Madera County supervisors are hoping to make their region a magnet for amateur and youth sporting events and are paying for a study to learn if it can be done.
Supervisors voted last week to pay $68,100 to a Florida firm that consults on sports tourism and has built sports facilities for communities across the country.
Madera County’s payment for sports tourism feasibility study
The idea is to make the Madera area a sports tourism center for large-scale tournaments, such as baseball, softball, volleyball, soccer, equestrian, mountain biking and cross country races, and other sports. The goal is to generate tourism dollars: When families of young athletes come to the community, they spend money on food, lodging, gas and other retail needs.
The sports tourism company, Sports Facilities Advisory-Sports Facilities Management, will determine if Madera County could host those types of events by preparing a market study that will include financial forecasts, types of facilities with the best opportunities for financial gain and an economic impact analysis.
Eric Fleming, county administrative officer, said the board wants to increase sports opportunities for the community if it creates economic benefits. The county’s good weather and Central California location places Madera in a potentially positive position as a venue for sports tourism, which could become a key part of the county’s economic development activities, he said.
The feasibility study will determine which sports are in the highest demand, what the Madera market can accommodate, the types of facilities needed and ways to finance, build and operate a possible indoor/outdoor sports facility and possibly more than one facility.
“The demand is there and it’s in a variety of areas, but we just don’t have adequate facilities, the space or assets to meet that demand,” Fleming said.
He said the county will seek partnerships with local school districts, and the cities of Madera and Chowchilla.
Jack Adams, a vice president with the consulting firm, told supervisors last week that the feasibility study will determine whether the county should consider a sports marketing project.
He said the company doesn’t automatically support building sports tourism projects, but of those they have recommended, 95% are successful.
The company will conduct site visits and community meetings in Madera County to measure sports participation rates by age group, demographic and preferred sports before developing an analysis.
SFA/SFM has aided a turnaround for the BucksMont Indoor Sports Center, 30 miles east of Philadelphia, Pennsyvlvania, said Joe Reid, the 78,000-square-foot facility’s general manager.
Original projections after opening eight years ago were not being met, he said, but after Sports Facilities Management was hired to study the center’s programs, the center became profitable in 18 months, about six months ahead of schedule.
Soccer is the major sport at the facility, about 40% to 45% of usage, but lacrosse is a major activity, too, Reid said. One of the largest improvements in revenues came from the number of birthday parties, which went from two or three per months to between 40 and 60, he said.
“There was a road map given to us instead of throwing things out there and seeing what sticks,” Reid said.
So far this year, BucksMont is 33% ahead of attendance projections, he said.
David Rogers, chairman of the Board of Supervisors, said he could envision multiple sites for soccer, equestrian, baseball, softball, rock-climbing facilities, BMX and off-highway vehicle trails or races.
“We have had a lot of interest and some great success in hosting quite a few tournaments,” Rogers said.
But the county leaders want to move ahead with well-thought out plans.
“We are anxious to do things, but we want to do it from an educated angle,” he said.
The county paid for the feasibility study with money from an insurance settlement. The study should be done within three months.
The county has enough hotel space and restaurants that will benefit from a sports tourism program, said Bobby Kahn, Madera County Economic Development Commission executive director.
“We could handle a pretty sizable crowd, and there may be some overflow into Fresno,” he said.
Families spend money to watch their children play in large tournaments. In 2013, the county hosted a large Bobby Sox softball tournament that brought 54 teams and hundreds of girls and their families to Madera.
Having large facilities for sports projects will ease the burdens on school districts and city parks, which have to pay overtime for workers to mow, prune and clean up when events are held at schools or city parks.
School districts, cities of Madera and Chowchilla and the county must measure whether tax revenues from hotel lodging, food, retail and gas purchases exceed the costs of hosting large-scale sporting events.
“It needs to be thoroughly vetted, but I’m very optimistic to see things like this happen,” Kahn said. “But we’re not the experts in these types of venues, so we will learn if we move forward or say it’s not in the cards right now.”
|Chowchilla News Day
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