WMSC 2020 Sports Economic Impact



For Immediate Release

CONTACT: Kim Skeltis, APR; (616) 419-8385; kim@blueblazepr.com                                         


West Michigan Sports Commission Still Hosted 45 Events and Generated $13 Million in Direct Visitor Spending in 2020; Sees 2021 as Rebuilding Year and First Part of Tourism Industry to Return 

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich., Feb. 17, 2021 – The West Michigan Sports Commission (WMSC) released its sports tourism economic impact figures from 2020, revealing how devastating the pandemic proved to be on sporting events in West Michigan and the respective visitor spending, and mirroring national sports industry trends.

Despite that, the WMSC still generated $13 million in direct visitor spending in 2020 through 45 events hosted in West Michigan (many of which were at the WMSC’s baseball/softball complex).  The WMSC sees 2021 as a rebuilding year as sports are positioned to be one of the first segments of the tourism industry to return. 

“After a record year of sports tourism for West Michigan in 2019, we knew we would likely see a slight drop in 2020 because of natural ebbs and flows of the industry based on events hosted,” said Mike Guswiler, president of the West Michigan Sports Commission. “But nothing prepared us for what a global pandemic would do to the travel industry. That said, we pivoted where we could, converting some events to virtual and rescheduling others to future years. We believe that sports will be one of the first tourism markets to come back as restrictions are lifted and COVID cases drop due to increased vaccinations.”

The WMSC has witnessed an upward trajectory in sports tourism since opening its doors in 2007 as an economic generator to harness some of the $11.5 billion youth and amateur sports industry for the region, including 2019 that attracted the most athletes and visitors in one year. It also started 2020 strong, hosting its first esports tournament, Grand Rapids Rift Clash, Feb. 7-9 (it was held again Feb. 6-7, 2021 as a virtual event); followed by the Meijer State Games of Michigan - Winter Games Feb. 14-16; and the 2020 DII NJCAA Men’s & Women’s Basketball Region XII Championships March 5-7 in partnership with Grand Rapids Community College. A statewide stay-at-home order went into effect March 24, putting the rest of the year’s events in jeopardy.

COVID-19 Impact on 2020 Sports Tourism in West Michigan

The WMSC tracked the following 2020 data points reflecting the impact of COVID-19 on sports tourism.

  • 45 sporting events attracted 35,384 athletes/visitors and $13 million in estimated visitor spending while filling 20,287 hotel room nights. Below is the change from projections and 2019:

    • Events decreased 48.9 percent from 2020 projections and 54.5 percent from 2019 (99).

    • Visitor spending decreased 73.1 percent from 2020 projections and 76.1 percent from 2019 (which netted $54.38 million).

    • Athletes/visitors decreased 82.7 percent from 2020 projections and 84.6 percent from 2019.

    • Hotel nights decreased 55.9 percent from 2020 projections and 59.6 percent from 2019.

  • Tournaments continued at its baseball/softball complex, generating $2.4 million in direct visitor spending from hosting 15 tournaments, 462 teams (of which 124 were travel teams), 6,006 athletes, 11,013 spectators and 2,433 hotel room nights. Below is the change from projections and 2019:

    • Tournaments decreased 46.4 percent versus projected (28) and 31.8 percent from 2019 (22), despite all tournaments being cancelled in May and half of June; the season was extended into October to reschedule some of the spring cancellations.

    • Travel teams decreased 77.6 percent from 2020 projections and 74.4 percent from 2019 due to pandemic-related travel restrictions. As a result, spectators dropped 63.3 percent from 2020 projections and 54.6 percent from 2019.

    • Hotel room nights dropped 65.2 percent from projections and 62 percent from 2019.

    • Visitor spending decreased 69.2 percent from 2020 projections and 60.8 percent from 2019 ($6.1 million) due mostly to reduced travel teams/families and related spending.

  • Meijer State Games - Winter Games was in person and Summer Games was virtual, generating a combined $366,546 in direct visitor spending through 29 events attracting 2,528 athletes and filling 322 hotel room nights. Below is the change from projections and 2019:

    • Events decreased 53.2 percent versus projected and 2019 figures (62 events); despite the Winter Games proceeding in person, the Summer Games cancelled all but 15 events.

    • The number of athletes decreased 75.9 percent, both projected and versus 2019.

    • Hotel room nights decreased 78.5 percent versus projected and 69.1 percent from 2019.

    • Direct visitor spending dropped 75.6 percent from projected and 74.6 percent from 2019 ($1.4 million).

Key 2020 events were rescheduled to 2021, like the USA Masters Games to June 24-27, 2021, Champion Force Cheer Nationals to July 8-11, 2021 and the WMSC’s An Evening with Jack Nicklaus fundraiser to June 30, 2021.

Some locally produced and WMSC-assisted events became virtual, including the Grand Rapids Triathlon, Michigan Titanium, Amway Riverbank Run and Grand Rapids Marathon.

Golf outing replaced annual luncheon as a fundraiser, proving a popular respite to the pandemic. The WMSC typically hosts an annual luncheon fundraiser attracting keynoters like Kirk Gibson to draw sold-out crowds. Due to indoor event restrictions in 2020, the event (slated as a dinner with Jack Nicklaus to accommodate larger crowds) was postponed. The WMSC hosted a golf outing Oct. 12 at Thousand Oaks Golf Club instead, deemed so successful that it will host a 2nd Annual WMSC Golf Outing Sept. 27, 2021.

 The Road Ahead – 2021 and Beyond

Looking at 2021, Guswiler and his team are focused on rebuilding the sporting events calendar – both rescheduling cancelled events and bidding on new events for 2021 and future years.

The WMSC also has added new revenue streams such as partnering with Aquinas College Baseball to use the West Michigan Sports Complex as its home field, whose season begins with its first home game March 27 vs. U of M Dearborn. It also manages the office for the National Congress of State Games, a membership organization comprised of 30 Summer State Games and 10 Winter State Games organizations that also manages the biennial State Games of America – a nod to the WMSC’s success in hosting the event in 2017.

 “As COVID restrictions lessen on hosting sporting events, we will continue to build back our book of business,” said Guswiler. “We’re already seeing the spigot opening for booking sporting events, starting with outdoor events like baseball and softball tournaments. As we continue to follow national and state guidelines to safely bring back sporting events, we hope to lead the West Michigan tourism industry out of this economic downturn by providing much needed business for our hotels and restaurants.”

Signature events on the 2021 calendar so far include:

  • West Michigan Futsal Cup (Feb. 19-21) - Largest youth futsal tournament in the Midwest; over 200 teams

  • USA Gymnastics Rhythmic 2021 Gymnastics Level 9 Classic* (April 14-18)

  • USA Hockey Youth Tier II 16U Nationals (April 29-May 3)

  • USBC Intercollegiate Team Championships (May 5-8)

  • 2020 USA Masters Games* (June 24-27) – Rescheduled from 2020

  • West Michigan Sports Complex baseball/softball events (including 14 by Game Day USA):

    • Game Day USA Pre-Season Championship #1 (April 16-18) and #2 (April 23-25)

    • NSA Cinco de Mayo Softball Tournament (May 1-2)

    • Game Day USA Super Regional (May 7-9)

    • BPA Husky Blowout Bash (May 15-16)

    • Game Day USA: Rumble in the Rapids 1 (May 21-23)

    • Game Day USA: Stars N' Strikes Showdown (May 28-30)

    • Game Day USA: Rumble in the Rapids 1 (June 4-6)

    • Game Day USA - Silver Series Championship #1 (June 11-13) and #2 (July 2-4)

    • Game Day USA: State Championship (June 18-20)

    • Game Day USA: Meijer State Games of Michigan (June 18-20)

    • Game Day USA: National Championship #1 (July 8-11) and #2 (July 15-18)

    • Blue Chip Softball Summer Slam (July 15-18)

    • Game Day USA: Summer SlugFest (July 23-25)

    • USA Softball Michigan Softball Slow Pitch E State Championship (July 29-Aug. 1)

    • USA Softball Michigan Softball Fast Pitch B&C State Championship (Aug. 6-8)

    • All Great Lakes Regional Championship (Aug. 13-15)

    • Game Day USA All Star Tournament (Aug. 20-22)

    • USA Softball Men's Open East Fast Pitch National Championship (Aug. 27-29)

    • USA Softball Men's Slow Pitch Class D National Championship (Sept. 3-5)

    • Blue Chip Softball Fall Classic (Sept. 18-19)

*First time for Grand Rapids to host     

About the West Michigan Sports Commission

The non-profit West Michigan Sports Commission (WMSC) identifies, secures and hosts youth and amateur sporting events to positively impact the economy and quality of life in the region. Since its inception in 2007, the WMSC has booked 882 events attracting more than 1.4 million athletes and visitors, generating over $410 million  in direct visitor spending. Visit westmisports.com, Facebook.com/WestMichiganSportsCommission and @westmisports on Twitter and Instagram for more information.


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