BY KATHY GIBBONS
TRAVERSE CITY — Youth sports tournaments are money.
A study released Wednesday shows Traverse Bay Area Youth Soccer's spring and fall tournaments and the fast-growing, mid-summer Cherry Bomb Lacrosse tournament spur $3.4 million in direct spending across the region.
The Traverse Bay Economic Development Corp. funded the study, which came about after TBAYS officials approached the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce.
"I went into it trying to get more support from the community, so that instead of it being an inconvenience, that people are embracing it," said TBAYS Executive Director Jennifer Jorgensen. "I think that whether it's hotels, or restaurants, we should really take a close look at what if these didn't exist — what's the advantage of having them?"
Chamber officials decided a survey would be a helpful start to determine the impact of "... when a youth sports event comes into town for a couple of days," said Chief Operating Officer Laura Oblinger.
Combined, the events attract 15,900 youth athletes and their families. Based on responses from almost 700 parents, the study showed, median average income of those attending is nearly twice that of a typical Michigan tourist.
Tournament participants use more than 2,000 hotel rooms a night and frequent nearly 100 restaurants, as well as dozens of retail stores.
Study results also indicated families plan to come back, whether for recreational travel or to relocate here with their families — and potentially their businesses.
"We know a good percentage of these folks have good positions, have higher incomes and have literally said, in some cases, we expect to move here in five to 10 years," Oblinger said.
The Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau typically works with the tournaments to procure blocks of hotel rooms and coordinate reservations between teams and the hotels.
Visitors bureau President Brad Van Dommelen said his staff had already been discussing the value of trying to attract more amateur sporting events to the region — from softball or basketball to others like sailing, fishing, kiteboarding and windsurfing.
"One of the things that the study pointed out is the huge potential for amateur sports," he said.
All of that sounds good to tournament organizers, who hope the study raises awareness of their economic impact on the community.
Ed Chima, one of the directors of Cherry Bomb Lacrosse, said the study could prompt more discussion with local business officials, particularly lodging interests, "in order for us to make it better for everybody — for the customers coming in and for the local businesses and citizens to enjoy what these folks might bring in."