By Elsie Puig for TCAJOB
Ten years ago, it would have been unlikely to step into TRAC in Pasco and witness throngs of cheering fans rallying support for their favorite monster truck, now it’s a likely scenario.
TRAC, mostly known for its rodeo competitions has seen a diverse group of promoters bringing everything from motocross, sportsman shows, demolition derbies and monster trucks to the venue.
Sports, indoor or outdoor, youth sports leagues or professional sports teams, are a growing business in the Tri-Cities.
“We have three rodeo events a year, ,” said Troy Woody, TRAC general manager. “It has remained fairly static and hasn’t grown much for the past six or seven years. Rodeo is not growing but that doesn’t mean sports in general are not.”
Even though it is still difficult to get promoters and sports planners interested in this market, said Woody, TRAC, which is one of the many venues sports planners have to choose from, has been adding premier shows to its calendar every year.
“Our revenue has been growing steadily, but there is still room for more entertainment for our families,” Woody said.
In 2011, the Tri-Cities Visitor and Convention Bureau’s sports sales team booked 43 sports events scheduled to arrive in 2012 and beyond. According to the bureau, that represents more than 54,300 sports visitors and an estimated $12.6 million in future visitor spending.
And a boost in sports tournaments and games comes on the heels of a great past year in tourism, said Kris Watkins, TCVCB president. Visitors are more likely to come back to experience wine country and spend their money at our stores and restaurants, she added.
According to data collected by Dean Runyan Associates, visitors generated $392.6 million into the Tri-Cities economy in 2011. From this figure, $57.9 million was spent on accommodations and $120.9 million was spent at restaurants.
Sports that bring in individual leisure travelers, such as golf, kayaking and hiking are not calculated in these figures since they do not occupy significant space at hotel guestrooms.
Spring and summer, with its warmer weather and longer days might bring in an increase in sports-related activities to the Tri-Cities, but large sports events happen year-round, from the Blue Mountain Exchange Soccer Tournament in February to the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) State Cross Country Championships in November.
“The Tri-Cities is a premier sports destination for sports ranging from baseball to lacrosse and bowling to bass fishing,” said Watkins. “Soccer, baseball, softball, and lacrosse have grown significantly over the years.”
“Back in 1988 you only had the Americans who just came in and then if you look at what we have now we have a professional baseball team and an indoor football team,” said Jordan Owen, owner of the Tri-City Outlaws, the newest junior hockey team to start playing in the Tri-Cities.
Their first game will be held in the Toyota Arena in September.
On April 13-15, the National Softball Association of Washington hosted the Ice Breaker Girls Fast Pitch Tournament, which attracted more than 5,000 visitors and generated over $1.2 million in visitor spending. It was the sixth consecutive year the tournament was held in the Tri-Cities.
Another popular outdoor sports event, the Triple Crown Sports Father’s Day Slugfest tournament grew from 35 teams in 2007 to 140 teams in 2011. This year they expect over 160 teams to participate.
The Tri-Cities is increasingly identifying itself as a dedicated sports town, and is moving beyond baseball, softball, soccer and hockey, Watkins said. These team sports are still the biggest revenue generators for the Tri-Cities, attracting the most fans and bringing in the most visitors, said Watkins, but other up-and-comers like lacrosse are seeing an increase in participation.
The Three Rivers Lacrosse Club, which formed six years ago, is experiencing rapid expansion and increased interest, attracts many visitors from outside the area.
“It’s been awesome how much it’s grown,” said Teri Wade, who serves on the club’s board of the club and became involved after her nephews and son got started playing lacrosse. Typically, a popular sport in the U.S. east coast, it has moved westward and made its presence felt here. The club has recently added more divisions to its team roster.
The club annual shootout brings in more than 2,500 people, generating more than $514,000 to the Tri-Cities economy in just one weekend, said Watkins.
Tri-Cities has been able to accommodate by investing in its sports complexes and venues, said Watkins, and added more places to stay.
But the size of venues, like the Toyota Center in Kennewick, might limit the size of events that can be hosted there.
“I think our facility does limit us a little,” said Corey Pearson, executive director of the Three Rivers Campus.
The campus still hosts plenty of sporting events, like college basketball tournaments, wrestling and hockey tournaments, but with the recent consolidation of the basketball and volleyball meets for the WIAA, the association decided to move the meets to Seattle in search of bigger stadium space.
Pearson says, that despite those changes the Toyota Center continues to fill their calendar space with year-round sports events.
Jerry Beach, general manager for the Hilton Garden Inn Tri-Cities in Kennewick, says guests staying at the hotel to attend sports events have been pretty consistent for the last couple of years, but never to the point of overbooking.
“Before a big game, guests usually spare some time to go to the mall, restaurants and maybe catch a movie,” said Beach.
“We take great pride in the Tri-Cities’ ability to accommodate such large sports tournaments,” said Watkins. “The positive economic impact these events bring to our community benefits all Tri-Citians.”