Making the best use of existing facilities and growing local events was the recommendation of a professional company hired to evaluate the area’s sporting venues.
That was the message brought by members of Huddle Up Group last week during a presentation before city, county, and local sports facility officials.
With sports tourism being one of the fastest growing industries in the nation, the idea of a sporting complex in London was brought up before city and county tourism officials last year. Huddle Up Group, based in Phoenix, Arizona and having branch offices in select areas of the country, was hired to do a feasibility study of the area.
Gary Alexander and Jon Schmieder with Huddle Up Group presented their findings and recommendations that highlighted the area’s strengths and weaknesses – most of which involved enhancing the existing facilities, marketing local events, and creating more attractions in the area.
But such an effort requires some major expenditures as well as the cooperation of all entities involved in the sports offerings in the area, according to the two Huddle Up representatives.
The city’s 3 percent restaurant tax provides an ample revenue for funding events, with London’s location off Interstate 75 being an easy exit for travelers from other areas, Schmieder pointed out. The existing events such as the Redbud Ride, Archery Shooters Association’s 3-D archery competition, World Chicken Festival, Bowling Family Music Festival and various events at Wildcat Harley-Davidson dealership are a plus for tourism in the area as well.
“You’ve got some really good local events,” Schmieder said.
But the lack of indoor sporting facilities to host tournaments and competitions is one area where London and Laurel County fall short, Huddle Up officials stated. The baseball and softball fields were also an area needing improvements, with the report stating permanent lighting and better field surfaces such as artificial turf would greatly improve the chances of bringing more sporting events to the area.
Organizational structure was the primary improvement for the area, Schmieder said. Hiring a sports director to coordinate events among the various sporting facility directors and offering other attractions to tourists during their free time is a consideration that would enhance and encourage future visits.
The Laurel-London Optimist Club is listed as one of the area’s “biggest asset and also the biggest challenge” to sporting tourism enhancement, the report states. By adding a stadium soccer/football field with bleachers, improved lighting, and sound system, the opportunities to bring in more than just local events could be a major asset to sports tourism in the area.
Adding a calendar of events to the tourism directors so other events can be coordinated and planned to enhance the tourists’ experience in the county is another facet that could improve travel to the area.
“Local promoters could really help you guys a lot,” Schmieder continued. “The Redbud Ride and other events – you have funds in your budget for those, which is really cool. Some of those get spent and some don’t. We could put some of that money to work.”
Schmieder suggested that specific funds be benchmarked to help facilities improve their events and physical structures.
The best practice nationally is to invest that money back,” he said. “If you invest $ 1, you want $ 9 back out of it.”
Incentives to bring in golf tournaments are higher in the London area than in other areas, Schmieder said. With both he and Alexander being avid golfers, they are familiar with the game and work with other cities that host the AJGA (American Junior Golf Association) tournaments each year.
“You’re paying more than any other clients,” he said. “I would revisit that one specifically.”
Comparing the number of hotel/motel stays, revenues from restaurants and incentives is a major part of what Schmieder said could be reallocated.
A directed look at which sporting events draw in more tourists was another aspect that Schmieder discussed. He said girls teams usually brought in more family members than all boy teams, and added that soccer and lacrosse are quickly rising as travel sports teams.
“The three biggest sports are baseball, softball and soccer,” he added, “with summer being the best attraction time when school is out.”
Considering the non-traditional competitive events is something Alexander pointed out as potential tourist attractions.
“The non-traditional events that have growing venues is cup stacking,” he said. “And Ultimate – don’t call it Frisbee – and Quidditch and drone racing. Drone racing is growing.”
Schmieder and Alexander both said consideration for winter month activities – which could be enhanced by an indoor facility – would also be beneficial in the sports tourism industry.
Other interests that could be hosted in the area included Mixed Marital Arts (MMA), which has risen 77 percent in the past three years, totaling nearly 1.3 million athletes; Pickleball, which has grown “four-fold” over the past three years; cheer and dance competitions, which usually number 13 events each year and involves approximately 1.6 million participants. Boxing and roller hockey are other fast growing indoor sports events that have shown rising participation over the past five years, according to the report prepared by Alexander and Schmieder. Archery, indoor soccer and volleyball are also listed as potential tourism generators.
The recommendations of the feasibility study will now be forwarded on the committee members representing tourism and the various schools and sports facilities for their consideration.