A Winning Proposition
We’ve written on many occasions about how the region’s economy has moved on from its strong manufacturing heritage, but is still very much searching for something else with which to create jobs and revitalize cities and towns. And we’ve said that this something else is actually many things — but especially both the development of new, potential-laden sectors, such as green energy and the biosciences, and the expansion of other, existing sectors, such as education, healthcare, retail, and, yes, tourism.
And so we are encouraged by the announcement that area tourism and hospitality leaders have joined other regions of the country in creating a sports commission dedicated to the assignment of bringing more and different sporting events and championships to the four counties of Western Mass. (see story on page 14). The commission, launched last month, will bring organization and sophistication to the work of hosting events, and if it succeeds — and we believe it will — the region’s broad hospitality sector should benefit greatly.
This commission is not a game changer when it comes to the regional economy — it’s not going to dramatically alter the fortunes of specific venues, like the MassMutual Center, business groups (such as restaurants or hotels), or individual cities and towns that host events. But it could well be an important contributor at a time when area economic-development leaders understand that there isn’t one answer to the region’s ongoing sluggishness, but several answers.
As the commission begins its work, though, it’s important to keep expectations in check. Greater Springfield is not going to play host to the 2024 Olympics, the 2022 World Cup, the Super Bowl, or any of the seemingly endless number of college football bowl games. And it probably won’t host another of golf’s major championships, as it did in 2004, when the U.S. Golf Association brought the U.S. Women’s Open to the Orchards in South Hadley.
It is far more likely that the region will play host to gymnastics events, cycling competitions, weightlifting, rowing, or other, less-high-profile events. But there is opportunity with these smaller tournaments to fill hotel rooms, bring more business to area restaurants, and give the region the exposure it needs to become a destination for still more events.
Attracting such events will not be easy, primarily because the competition for them is mounting — there are now roughly 300 sports commissions around the country, a phenomenon fueled by the vast potential of sports as an economic driver. But this region has some advantages as it prepares to compete with other regions.
These include location — Greater Springfield is easily accessible to many population centers — as well as affordability (this is a third-tier destination with rates to fit almost any budget) and a host of amenities and attractions that will give competitors and their families something else to do while they’re here.
The region also boasts 17 colleges and universities that help provide it with a strong portfolio of sporting assets (arenas, fields, tennis courts, among others) as well as resources ranging from several rivers and mountains to bicycle and motocross tracks.
Add it all up, and the sports commission can make a pretty strong case as it markets the four western counties to the National Collegiate Athletic Assoc. and myriad other event-staging organizations.
As we said earlier, the addition of a half-dozen or 10 carefully chosen sporting events is not going to dramatically change the picture here in Western Mass. But for many business sectors and communities, they can improve the picture, and become one of the many answers this region will need as it goes about bolstering and diversifying its economy.