Athletes and tourists alike are flocking to Lawrence to utilize its state-of-the-art sports facilities.
| 2017 Q3 | story by BJ Harris, photos by Steven Hertzog
Has Lawrence become a field of dreams? While it’s not quite that simple, that has certainly been the case for sports facilities in Lawrence and Douglas County. The area’s premiere sports facilities, such as Rock Chalk Park, Rim Rock Farm and the Sports Pavilion Lawrence, are attracting youth and amateur athletes from across the nation. And those athletes and their families are contributing a great deal to the local economy.
According to the National Association of Sports Commissions, estimated visitor spending associated with sports events was $9.45 billion in 2015. In Kansas, sports tourism has seen tremendous growth, as well, with the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association), NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics) and NJCAA (National Junior College Athletic Association) committed to hosting 25 regional and national championships in the state during the next five years. Those events have an economic impact of more than $50 million and include the NCAA Cross Country Regional and NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Prelims, coming to Lawrence in 2020. Visitor spending includes money spent on entry fees, equipment and venue rental, but also accounts for meals, retail shopping, lodging and travel costs. And, the good news for communities such as Lawrence that have invested in sports tourism is that it’s growing.
The Hardwood Classic, held annually at Sports Pavilion Lawrence, brings in $2.5 million in visitor spending and more than $400,000 in local taxes. Not to mention national attention—some of the best basketball prospects will make their first, but hopefully not their last, trips to Lawrence. This past winter, Heart of America Volleyball tournaments, also held at Sports Pavilion Lawrence, totaled nearly $10 million in visitor spending during the course of 11 tournaments from January to April. That event shows the diversity of Sports Pavilion Lawrence as well as the diversity of potential events in Lawrence.
In addition to the financial gains, a strong youth and amateur sports market can have a positive impact on the overall image of the community. Just as universities often view their athletic programs as the “welcome mat” to the college, sports events can offer a wonderful opportunity to showcase all of the great amenities in a community.
During the Junior Olympics, organizations such as Downtown Lawrence, the Watkins Museum of History, eXplore Lawrence, The University of Kansas and more came together to create opportunities for thousands of visitors to get out and enjoy the community. These efforts not only create additional opportunities for economic impact but also can turn visitors into future marketers. A positive visitor experience can send participants back into the world spreading good news about all of the great things to see and do in Lawrence, Kansas.
Likewise, sports events can add to a sense of community. Even the smallest events still require an immense amount of collaboration across the community. This can lead to new relationships, business partnerships and additional opportunities for nonprofit and for-profit organizations alike. In some cases, sports events have been credited with the development of new businesses, creating unique opportunities for enterprising entrepreneurs. Bringing together volunteers and businesses can create an emotional impact that will be evident long after the trophies have been lifted.
With tremendous community support and the leap of faith made by community leaders to invest in world-class facilities, Lawrence is positioned to become a major player in the sports tourism industry. The recent successes are proof that we have become a field of dreams for sporting events, but now that organizations have seen excellent event execution and a strong commitment by local leaders, volunteers, the university and community members, the goal is to entice them to continue coming back.