A recent study estimates $8 million was generated by sports tourism in Calhoun County for 2018.  Athletes and their families come to compete, but they also visit local businesses to eat, sleep, buy gas and more. It makes an impact on the community.

Griffin Grill and Pub is “all hands on deck” whenever there’s a big sporting event in town.  “When there’s that many people, anywhere from 100 to thousands of people in downtown Battle Creek, it’s a very vibrant economic situation,” said Co-owner Paul Conkey.  With that kind of activity, he knows he can stay in business as long as he keeps a quality product and takes care of people. “They’re customers as well as friends here, but they’re the lifeblood that helps us pay our bills and keep 30 plus people employed here,” he said.

Volleyball and gymnastics were top generators for out-of-town visitor dollars, but the list encompassed everything from equestrian events at Albion College to an arm wrestling championship at Kellogg Arena.

Volleyball-CVB Provided Photo

A significant draw was venues such as Bailey Park and Kellogg Arena.

“It’s the ace in our back pocket,” said Cindy Scharns, owner of Branch Gymnastics in Battle Creek. She coordinates up to four events a year at Kellogg Arena and part of her bid is proving she has a substantial venue.

Kellogg Arena is big, it has good seating and it’s been around a while – after more than 20 years, an event like the Cereal City Classic gymnastics invitational is dynastic.

Gymnastics-CVB Provided Photo

But it’s about more than a good venue, according to Andi Osters.  Osters is assistant director for the Michigan High School Athletic Association, which hosts state volleyball finals and other high school events in Battle Creek.  “Nine times out of ten we can make most facilities work – it’s the people. That’s a difference-maker,” Osters said.

Both organizers said locals go above and beyond to help create a top-notch experience for athletes, whether it’s venue staff or the Calhoun County Visitors Bureau.

“It’s something we’ve geared our waitstaff to learn, how to work well with parents of young athletes,” Conkey said.

Osters mentioned one way the CCVB helps is by being proactive about lodging and negotiating rates to be more affordable.

That’s a big deal for families coming for a three-day volleyball state championship, especially if they’re coming from Up North.

Battle Creek is a central location for the region, and it has the advantages of a zoo, a water park and a growing downtown renaissance.

“Downtown has improved so much in the last few years,” Osters said.

Scharns agreed: “I love the things that are happening downtown.”

Locals might see a welcome sign or spot a group of athletes at Buffalo Wild Wings, but not many of us know the economic impact these events have.

There hasn’t been a formal study for more than a decade. Pure Michigan Sports brought in the Sports Facilities Advisory to analyze economic impact for its members, which includes the Calhoun County Visitors Bureau.

The SFA has developed a model that can be adjusted for different market types. Based on data, they can estimate -- for instance -- that a non-local day trip visitor for a youth tournament will spend an average of $15.30 on food.

The CCVB gave the Sports Facilities Advisory numbers to plug into the model:

  • 54 events hosted in 2018
  • 98,900 visitor days spent in market
  • 68% of overnight visitors
  • 32% of day-trip visitors

Top 10 earning events

  1. MHSAA Volleyball Championships
  2. USSSA Great Lakes National Championships (baseball and softball)
  3. Cereal City Gymnastics
  4. Trampoline and Tumbling Winter Classic Gymnastics
  5. Symetra LPGA Event (golf)
  6. MHSAA State Bowling Finals
  7. Level 7-8 Women’s Regional Gymnastics
  8. Level 7-10 Women’s State Meet Gymnastics
  9. BPA World Series (baseball)
  10. Silver Series Championships (baseball and softball)