Vail Valley Voices: Sports-event coalition could help our economy |

Vail Valley Voices: Sports-event coalition could help our economy

What, you ask, can be done to improve our local economy?

One idea proffered by Chris Romer and the Vail Valley Partnership involves the formation of a valleywide sports and events coalition. This group would seek to attract new tournaments and events to our market by looking strategically at the existing underutilized resources of the valley.

Leveraging these amenities for more regional activities could augment our existing visitor base while helping small businesses and local governments.

Exhibit No. 1 in underutilized resources: the fairgrounds and Eagle River Center, which are scheduled by requests from users. Today it barely pays to keep the lights on because no one is responsible for seeking revenue-generating events.

Look at our golf courses, whitewater parks, mountain biking trails, recreation centers and ball fields. I see a lot of this same available capacity, a variety of uncoordinated marketing efforts. All point to an opportunity for fullness and vitality.

While appreciated by locals, these amenities are also an opportunity to attract visitors to our stores and restaurants to benefit our small-business community and increase sales tax revenues.

It is not a new idea. It just comes at a time that previously competing entities seem to be ripening to the concept.

Still, while a valleywide sports and events coalition sounds obvious, it’s no slam dunk.

For instance, underuse is appreciated by many of us. Increased use by visitors is not universally welcomed.

Romer has been driving hard with his message at town board meetings by making the case for attacking the off-season occupancy gap (52 percent occupancy high during non-ski months) is worth the possible inconveniences.

I, for one, would be happy to adjust field time for sports programs my kids are involved in if that would help boost revenues for small businesses in our valley.

Another obstacle is that a number of entities already do this in a myriad of proprietary and fragmented ways. The carrot here is that such coordination is not being executed on a regional level. If done right, it could provide a strong economic driver to help get this valley through this economic downturn.

That this proposal comes under the wing of the Vail Valley Partnership, which already works on destination marketing to put heads in beds through both leisure and group sales efforts, feels right. They already coordinate and recruit events, acting as the front door planner and providing on-site support.

While Vail, Beaver Creek and Vail Resorts focus on the deep pockets of the national level “destination” visitor, this group could make good use of the fact that Eagle County is centrally located in Colorado and surprisingly affordable.

Come stay the weekend for your kid’s soccer tournament, and by the way, here is a raft of activities and events throughout the valley for the rest of the weekend. With such a strong lifestyle and amenity base, we could do a lot for businesses by marketing family weekend packages to draw on our already vast array of events between Vail and Gypsum on any given weekend.

Starting this winter, the group would gather to identify opportunities for programming this coming summer. In the first year, the Coalition would have to prove itself to potential funders including the lodging operators, businesses, and local jurisdictions. Simultaneously the coalition would be in contact with various entities that manage sport fields, golf courses, pools, rec centers and other potential venues.

Think about it. If the sports and events coalition attracts a state level kids soccer tournament with lodging packages, which could bring hundreds of families to the valley, off the soccer field you might find visitors dining, attending a teen concert, mountain biking, browsing the outdoor markets in Minturn, Vail and Edwards, watching a demolition derby at the fairgrounds.

The bonus of these good visitor experiences is building return customers. There was a time ski areas realized there was opportunity in marketing the summer. Look at how those efforts have succeeded.

This, too, has that kind of potential.

Jon Stavney, of Eagle, is an Eagle County commissioner.

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