By Eric Sawyer
President/CEO, Spokane Sports

Sports tourism occupies a unique position in economic development strategies across America. Thanks to a coordinated effort between government and private industry, Spokane has knowingly invested in sports as an economic and community development tool.

Through the years, Spokane has hosted a number of NCAA Championships, high school tournaments, and an array of national and international events, including our beloved annual events, Bloomsday and Hoopfest.

Spokane has set attendance records, and our reputation for hosting quality events has not gone unnoticed by the governing bodies of sports. Spokane continues to invest in new facilities and improve our current venues, knowing our reputation as a desirable host city will grow and have lasting benefits.

Hosting sporting events generates an economic impact by way of visitor spending. Methods used to measure this spending remain varied, but one thing is certain: these events bring a diverse and substantial economic benefit to the community.

The daily spending by one sports-related visitor in Spokane can easily exceed $200. This injection of dollars flows through the local economy and has a downstream effect on employment, wages, and taxes. Visitor spending contributes to the local tax base, which in turn reduces the tax obligation for each citizen locally by as much as $1,000 annually. In 2019, the direct visitor spending from sports was estimated to be over $80 million. As new facilities come to fruition, we can easily exceed $100 million per year.

Sporting activities hold an almost overriding role in the consciousness of Americans. As a result, the media exposure created by sporting events is significant. For example, in a typical year of hosting the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, approximately fifteen hours of games are broadcast from Spokane. The resulting positive media attention builds a strong brand for the community, promoting future tourism, relocation and investment. These positive impressions are a “postcard” from Spokane, showing a healthy community with a high quality of life. The advertising equivalencies are measured literally in the millions of dollars.

The hosting of sporting events has been an important part of the entertainment mix in the Spokane community. The Spokane Arena has played host to world-class events, including NCAA Basketball Championships, Memorial Cup hockey, and National Figure Skating Championships.  Furthermore, every year the Convention Center is converted to a tournament site for the Pacific Northwest Qualifier (national volleyball event) and Middle School Basketball Championships, together bringing over $25 million in economic impact to the region annually.

The Podium, a new multipurpose sports venue, will start to show its impact soon, as it’s scheduled to host the USATF National Indoor Championships in February 2022. Events like this, and more to come, will contribute to a diverse mix of entertainment options for locals.

Our community is fortunate to have the Spokane Public Facilities District (SPFD) owning and operating these facilities. Their experience and commitment to providing unique and flexible entertainment venues has been the foundation for Spokane’s successful run with hosting sporting events. The SPFD’s mission is to maintain quality venues, while having the vision to build new facilities and broaden the associated economic and community development benefits.

Yet, “if you build it, they will come” is a myth. Venues must be properly maintained, and most important, marketed successfully in order to fully realize their potential in the community. The SPFD has been strategic and effective at building partnerships to address marketing goals, while generating and securing the appropriate funding to maintain their buildings to the highest standards. As a non-profit sports marketing organization, Spokane Sports works closely with the SPFD to attract, develop and sustain sporting events in their buildings – and it works well.

In the coming year, The Podium will be added to the SPFD’s inventory. This unique and versatile facility is built with the goal of expanding the impact of sports-related tourism. Its accessible downtown location on the North Bank of Riverfront Park offers spectacular views, sure to be its best-selling feature.

Boasting the only hydraulically banked 200-meter indoor track on the west coast, The Podium will be a showcase for world-class track and field athletes. Demonstrating its versatility, the track can be lowered to provide competition space for a wide range of indoor sports, such as volleyball, basketball, and wrestling. When not used for events, The Podium can be converted to support the growth of local sports programs.

Spokane has a bright future in sports, and in the coming years, the local community will benefit from its economic impact. At the same time, sports will help build a sustainable downtown and promote the Spokane brand as a livable, active community.

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