Officials say the sports tourism could help revitalize the local economy.
This weekend, golf balls were flying off the tee. On May 7, runners will be hauling through Town Center in an Arbor Day 5k. Later this year, soccer and lacrosse players will inundate the city and county fields. And these events bring visitors who spend money in Flagler County.
They are part of the sports tourism niche that county and city officials are trying to develop to support the economy.
“There is a market for sports in Flagler County, and through the process we have started, we will identify our target sports and strategically begin to engage new events,” said Peggy Heiser, vice president of tourism development for the Flagler County Chamber of Commerce & Affiliates.
The Sports Committee, which is a branch of the Tourist Development Council, met Tuesday for the first time as part of quarterly meetings to help evolve sports tourism. The committee comprises Steve DeAugustino, Flagler Palm Coast High School athletics director; Reggie Hunter, from Palm Harbor Golf Club; Richard Zerrahn, of the Flagler County Police Athletic League; Luanne Santangelo, of the city of Palm Coast; and others.
Heiser said she held a meeting with 26 representatives in February to explore the sports market. “We basically found out that there was a lot more going on than we realize,” she said. “Our goal was to walk away with a better understanding of who the players are, what events are happening and what our facilities are.”
According to Heiser, 1,000 room nights were booked for sports-related events in 2010 — and that was from just two lodgers.
Palm Coast City Manager Jim Landon also thinks sports tourism is a new wave the city and county can develop. Landon announced April 19 at the City Council meeting that a triathlon would be coming in the fall.
According to Landon, the city turned in a $150,000 grant application the develop more soccer and lacrosse fields.
“This is a great partnership,” Landon said. “The ultimate goal is to fill up restaurants and hotels and get people in here and discover Palm Coast.”
With an average of about 2.4 family members accompanying each of 25 players on 50 lacrosse teams, Landon said, one tournament could draw 3,000 people for a weekend.
“What we’re trying to go after are the collegiate and youth sports,” Heiser added. “The reason why is because they draw families.”
Those families bring in more room nights which translates to more bed tax money collected by the county.
Over the weekend of Saturday, April 30, Palm Harbor Golf Club hosted the first Tri-County Open, which drew about 70 golfers, most of whom came from out of town.
“We have a lot of nice facilities, and we’re developing the partnerships,” Landon said. “I think the future is going out and maximizing our potential, and that’s where the efforts of the TDC (come in). It’s important to work with the business community so when they are here, we give them the right tools to go out and spend money here.”
Heiser said the ultimate goal is to have the TDC involved in all potential sporting events to help increase the chances of bringing those events to town.
“I believe that we’re making great progress,” she said. “This year, we’re laying the groundwork and next year, we hope to launch the marketing and have a better idea of what sports we should target.”