Sports tourism can give communities an economic boost

Posted On August 25, 2023

Sports are fun, an entertaining way to spend our weekends. But they can also provide an economic boost to a community through sports tourism.

Take Huntsville, for instance. The thriving north Alabama city hosted 59 sporting events last year, bringing in more than $32 million in economic impact and generating more than 52,000 hotel room nights.

Our guest in the latest episode of “What’s Working with Cam Marston” is the man whose job it is to attract those events — Joel Lamp, convention sales and sports manager for the Huntsville/Madison County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Lamp, who was featured in August edition of Business Alabama, has worked in sports in some capacity since college. He left a job in Jacksonville, Fla., to come to Huntsville because he saw opportunity in the city’s growth and its commitment to building and upgrading sports facilities.

Those facilities were built for community use, he said, but with the knowledge that they could also attract tournaments and other events that would draw competitors – and, often, their families – from miles around.

“They were designed with both groups in mind,” Lamp said of Huntsville’s sports facilities. “Whatever the sport is, we’ve got an opportunity to host a travel tournament and bring people into Huntsville for tourism.”

Huntsville has minor league baseball and hockey, two ice rinks, a natatorium, a beach volleyball complex and a large soccer complex. It has also exercised foresight in repurposing older facilities, renovating an old baseball stadium into a soccer facility and turning a golf course that had been losing money into a world-class cross country and disc golf complex.

These facilities allow Huntsville to compete with other similar-sized Southern cities for many different types of sports events, from youth swim meets and cross country events to disc golf tournaments and other adult activities.

“In the Southeast it’s uber-competitive to bring events in. Sometimes we punch a little bit above our weight,” he said. “Once we get people to Huntsville, they love what they see and they’re like, ‘I want to bring my event here.’ My return ratio on people once they get here to signing and bringing their event here is 100 percent right now.”

The economic impact brought in by these events is a significant boost to the city’s overall economy, particularly during times of the year that are quiet otherwise.

“Sports is supposed to fill your weekends,” Lamp said. “That’s kind of the idea from a sports tourism standpoint: We need to be able to take the facilities that we have for everything else, from a business/community standpoint, and then how do we make it work as well as we can for those weekends? And know that there are certain times of the year when we need to find an event to help build the community up. We’re always looking for December and January events, because those are the two lowest-occupancy months in Huntsville.”

The newest sports tourism craze? Pickleball. And, you guessed it, Huntsville is building a pickleball complex.

“You can build your sports tourism as big or as little as you want,” Lamp said. “It kind of depends on what fits your market and your destination.”

Categories: Blog, What's Working with Cam Marston