What comes to mind when thinking of Grand Rapids? Perhaps its notoriety for Art Prize, Beer City, or much historically, Furniture City. However, Grand Rapids as a sports tourism destination is slowly developing with the help of the West Michigan Sports Commission (WMSC)
. Over the last 12 years, the nonprofit’s efforts to elevate the sports industry in Grand Rapids and West Michigan has greatly impacted the economy –– so much that by the end of 2018, sports tourism in the city generated $51.8 million.
The WMSC focuses on providing both venue space to host top-tier youth and amateur sports, and resources for out-of-town visitors to enjoy their stay. The organization has a history of having hosted regional, statewide, national, and even international sporting events.
This year, between April 3 and 9, the 2019 Chipotle-USA Hockey National Championships Youth Tier I
, an annual sports event in which 640 youth hockey players between ages 16 and 18 will compete, will be held in West Michigan for the first time. This event alone is projected to generate $2 million. It will be held at Southside Arena in Byron Center and Griff’s Georgetown in Hudsonville.
“Overall, we’re really trying to have an impact on our local community and fill out our hotel rooms, which we’re continuing to see more hotels be built –– that’s a healthy sign of the economy, and certainly puts more work on our plate to do,” says WMSC President Mike Guswiler.
Naturally, Guswiler mentions, Grand Rapids and its surrounding areas are already considered family-friendly destinations. As a result, much of what the WMSC does is reaching out to different sporting leagues, competitions, and organizations, and creating packaged proposals expressing how a particular sporting experience can be both lucrative and enhanced by Grand Rapids as their hosting site.
Over the course of the last 12 years, the nonprofit has hosted over 700 events and ushered in over one million businesses, athletes, and visitors into the city across a multitude of sports including fencing, boxing, bowling, and more.
Guswiler says one of their goals this upcoming year is to become a trial site for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics women’s volleyball.
“We’re probably one of a dozen sites that are under consideration to try and host this Olympic trial and it’s just forming those relationships, and trying to put your best foot forward,” says Guswiler.