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By Jonathan Gallardo
Gillette News Record Via Wyoming News Exchange 

Sports tourism keeps Gillette economy busy outside of summer

 

September 15, 2022



GILLETTE —As summer comes to an end and kids are back in school, the end of tourism season is nearing. Traditional tourism, that is.

The season for sports tournaments is just beginning.

Just in the past five or six years, sports tourism has grown in Gillette, thanks to the support of the community and local governments. It’s brought visitors and tax revenue into the community during parts of the year that otherwise would be slower.

The summer historically has been the peak season in terms of visitors, with people driving through Campbell County on their way to Yellowstone National Park or Mount Rushmore.

But in recent years, sports tourism has helped the hospitality industry stay busy during those slower months.

Cam-plex tentatively has at least one sports tournament a month from October through March, from wrestling to soccer to basketball, not to mention the Gillette Wild or the Wyoming Mustangs, both of which play their games at Cam-plex.

“Sports tourism brings more value to our community than people realize,” said Jim West, softball coach and tournament organizer.

Kevin Couch, who’s been involved in helping put on tournaments for soccer and basketball, said that while it’s great that Gillette has the ability to host tournaments nearly year round, more work needs to be done if the community wants this to continue and last for decades.

For a community of its size, Gillette is not lacking in sports facilities, Couch said, thanks to support from the city, county and Cam-plex.

The Energy Capital Sports Complex was built in 2015 with four softball fields. In 2020, the city had three multi-use turf fields built out there. The facility’s master plan includes the possibility of additional fields when the time is right.

In 2018, Cam-plex spent $169,000 on a sports floor so that indoor tournaments could be hosted at the Wyoming Center. Three years later, the land board bought 12 basketball hoops for $12,000.

The tournaments that were made possible by these investments have brought thousands of people to Campbell County over the years.

In June, the Razor City Showcase brought 54 teams to Gillette. The Battle for the High Plains had 28 teams, and the Wyoming state tournament had 58 teams. West estimated that each team has 15 players, and each player has at least two people coming to watch them, meaning that a 54-team tournament brings in 2,430 people.

In soccer, the tournaments have grown from 40 teams to 80 to 100-plus teams, Couch said. The Pepsi Cup Indoor Soccer Tournament had 85 teams in 2021. The K2 Technologies Clash soccer tournament had 125 teams earlier this year.

The Pinnacle Bank Shootout brought 97 basketball teams to Cam-plex in February. That tournament will be going into its third year in 2023. And the Thanksgiving Tip-Off Tournament, a youth basketball tournament which in its first year drew 27 teams in 2021. Couch said his goal is to nearly double that and get 50 teams to come this year.

“That’s a more challenging date, but it has a lot of growth potential,” he said.

And this doesn’t include the numerous state high school tournaments and championships that are hosted in Gillette.

Outside of estimates, it can be hard to quantify the impact that sports tourism has on a community. A well-run tournament with a hundred teams can mean at least half a million dollars in revenue for the community, Couch said.

Couch said it’s getting to the point that some of the tournaments are reaching capacity, where they can’t grow much bigger due to space limitations unless the tournament adds more dates to accommodate more teams.

He said the growth in the past five years has been “a little surprising,” but at the same time it makes a lot of sense. When tournaments or teams are looking to come to a community, they have a list of things they’re looking for.

Gillette has the fields, courts and other facilities in place, but some people are looking for additional things, such as hotels, restaurants and even parking, Couch said.

“Our boxes are checked almost all across the board,” he said. “With all those boxes checked, it’s pretty easy to see why they’ve grown so fast.”

The tournament organizers won’t see most of that money. West said that with a softball tournament, “our goal is to break even.”

This weekend, Gillette will host a tournament with teams from Dawson Community College and Miles City Community College, as well as travel softball teams. They’ll play each other and also put on a camp for young softball players.

Tournaments like this one aren’t in those college teams’ budgets, so West said he’s having to pay for them to come here. But it’s more about developing the younger players’ talents to help them down the road.

“Really, at this point for us, there’s no monetary gain, it’s more (about) wanting to provide a service to the kids,” West said.

While the tournaments themselves might not see the windfall, the hotels, restaurants and other businesses in town will, Couch said, adding that he’s heard reports of local businesses doing “record numbers” thanks to tournaments.

Still, Gillette has some work ahead in order to be a smooth, well-oiled machine for years to come, Couch said.

“There’s still a lot of work to be done to make sure we continue to have long-standing, sustainable, quality tournaments every single year,” he said.

Couch said he’s a “big advocate” of the formation of a sports commission, a group of people that would oversee the planning of tournaments and enhance sports tourism efforts in Campbell County.

The sports commission was one thing that came up in the tourism master plan. Gillette already has the Sports Tourism Advisory Team, but a sports commission would take things to a higher level.

As sports tourism grows and the tournaments get bigger, that puts more pressure on these sports clubs, many of which are run by parents who are volunteering their time. And those parents often leave when their kids move on, and they have to be replaced.

With a sports commission, there would be more oversight and less turnover, which should lead to a smoother operation overall.

While each sport is different, there is a blueprint that can be applied to tournaments all across the board, regardless of the sport.

“It’s about creating a model to allow these events to be sustainable,” Couch said.

And that’s where the sports commission comes in. It’s much easier for a commission to pass that information on to the sports clubs, rather than having each group learn things through trial and error.

He foresees a lineup of 10 to 15 tournaments, in a wide variety of sports, spaced out throughout the year so they’re not happening at the same time. Besides soccer, softball, basketball and wrestling, Couch said he’d like to see a large volleyball tournament, a baseball tournament and even a youth track meet.

“Let’s make each one of those the best they can be,” Couch said.

West said there’s opportunities for more unique tournaments as well, such as dodgeball and pickleball.

Most weekends, most people won’t even notice that there’s a sports tournament in town, Couch said, and that’s what makes it “a huge positive impact across the board, but it doesn’t strain our community.”

 
 

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