Into the big time

Jason Ehrhardt, right, from Westminster, Colorado, plays a competitive game of cornhole Jan. 11, 2019, at the D&N Event Center. Ehrhardt would ultimately win the big blind draw tournament ahead of that evening’s championships. Ehrhardt said he came to North Platte for the American Cornhole Organization Master Series Major Tournament for one reason: “We came by to play in the big tournament."

Sports tourism is estimated to be an $11 billion-a-year industry nationwide, and it appears to be recession-proof as well.

“People will give up a weeklong vacation, but they are not going to give up (kids) travel ball,” said Randy DuTeau, the vice president of the Sports Strategies development company.

DuTeau led a roughly 90-minute morning discussion Tuesday on sports events’ economic impact on a community during the opening day of the Nebraska Tourism Conference in North Platte. The convention continues through Thursday at the Sandhills Convention Center at Ramada Inn.

“Even in an economic downturn, a family will say, ‘OK, we will kick in an extra day (during a tournament).’ Maybe they spend it to check this lake or this attraction,” DuTeau said. “Vacations get cut all the time. It’s different when it comes to baseball, soccer or cheer and dance (events).”

DuTeau, who is based in Georgia, works for a consulting company that works with communities of various sizes.

Omaha is one place in Nebraska that stands out when it comes to sports events. The city hosts the College World Series. Omaha also is the site for the NCAA Division 1 women’s volleyball Final Four this year and had opening round games for the Division 1 men’s basketball tournament in 2018.

It is not the only Nebraska community that is an attractive site for national events, however.

“The hardest part might be to get people here in the first place because they might look (at Nebraska) as just a flyover state,” said Derek Bombeck, sales development manager with the Lincoln Convention and Visitors Bureau, “but once you get them here, the easiest thing is to bring them back.”

Lincoln was the host for the national BMX championships and made an impression on John David, the chief operating officer of USA BMX.

“He’s talking about how he had no idea that Lincoln was that impressive with the downtown and the districts (in the city),” Bombeck said. “Now he’s out there advocating Lincoln for (other national events).”

Most communities in Nebraska don’t have the facilities or the hospitality accommodations to host premier national events but are viable sites for tournaments — youth baseball and basketball, equestrian events or even cornhole. North Platte hosted the American Cornhole Organization’s Master Series Major Tournament this year and will host it again in January 2020.

“I think more and more communities are finding the value of bringing (sports) events to town,” DuTeau said. “They drive hotel-room stays and put people into restaurants and retail outlets.

“Even smaller communities, which might have horse facilities or some type of a trail, every community has some type of asset they can use to attract a sporting event. Sometimes it is not even about having people come in to stay overnight but just bring them in to spend the day, they leave some type of revenue.”

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