How youth and amateur sports boost the West Michigan economy

What’s happening: Youth/amateur sports tourism generated $87.9 million in estimated economic impact for the West Michigan region in 2023 through 121 events, according to the  West Michigan Sports Commission (WMSC). That's the second-highest year in the organization’s 16-year history and a 60% gain from 2019. It also saw a 7.1% increase in the number of events from 2022 and a 22% increase from 2019, plus a 9.2% increase in athletes/visitors from 2022 and 21% increase from 2019.
What they are saying: “We closed out one of the best years in our organization’s history for growing our region’s economy through sport,” says Mike Guswiler, president of the West Michigan Sports Commission. “Included in that success was generating the highest estimated economic impact yet for the Meijer Sports Complex and Meijer State Games of Michigan. Clearly, sports tourism is a key economic lever for West Michigan.”
Why is it important: The WMSC was founded in 2007 to harness some of the $39.7 billion  national youth and amateur sports industry for the region. One of its key goals is generating overnight stays from event visitors, which drives spending in area hotels, restaurants and other businesses. Since its inception, the WMSC has booked 1,216 sporting events and tournaments that attracted more than 2.1 million athletes and visitors, generating over $649 million in estimated economic impact.
The economic impact: Last year, those events drew 277,980 athletes/visitors and filled 43,775 hotel room nights. The economic impact reached the second-highest level in the WMSC’s history, down only 2.8% from 2022 ($90.5 million) yet increasing 60% from 2019 ($54.9 million). The 2023 baseball/softball season was the strongest year yet, with the estimated economic impact from the Meijer Sports Complex at $8.7 million. It hosted 21 tournaments and 29,302 athletes/spectators who booked 4,450 hotel nights – with most weekends full.

How the Meijer State Games of Michigan did: The Summer and Winter Games held 60 events that attracted 8,700 athletes and generated the highest estimated economic impact in the Games’ history at $3.1 million. The estimated economic impact increased 2% from 2022 ($3 million) and 52% from 2019 ($2 million).

What’s next: Looking at 2024, the WMSC is focused on increasing the number of traveling athletes and visitors and their related hotel revenue, plus bidding on more marquee events in 2024 and beyond – including NCAA Division I, DII and DIII tournaments. Results of the bidding are due in October. 
The opening ceremony at the Meijer Sports Complex drew big crowds.

The WMSC also will implement key elements identified through a strategic planning process with a national sports consulting firm, including creating a permanent local bid committee, as well as a regional sports tourism facility master plan with partners such as Grand Rapids Parks & Recreation, Kent County Parks and Experience Grand Rapids to pitch national tourism-driving sporting events. The commission also celebrates its 15th year of hosting the Meijer State Games of Michigan in 2024.

What to know: A focal point of 2024 will be raising the remaining $4.7 million needed to complete expansion of the Meijer Sports Complex, which will bring gender parity with the addition of a championship softball field, continue to promote inclusivity with the resurfacing of Nate Hurwitz Miracle Field, which hosts games for children with physical and mental disabilities, and generate an additional $1 million in annual visitor spending by accommodating 200 more teams.
The entire $11 million complex expansion will include a new championship softball field for youth, amateur and collegiate softball; three flexible-use fields for youth and amateur baseball and softball plus collegiate softball; 20 pickleball courts (including a championship court); resurfacing of the Miracle Field; a new playground; bleacher canopies; synthetic turf on the championship baseball field; new concession and restrooms; and 350 more parking spaces.

Photos courtesy of the West Michigan Sports Comission
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.