Supervisors to Review Sports Tourism Plan

The Board of Supervisors will review a plan this month to draw sports tourism – and the resulting revenue – to Chesterfield County.

At the December meeting of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee, Sports Backers Event Manager Megan Silva presented an overview of a draft sports tourism plan for Chesterfield County. The recommendations were developed after 56 interviews with various groups, she said, and Sports Backers met with the Board of Supervisors to develop future goals for a sports tourism program. Also, the Henricus Dauber Dash mud run was held as part of the study.

According to its Web site, Sports Backers’ mission is to maximize the community benefits of sports tourism. The nonprofit organization organized, promoted or supported 40 area sporting events in fiscal 2008 that attracted over 351,000 participants and spectators and generated an estimated economic impact of $63 million, according to its fiscal 2008 annual report.

Organizations with the skills needed to host events are necessary to grow sports tourism, Silva told the commission. Sports Backers also found that groups with paid staff members had a lot more willingness to put on tournaments, she said. One of the challenges they faced was finding and coordinating facility space, she said.

“Chesterfield County has a traditional suburban infrastructure, which certainly serves the needs of the community,” she said, but it’s high school and park sports facilities aren’t necessarily of the quality needed to host major events. The county can use its unique venues to attract events, and some of the “non-traditional sports,” like ultimate Frisbee and other college club sports, might also use the available field space.

The plan includes a number of recommendations related to facility management, county assistance, facility development, measurement and review and goals.

A better system is needed to maximize the use of the county’s facilities, Silva said, so both local recreational needs and tournaments and special events are accommodated.

The county should control the schedules of the facilities with the most potential for sports tourism, she said.

More fields should be available during the summer, she said, when many fields have a rest period. Also, the county bureaucracy needs to be reduced – there could be a better way to streamline the process with risk management, which has caused an undue burden on event organizers in the past, she said.

The county should try to help one new sports tourism event each year, Silva said.

“First-time events are often the ones that take the most time,” she said. Chesterfield County should also develop a “welcome package” to draw people in and consider providing events with public relations assistance.

“What tends to happen for sports event organizations is they get really caught up in their sport,” she said, and public relations departments are better at finding human interest stories. Educating people about the value of sports tourism is also important.

“One of the big ways to gain support is to explain why it’s so important,” she said.

One big suggestion is that the county consider building two turf fields with lights adjacent to Ukrop Park, she said. Also, the county should develop financial plans to upgrade existing high school sports facilities, with the goal of having different schools feature the county’s best sites for different sports, according to an executive summary of the plan.

The county should track the plan’s progress, she said, and create a review panel to “really implement those strategies” in the plan and be sure it doesn’t get pushed aside.

“One thing that’s really big is to set measurable goals,” she said, and those are something the suggested review panel could come up with. Finally, she said, the county should develop one, big annual sports tourism event in the next five years.

“The events that are locally grown and developed in the community are the most prosperous,” she said.

The plan is still in its draft stages, Silva said, and a final product will be presented to the Board of Supervisors in January. County Parks and Recreation Director Michael S.

Golden said the plan’s creators are still looking for input, which the commission could get to them before the plan goes to the supervisors.
Commission Chairman Ron Maxey said the facility upgrades would require funding.

“We’re having problems finding money to cut the grass,” he said.
Midlothian District Member Lisa Quigley said it seemed that if the plan were implemented it could be a revenue generator. Maxey said Chesterfield County is “a reactive county.”

“What they say and what they do is different,” he said. “I’d just like to put some pressure on the Board of Supervisors, and I will on mine” to follow the plan through.
Golden said the department was “putting an economic development label instead of a parks and recreation label” on the plan, and that might help.

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