Ka-ching! When athletes hit town, the dollars follow

Duking it out at the 2010 USA Boxing national championships at the Crowne Plaza Hotel. Boxing is on the card for 2012 as well, when the World University Championship comes to town.

Duking it out at the 2010 USA Boxing national championships at the Crowne Plaza Hotel. Boxing is on the card for 2012 as well, when the World University Championship comes to town.

The rest of the nation knows Colorado Springs as a sports mecca, from the Olympics to mountain biking to ice hockey. Locals, however, may be unaware of the full extent of the city’s sports connection, from youth soccer to annual championships involving teams from around the world. This story gauges the economic impact of the business of sports.

Each time Colorado Springs hosts a sports event, thousands and sometimes millions of dollars descend on the city. Athletes, coaches, officials, family members — all spend dollars at local hotels, restaurants, fuel stations, grocery stores and gift shops.

Those dollars add up. The Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, for example, brings in more than $1 million annually. USGA national championships — seniors played in 2008, the women are coming to town this year — bring in more than $20 million each, and nearly 130,000 spectators.

Certain events have a high return in less tangible ways. The national and international publicity generated by events such as the hill climb and the national golf championships, for example, is huge because of television coverage, resulting in exposure that can draw visitors for years to come.

The annual running of the Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon also brings in several million dollars. The total economic impact attributable to sports alone is difficult to estimate, but a good portion of the region’s $1.2 billion in tourism spending is generated by people participating in or watching local sports events.

On the east side of town, the city’s minor-league baseball team, the Sky Sox, has seen steady growth over the years. The Sky Sox, which try hard to make games attractive to families, play 72 home games each season. Ticket sales have increased 40 percent from 2005 to 2010, said Sky Sox President and General Manager Tony Ensor. Last year, attendance hit nearly 330,000.

“We’re looking to have another record year in 2011, with a 5 to 7 percent increase over last year,” Ensor said.

Each time the Sky Sox make improvements, more dollars pour into the local economy. In 2005, management spent $6.5 million to renovate the stadium and ballclub; this year they are updating the luxury suites and installing a point-of-sales system for the stadium so fans can use credit cards. That’s $125,000 for local contractors and tax collections.

The city’s leading sports organization, of course, is the U.S. Olympic Committee, which owns the Olympic Training Center. In direct and indirect economic impact, the USOC and OTC bring $215 million annually to the city, according to a 2009 study by Deloitte and the USOC. This includes spending by visitors and athletes, employee wages and spending, and city and county taxes collected.

Since Scott Blackmun became CEO of the USOC in January 2010, he has brought in several events and conferences that used to be held elsewhere, including the U.S. Olympic Assembly, last year and this year; the Paralympic Leadership Conference; the National Coaching Conference; and the International Athletes Forum. Also, the USOC International Relations division recently moved from California to downtown Colorado Springs.

The city hosts many other events that don’t generate as much publicity but still bring in revenue. Youth sport competitions bring in millions annually, said Cheryl McCullough, sports and special events manager at the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The Pikes Peak Cup, a gymnastics competition held at The Broadmoor in February, drew more than 1,000 young athletes, plus coaches, family members and friends, who spent an estimated $2 million.

And the Colorado Cup Ice Hockey Tournament for “squirts” and “peewees,” held at four ice arenas around town, generated $2 million in the area.

Many events take place outside the tourist season.

The President’s Day Hockey Tournament, for example, has been hosted locally for 34 consecutive years.

“It’s fantastic to have that kind of longevity,” said McCullough, who said that $2 million is a conservative estimate for that tournament — three days of games involving 85 teams, plus families.

“Hotels love that piece of business, because its off season,” she said.

Many families make that tournament a “sport-cation,” she said, packing up the SUV and bringing friends along, too.

Gold Gloves Youth Baseball has been holding six to eight tournaments annually in the Pikes Peak region since 1995. Each tournament means about $2 million in local spending.

Last summer’s MasterCraft Pro Wakeboard Tour generated at least $200,000 for hotels and restaurants from the athletes, not including what families and spectators spent.

Last year, the Rocky Mountain State Games — presented by The Sports Corp. — brought 6,500 athletes and nearly 10,000 in spectators and support crews from around the state, generating $6.5 million in revenue for the region, said Mike Moran, senior media consultant for The Sports Corp. and chief spokesman for the USOC games from 1980 to 2002. The games will return to the region this July.

In 2009, the national State Games of America brought in 11,000 athletes and $11 million.

Last year’s Pikes Peak International Hill Climb — the second oldest motor sports race in the nation — attracted 169 drivers and racers from around the world, media from 18 countries, and a record number of spectators.

“There were 5,000 people up on the mountain,” Moran said, adding that the pre-race Fan Fest brought 33,000 people downtown. “The (hill climb) is legendary,” he said.

Last year, ticket revenue was $115,000, and merchandise sales doubled in 2010 over 2009.

Because the city doesn’t have a stadium of its own, it relies on the cooperation of the U.S. Air Force Academy to make some of the larger track and field events possible, Moran said. The academy allows the Sports Corp. to use its dorms, fields and arenas.

And new announcements are common. The latest coup for the region was landing the prologue time trial of the Quizno’s Pro Challenge cycling race, slated for August, and the World University Championships men’s boxing and women’s softball championships for the summer of 2012.

Overall, city residents and visitors benefit tremendously from the variety of sports events and opportunities, Moran said.

“There is no other city in the United States that can claim and present this kind of broad sports menu with events that are interesting to a diverse population,” he said.

Mark your calendars

April 6 Meet the Sky Sox baseball lunch, Security Service Field

April 7 Sky Sox PCL baseball home opener vs Tucson, Security Service Field

April 11 Inaugural Sports Corp Salute to the Olympic Family luncheon, Antlers Hilton

May 9 Annual Sports Corp Golf Tourney, Cheyenne Mountain Resort

May 16-21 The Warrior Games (Defense Dept./USOC), Olympic Training Center

June 22-25 USOC 2011 National Coaching Conference, Antlers Hilton

June 24 Pikes Peak International Hill Climb Fan fest, downtown

June 25 USA Boxing National Championships Title Night, City Auditorium

June 25 Olympic Day Celebration in Colorado Springs

June 26 89th Pikes Peak International Hill Climb

June 29 Sports Corp College Football Kickoff Luncheon, Colo. Springs Marriott

July 4-10 2011 U.S. Women’s Open, The Broadmoor

July 12-17 IBSA World Youth Championships for the Blind, hosted by USABA

July 13 71st Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo opens, Norris-Penrose Events Center

July 22-24/July 29-31 2011 Rocky Mountain State Games (2 weekends/30+ sports hosted by Sports Corp, citywide)

Aug. 22 Quizno’s Pro Challenge Cycling first stage (prologue time trial)

Aug. 28 Assault on the Peak Bicycle Ride

Sept. 22-24 U.S. Olympic Assembly hosted by USOC, Antlers Hilton

October (TBA) Sports Corp College Ice Hockey Face off Luncheon

Oct. 7-11 5th IOC International Athletes Forum hosted by the USOC

Oct. 25 12th Colorado Springs Sports Hall of Fame banquet/induction ceremonies

Keeping score?

Colorado Springs is home to almost 50 domestic and international sports organizations, including the U.S. Olympic Committee and 22 of the USOC’s national governing bodies of Olympic sports.

Since the Olympic Training Center opened in 1977, more than 350,000 athletes have trained in the city in hopes of competing on teams in the Olympics, Paralympics, Pan American Games or on other international U.S. teams.

NCAA sports are strong in several area colleges, including the Air Force Academy (notably football and ice hockey), Colorado College (women’s soccer and the Tigers ice hockey team) and the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs (Division II sports).

Case study #1

Wakeboarding

If Prospect Lake had not been at least 25 feet deep, the MasterCraft Pro Wakeboard competition never would have caught air in Colorado Springs.

As it turned out, the lake was deep enough, the 2010 event was successful, and it’s returning this summer.

Not without a lot of behind-the-scenes effort, though.

It took two years of planning and wooing to bring wakeboarding to the city. That’s not uncommon, said Cheryl McCullough, sports and special events manager for the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau. She first met Chris Bischoff, the event planner for the wakeboard competition, in 2008 at a sports conference in Pittsburgh.

“We had 40 appointments with sports events planners coming to our booth over a three-day period,” McCullough said. “It’s like speed dating. You have 10 minutes to make a best impression, find out about their event and where the best place would be to put them.”

At first, she was dubious. After all, the city is better known for mountains than for bodies of water. She’s glad she was wrong.

“You never want to assume (an event) isn’t a good fit for you,” she said.

There were challenges along the way, including something she’s never dealt with before: underwater concrete anchors.

All of MasterCraft’s wakeboard obstacle courses are anchored. Prospect Lake, however, is manmade, with a special liner on the bottom, which prevents anchors in the lakebed.

The answer turned out to be large, concrete anchors. So McCullough suddenly found herself looking for cement contractors.

When the wakeboard competition returns in June, McCullough’s job will be easier. The anchors are still underwater.

Case study #2

Golf

On the west side of the city, next to the mountains, preparations for the 2011 U.S. Women’s Open have been under way for three years. They started even before the 2008 U.S. Senior Open concluded.

Most USGA championships are held in what’s known as “first-tier” cities, those with much larger population than Colorado Springs. In the past, the women’s open has been held in such locations as Denver, Minneapolis, Boston, Atlanta and Philadelphia.

So why Colorado Springs?

Certainly, one reason is the chance to host a championship at a five-star resort. The Broadmoor, with a top-tier golf course, was the site of the first USGA championship, played in 1959 and won by Jack Nicklaus.

But cooperation between different development groups is also key.

“The city, county, chamber, EDC (Greater Colorado Springs Economic Development Corp.) and the CVB all provide support for these events,” said Doug Habgood, executive director for the 2011 U.S. Women’s Open. Habgood was also executive director of the 2008 senior open.

“That support goes a long way,” he said. When a city gets behind an event, the USGA likes to return.

The community, he said, “put on a great show,” supplying volunteers, offering corporate support, buying tickets and more.

Some Springs residents, of course, are less predictable. During the second round of the 2008 senior open, a large black bear ran across the 13th fairway, to the delight of some onlookers and the fright of others.

Course hazard or media opportunity? Depends on one’s viewpoint. The bear garnered lots of extra exposure for Colorado Springs on national TV — something event planners couldn’t have purchased had they tried.

Case study #3

Softball & Boxing

When international sports events come to Colorado Springs, it takes years of planning and overseas travel.

In January, for instance, Tom Osborne, CEO of The Sports Corp, Dave Palenchar, senior vice president and trustee for El Pomar Foundation, Bill Hybl, El Pomar’s CEO, and Stan Brassie, secretary general of the U.S. International University Sports Federation, traveled for 59 hours, via Chicago and Istanbul, to Erzurum, Turkey.

Their mission: to bid on hosting two university championship sports for the International University Sports Federation, or FISU, which is headquartered in Brussels.

The trip followed hundreds of hours spent meeting with officials from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, the U.S. Air Force Academy, the U.S. Olympic Committee, El Pomar, Sports Corp. and others to draw up a 33-page bid document.

When the delegation flew to Turkey, 50 copies of the bid, 15 in French, were carefully placed in their luggage.

“We arrived late, late at night on Sunday,” Osborne said. “And we were shocked when our bags didn’t arrive with us.”

Turns out the FISU winter games were in full swing in Erzurum. Airplanes were filled with athletes from all over the world.

“There were hockey players with all their equipment, so our bags got bumped and held up in Istanbul,” he said.

In the end, the bags arrived right before the presentation.

Despite the last-minute arrival of the bid packets, the presentation went well, Osborne said. Colorado Springs won a unanimous vote from FISU’s 22-member executive committee to host the 2012 World University Championships in men’s boxing and women’s softball.

Key factors: UCCS has the capacity to house more than 300 athletes and officials on campus, and it has the facilities for both softball and boxing. In addition, the city is home to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, which will test for drugs on campus, eliminating the need to transport athletes offsite.