Paving the way to a post-pandemic Sport Tourism strategy

The timing would certainly have some folks scratching their head.

After all, it’s tough to argue that the outbreak of a global pandemic is the ideal setting for the launch of any sort of tourism-based initiative, let alone one that involves an amateur sport environment that has nearly ground to a halt, competitively speaking, in the past 12 months.

Quick and easy wins are near impossible to garner, with few sport governing bodies even entertaining bids for the types of provincial and national championships that would be targetted in this effort.

But much in the manner of any successful tourism strategy, the partnership forged between SportLink – Greater Sudbury Sport Council and the City of Greater Sudbury recognizes that a solid foundation must be put in place in order for the region to reap the rewards, down the road.

Even in a pandemic, reach-outs can be made, not only to the all-important PSOs (provincial sports organizations) and NSOs (national sport organizations), those folks entrusted with determining deserving host cities, from coast to coast, but also to the local sports community that needs to be fully engaged, motivated to support and cognizant of the benefits to be gained.

The truth is, there is plenty of work to be done on a local level.

Those of a certain age will recall a time when Sudbury was brimming with championships on an annual basis, anxious to showcase the newly-constructed Terry Fox Sports Complex, welcoming people to a Laurentian University facility that featured the only 50 metre pool between Toronto and Thunder Bay – and one that was in good enough shape that it could proudly be displayed and utilized.

The Memorial Cup, the Briar, the Canadian Games for the Physically Disabled, the Canadian Baseball Championships, the Canadian Figure Skating Championships, Ontario Summer Games were all part and parcel of a local calendar that seemed to provide fans of sport, any sport, an event to look forward to each and every year.

Sure, caution must be exercised. By all accounts, the thrill of welcoming young athletes from around the globe to northern Ontario, site of the 1988 World Jr Track and Field Championships, was more than offset with the financial challenges the event presented. The pool of possible events to be hosted is not one that we should dive into blindly.

Yet done properly, there is plenty to be gained.

There is the obvious, the influx of visitors that fill hotel rooms and restaurants, adding fuel to their vehicles at local gas stations, folks who hopefully manage to squeeze in a little bit of shopping or a trip to Science North during their stay.

There is, of course, the multiplier effect that is at the very root of the concept of economic impact, the notion that by creating an environment where extra dollars are spent in the city, that some of those on the receiving end – waitresses, hotel staff, small business owners – now enjoy more disposable income which, for the most part, will then start to work its way through many other facets of the local economy.

Still, I tend to believe that the biggest long-term payoff is one that is far more difficult to measure, one that is rooted in the simple fact that the largest portion of the population base in Ontario, those living in the 401 corridor from Windsor to Cornwall and up the 416 to Ottawa, are shamefully unaware about much of what most municipalities north of Barrie have to offer.

Take a moment to talk with any number of the local post-secondary varsity coaches and you will quickly hear virtually the same message: the challenge in recruiting from southern Ontario lies in having high-school athletes agree to at least make a cursory visit to Sudbury. Once they are here, the ability of local institutions to close the deal would appear to be very much on par with their much larger competitors.

If a big part of the probability that the City of Greater Sudbury is able to find a way to operate in a more efficient manner lies in the need to grow the population base of the area over time, then every single visitor heading our way, whether for sport or otherwise, needs to be viewed as a potential opportunity to sell the attributes of the city.

Attracting young doctors, engineers, accountants, entrepreneurs, trade workers from London and Kingston, from Hamilton and Whitby, from Peterborough to Sarnia becomes far easier if there exists a positive initial outlook about the virtues of Greater Sudbury.

Just for fun, take a few moments sometime in the next few weeks to canvas co-workers and acquaintances who made the move north, either for work or attend school. Ask them about the factors that helped influence the decision to accept that transfer, to forego university options that were much closer to home.

A very unscientific survey conducted during the Skate Ontario Championships that were hosted at the Countryside Complex a few years back indicated that something in the neighbourhood of 60% of those attending (parents, not competitors) were either making their first ever journey to Sudbury, or first one in ten or more years.

That is a powerful base of potential future repeat clients. That is a powerful base of potential future local taxpayers. That is a powerful base of parents of potential future students of Laurentian, Cambrian or Boreal.

The litany of positives that can result from a successfully executed Sport Tourism strategy could easily fill another column or two. Many larger sporting events are accompanied by leveraged venue enhancement or completely new construction, joining forces with several levels of government to create the legacy of sport venues, in Sudbury and everywhere else in Ontario, that continue to service the local community long after the Games are done.

Countless are the local athletes whose first recollection of a sport in which they now thrive comes from the exposure they first garnered via a tournament, a meet that they witnessed in their own backyard. For a city with a serious youth obesity issue, the notion of providing our children with as much motivation as possible to try a sport, any sport, is a no-brainer.

The truth is that there is a buzz in the air when large scale sporting events come to Sudbury, an excitement that carries across several different layers of the population.

It’s an end goal that is worth pursuing, even in the midst of a pandemic.

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