It’s All About the Team

Team sports have always been a part of my life. I played every form of neighborhood sports since I can remember – think dodge ball, kick the can, softball – and then organized sports after that. I even enrolled in a football officiating class while in college, refereeing middle school, pee wee and rocket football for many years.

After graduation, I discovered another love – political campaigns. Maybe it’s because running a campaign is much like playing a team sport – with every campaign I directed, I recruited members to my team, practiced, strategized, wrote and implemented the x’s and o’s, and then brought out the best in my team with one goal in mind – to win. It was all about the team.

That’s why I’m so excited to begin my term as chair of the West Michigan Sports Commission. Here is a team that was created seven years ago by Experience Grand Rapids, Kent County Board of Commissioners and Peter Secchia to promote the region as a premier destination for youth and amateur sporting events. As a $7.8 billion industry, youth and amateur sports tourism is a powerful economic generator – and all the more reason that West Michigan should get in the game.

And talk about wins! I joined the board in 2007 when the WMSC was formed, and we closed our first year with 21 sporting events that attracted 33,900 visitors who spent $7 million in the local economy. At the end of 2008, the number of sporting events increased by 43 percent, attracting 20 percent more visitors and generating 6 percent more in direct spending from 2007. Our team was onto something big. West Michigan was a prime location for youth and amateur sports, an industry that barely wavers during a recession.

As great as those wins were in our early years, we have exponentially grown the industry since then. The WMSC just issued first-ever youth/amateur sports economic impact figures detailing gains in direct visitor spending and visitors over our seven-year history. Here are some of the most impressive numbers from 2007 to 2014:

  • Number of sporting events – Increased 267 percent to 77 events in 2014 from 21 in 2007
  • Number of visitors – Increased 288 percent to 131,576 visitors in 2014 from 33,900 in 2007
  • Direct spending in millions – Increased 456 percent to $38.9 million in 2014  from $7 million in 2007
  • Hotel room nights – Increased 160 percent in sports-related stays to 33,000 in 2014 from 12,661 in 2007

We also witnessed growth with our signature Meijer State Games of Michigan, established in 2010. In the last five years, the Meijer State Games has:

  • More than tripled the number of sports (51 sports in 2014 from 15 in 2010)
  • More than doubled the number of athletes (8,579 in 2014 from 3,500 in 2010)
  • Doubled direct spending ($2.9 million in 2014 from $1.4 million in 2010)

In addition to cumulative growth since the WMSC’s inception, we saw exponential year-over-year increases in 2014. We saw the highest year-over-year increase in direct spending at 84 percent ($38.9 million in 2014 from $21.1 million in 2013), along with a 38 percent increase in visitors (131,576 visitors in 2014 from 95,130 in 2013). More national events, combined with a new Meijer State Games - Winter Games and the newly opened Art Van Sports Complex, all contributed to this significant growth.

None of this happened by accident. It took a strong team with a common goal and a strategy to get there. Our team consists not only of a dedicated board ably led for seven years by my immediate predecessor Dick Vander Molen, but by a tireless coach – WMSC President Mike Guswiler. Mike has put in countless hours to ensure that West Michigan is at the top of bid lists for sports in every category – from track and field, to rowing and table tennis, to niche sports like Quidditch and synchronized swimming. But don’t just take my word for it – Mike was recently named 2014 Newsmaker of the Year in Sports by the Grand Rapids Business Journal – and we couldn’t think of anyone more deserving.

As I begin my term as president for this organization, I couldn’t be more proud as I look at the groundwork that has been laid. I’m thrilled to have been part of this team and watched it grow for seven years – and I’m honored to now lead the board as chair. And much like the lessons learned long ago playing those backyard sports as a child, the core lessons still hold true today - build a great team, leave your egos at the door and play hard together, and you'll win every single time, regardless of the score. 

Deb Kay
Guest Blogger
Deb is chair of the board of the West Michigan Sports Commission.