December 01st, 2023
L&T Opinions Page

earl watt mugL&T Publisher Earl Watt


I consider Starley Craig a friend of mine, and I hope she considers me one of hers. I have enjoyed our chats over the years and even met her pet skunk once. I have a great deal of respect for Mrs. Craig and respect her opinion on why we shouldn’t have a rec center.

I simply disagree.

Mrs. Craig raised a few questions about my attempt to clarify sports tourism, so I will try to answer those.

When I said sports tourism has nothing to do with high school or college, that’s exactly what I meant. This has nothing to do with Redskin or Saints athletics, and since Mrs. Craig asked about lower grades, it has nothing to do with Apaches or Warriors, either.

Sports tourism is about traveling teams outside of school activities. If you’ve ever heard of the Liberal Laces softball association or the Liberal Rattlers baseball program, these are examples of sports tourism teams. They play other teams from outside Liberal.

Mrs. Craig, I believe, thinks these events require local crowds that don’t know the players to come watch to be successful.

They don’t.

The very small numbers used for crowd size only includes the parents and siblings of the participants.

Mrs. Craig shares the story of a failed three-wheeler race here, and it is a perfect example of what not to expect. I don’t recall this event at all, and I’ve lived here my entire life. This event depended on local crowds to pour in to the fill the stands (I am assuming there were stands, but I don’t know if the private individual built them since he had the track built as well or where this track is today).

Motor sports have been on the decline for decades. I used to own a race car, pony stock division. Like many, I sold it and found other hobbies, like raising children and attending their events.

And that’s the key to sports tourism. To succeed, it only takes the teams and parents to make it work, and to spend the money, which I have done and millions like me across the country have done and continue to do.

The event she describes was doomed to fail even though she attended it. I am sure she was entertained. Mrs. Craig has a background in motorcycles, and this appealed to her.

But it was doomed despite the effort taken because it required massive local crowds to come watch people they didn’t know drive three-wheelers.

Sports tourism only requires the immediate family to come and watch the child they brought to town to watch him or her play. I don’t even count grandparents in the equation.

And it’s a success.

Mrs. Craig asks if she would be able to come watch. Absolutely. But the model of success doesn’t require her to make it work. Truth be told, I would rather her seat and mine be given to an out-of-town guest, but there will be plenty of room for both because these events don’t require the stands to be filled.

Remember, several games take place throughout the day in the same gym. Supporters are coming and going all day.

But Mrs. Craig likes math, so I will provide some better numbers.

Let’s start with a baseball team. It takes nine to play plus reserves, usually seven or eight, so we will say 16 players on a team.

Each of those kids has a mom and a dad (these days, many have two moms and two dads, but we will stick with just one of each), and they have siblings.

So one child on the team equates to four people coming to town. Take four times 16 players, and you have 64 people per team. Take 64 times seven teams, and you have a minimum of 448 people coming to town for an eight-team tournament (one being local).

All of those people won’t be at the field at the same time since only two teams are playing. The rest are spending money.

There are many economic impact calculators available to tell you how much tourists spend per day when coming to town, and specifically sports tourists. I used the lowest of them all that focused on small-town sports tourism from the University of Indiana.

Mrs. Craig then shares that the money goes to corporately-owned businesses and therefore is of no local benefit.

She and I agree that we prefer locally owned businesses. She owned one, and so do I.

Take those corporations out of Liberal, however, and we would all have to move to buy groceries, home supplies and clothing.

People are already shopping more and more online. You know who doesn’t shop online? The parent watching his kid play a game out of town. That parent eats in a restaurant, stays in a motel and gasses up the car. That parent shops the local stores and even watches a movie or plays a round of miniature golf just to keep busy before and after games.

Who benefits locally? All of those people who work all of those jobs, and tourists help keep those businesses economically sound so the rest of us can enjoy them, too. Importing money to town is always a good thing. Sports tourism just happens to be one good way to do it.

I appreciate Mrs. Craig posing these questions so the public can get a better understanding of sports tourism.

We are simply coming at this from two different views — one of hope and proven history, and one of fear.

Mrs. Craig is making every assumption based on her own “if” — what if it doesn’t work? In this case, she can doubt its success and it will still be a plus. The city does have to get busy and justify the staff expense by scheduling tournaments.

Many times I agree with Mrs. Craig and her no-nonsense approach to local government. But I would ask Mrs. Craig how she believes Liberal should move forward when we compete with other communities for new businesses, doctors, etc. that already have rec centers. Liberal is the largest community in Kansas without one, and many smaller than us have them. I would ask what she sees as our future, and I hope she shares it, because it is important we all share a common vision on how we move forward together.

To me, who has seen the very real effects of sports tourism, and tourism in general, I know this is not a risk without reward.

And yes, the rec center will need more (metal building, low cost) gyms, just like Hugoton, Guymon, Garden City and Dodge City. How can we expect others to invest in Liberal if we won’t invest in ourselves?



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