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Friday
December 09th, 2022
L&T Opinions Page

earl watt mugL&T Publisher Earl Watt

 

When we think of local tourism, we generally think about Dorothy’s House, the Coronado Museum, the Land of Oz exhibit, and the Mid-America Air Museum. Rarely do we consider the economic impact they have on our community.

We also do not consider some other activities to be associated with tourism, like baseball tournaments, softball tournaments, soccer tournaments and more. These are known as sports tourism.

When you stop to consider that our tourist attractions bring in more than 21,000 people per year to the community, and based on tourism calculations, that adds up to almost $5 million in local economic impact.

That’s the money visitors spend on motel rooms, dining, fuel and shopping.

When you consider the budgets to operate our tourist attractions, they are a small fraction of the overall impact. For less than $800,000, the community sees a $5 million benefit.

Sports tournaments have similar returns.

Liberal has taken significant steps in recent years to upgrade our outdoor sports facilities with additional youth baseball fields, softball fields and soccer fields.

The more tournaments we can schedule at these facilities, the higher their economic impact will be on the community.

Scheduling an eight-team weekend tournament can have an economic impact of more than $100,000, and a decent traveling basketball tournament can bring in more than $300,000.

Add all of that up, and you can see how sports tourism can have a strong economic impact on the community using mostly volunteers.

I have heard some people asking how much it will cost to create a recreation center, but the real question is how much it is costing the community by not having one.

With a recreation center that has multiple gym floors, tournaments can be a common occurrence, and that can bring in big bucks on a weekly basis.

The fact is we are losing money every weekend that passes that we don’t have a rec center.

We have an active Liberal Baseball Association which has been able to secure district, state and regional tournaments here in Liberal, and we need to support this to get as many as we possibly can.

Likewise, we need to support the ongoing development of the girls softball association which is trying to do the same thing for girls events.

Liberal is also blessed with our new schools and the gymnasiums they each have. The three new elementary schools were designed to have full size basketball courts, something the old schools did not have, and the two middle schools also have quality gyms. Couple that with the gym at the former West Middle School which is now the East campus of Liberal High School, and the two gyms in the LHS main building, as well as the gym floor at Seward County Community College, and Liberal could easily host several MAYB tournaments each year that could bring in weekends that would have more than a half-million dollars in economic impact each.

And here’s the best part of tourism dollars — they are the cleanest dollar you can ever get. You don’t have to hire more teachers, build more streets or experience other tax increases. Visitors come to town, they stay in our hotels (for a fee), eat at our restaurants (for a fee), they pay entry fees to play in the tournaments, they fuel their vehicles, visit our other tourist destinations, take in a movie, shop at our stores, and then they head back home.

The money they spend here stays here.

When we don’t have tournaments, we force our parents and athletes to leave town and participate elsewhere, and they take their money out of town with them.

Sports tourism is a great way to expand the local economy and retain our own at the same time.

As the new economic development corporation takes shape, it would be wise to remember and encourage the economic impact of all aspects of tourism, including sports tourism, as a way to enhance the local economy.

We may not have mountains and streams, but we have ball fields, airplanes and Dorothy’s House, and soon we will have the new Seward County Heritage Center which will also bring new exhibits to town, giving our area residents more reasons to visit Liberal.

With these assets in place, we need to put them to work. The more tournaments, the more exhibits, the more events, the more tourism dollars, and that should make all of us happy.

GUEST COLUMN, Ganon Evans, Kansas Policy Institute

 

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