Published in Economic Development
Report: Sports tourism returns to pre-pandemic levels in Kalamazoo  COURTESY PHOTO

Report: Sports tourism returns to pre-pandemic levels in Kalamazoo 

BY Tuesday, April 19, 2022 11:45am

The city of Kalamazoo generated $15.4 million in economic impact from more than 40 different local, regional and national sporting events held in 2021, according to a new report. 

Discover Kalamazoo Sports, an organization that works to attract, facilitate and promote sporting events in Kalamazoo, this week released the report detailing 2021 activity as the local sports industry moved beyond more restrictive phases of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kalamazoo hosted more than 40 events that attracted more than 20,000 youth, amateur, college and professional athletes, according to the report. 

Brian Persky, director of sports event development for the city’s visitors bureau, Discover Kalamazoo, told MiBiz that the report suggests solid momentum for Kalamazoo coming out of the pandemic. By some metrics, sports tourism has exceeded pre-pandemic levels, Persky added.

“It was somewhat of a banner year in the sense that COVID impacted the local economy — not just in Kalamazoo, but everywhere,” Persky said. “Sports was one of those few areas, despite things like travel, that we think was part of the reason the local economy rebounded so strongly.”

In 2019, sporting events in Kalamazoo generated $26.9 million in economic impact compared to the $15.4 million in 2021. Persky said 2019 featured some large one-off events leading to unusually high economic impact for the year. Estimated economic impact for 2020 was a meager $4.8 million.

However, the city in 2021 eclipsed pre-pandemic levels for hotel room stays — one of the primary gauges for tourism success. In 2019, the organization tracked 27,308 room nights compared to 34,758 room nights generated last year.

“We feel that we’ve accomplished that goal (of returning to pre-pandemic levels),” Persky said. “But having said that, we’re definitely not satisfied. We actually set our goals even higher for 2022 because we think Kalamazoo continues to be well-positioned post-pandemic.”

The United States Tennis Association (USTA) national championships for boys ages 16 to 18 — a longstanding event in Kalamazoo — was one of the primary events that anchored 2021. The event, held at Kalamazoo College, attracted 470 athletes, coaches and event personnel, leading to 2,880 hotel room nights and $1.2 million in economic impact, per Discover Kalamazoo Sports.

Kalamazoo also was home to the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) wrestling individual and team state finals as well as U.S. Figure Skating’s national solo dance finals.

For the upcoming year, Kalamazoo is hosting events including the return of the 2022 Can-Am softball tournament, Latitude 42 Senior Pro Open Pickleball Tournament, Michigan Horseshoe Championship, and Michigan Kubb Championship, among others.

Discover Kalamazoo embarked on strategic planning for sports tourism around three years ago and formed the Discover Kalamazoo Sports brand, Persky said.

“I’d say in the last several years, we have definitely invested more resources in that area,” Persky said. “We’re seeing the return on the investment whenever we have invested in it.”

Elsewhere in the region, the West Michigan Sports Commission earlier this year released a similar report, showing that it had eclipsed pre-pandemic levels by generating $55.5 million in economic impact for West Michigan. That number dipped down to $13.5 million in 2020 during widespread closures caused by the pandemic.

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