League City could one day be a prime destination for sports tournaments and other athletic events, at least if city officials have their way.
“If you take a look at the time and money parents spend in taking their children to sporting events around the state — band and cheerleading also — you realize there are a lot of opportunities to bring events to the city,” said Bryan Roller, the city’s Convention and Visitors Bureau administrator.
Sports tourism is any travel where people are either observing or participating in sporting events and, in recent years, has become a target for cities across the state and country, including Galveston and League City.
Galveston County’s largest city recently made further inroads into the sports tourism market when officials announced it will host a three-day basketball tournament in April that staff said would bring $500,000 in economic benefit to the area.
The high-school tournament, hosted in conjunction with Clear Creek Independent School District, will bring more than 125 teams, including parents, officials and college scouts to League City, officials said.
League City’s market is ripe for those opportunities and it doesn’t require much in the way of investment, Roller said.
“We have good athletic facilities here and so we want to bring events into the area,” Roller said.
Clear Creek officials have said they are willing to work with city staff to court similar opportunities.
“We enthusiastically support initiatives that bring people to our area to see the quality of living and learning afforded to them in League City,” said Elaina Polsen, spokeswoman for the district. “We work with the city and other community organizations to facilitate rental agreements of our schools and fields on a regular basis.”
‘A LOT TO OFFER’
The city already has had some success courting athletic events, including being back-to-back hosts of the Major League Quidditch Championship in 2016 and 2017, officials said.
“League City is a dynamic city with a lot to offer for the championship while also helping us to keep the personal cost for our players low in the season to come,” said Melinda Staup, the league’s events director, after the city’s 2017 selection.
City officials also are negotiating to bring a gymnastics competition, Roller said.
“That should be bringing in a few thousand people to League City,” said Todd Thornton, who owns Thornton’s Gymnastics Center in League City and is working with Roller to secure the event. “Eventually, we’d like to build it to where we’re bringing in 700 kids from around the country and then parents and other people, too.”
Traveling competitions are very popular throughout the country and a good opportunity for a vacation as well as an athletic tournament for families, Thornton said.
“Instead of saying we’ll show up and do the competition and leave, we’ll check out what’s going on in the area,” Thornton said. “And package that to families.”
Gymnastics groups will work together and share popular things to do in the area, Thornton said. That’s the plan for the proposed League City event.
Some League City residents said they were excited about the possibilities and opportunities sports tourism could bring.
“There is extensive data supporting the economic impact to areas that approach sports tourism by integrating the family and business community interests,” said Peggy Zahler, a League City resident.
National visitor spending on sports-related events increased from $9.45 billion in 2015 to about $10.47 billion in 2016, or 10 percent, according to a study by the National Association of Sports Commissioners and Ohio University.
Still, some industry observers say the whole story is more complicated than that and the benefits of sports tourism in some cases are exaggerated and the pursuit of it can cost cities who dangle too many carrots.
“A quick summary is that it’s a greatly overestimated benefit, particularly for medium and small-sized communities,” said Robert Stein, the Lena Gohlman Fox Professor of political science at Rice University in Houston.
Sports tourism is an incredibly competitive market and, as cities get more involved, they tend to offer bigger tax breaks and benefits to lure groups, Stein said.
“That can far exceed the real benefits,” Stein said.
Some residents agreed with Stein.
“Hell, the council refused to work with Academy to keep them in the city,” said Chris Mallios, a League City resident. “That is how sports-oriented our city is.”
City officials have had too many visions over the years that haven’t been seen to completion, this being the latest, Mallios said.
But, while competition can reduce sports tourism’s benefits, research does show limited amounts can be profitable, Stein said.
“You’re talking about a smaller scale with both investment and maintenance,” Stein said. “Some of that has worked out really nicely.”
Stein compared it to major league sports versus minor league teams, which require smaller stadium investments and bring lots of games to the community.
“We don’t want to bring in a lot of one-off type events,” Roller said. “We want well-run events that are going to come back. They have a built-in volunteer base and bring lots of groups in.”
Because the city’s efforts in the sports tourism realm are relatively new, there aren’t a lot of statistics showing how profitable it has been so far, Roller said.
But Councilman Hank Dugie, who was part of the group that formed League City Legends, one of 16 teams in Major League Quidditch, said the opportunities were good.
“League City is the perfect sports tourism destination,” he said. “We’re perfectly situated between Houston and Galveston, near two airports and several ports, and have high quality hotels, restaurants and entertainment.”