we’re excited for the next 10 years and beyond. Thank you for your support!
In less than 30 days, West Michigan will celebrate the 10th annual Meijer State Games of Michigan
When any sport season begins, the ultimate goal is a national championship.
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