Various sporting events held in Charlotte County generated $40 million in 2022. Sean Walter, sales and sports business development director for the Punta Gorda/Englewood Beach Visitors & Convention Bureau, predicted 2024 will bring in similar revenue, if not more.
Hurricane Ian impacted the end of the third quarter of 2022, as playing fields and parks were torn up and destroyed, which put an end to any events that were still scheduled. Going into 2023, many venues were not up and operating as repairs were being made.
Walter called 2022 “one of our best years” and expects 2024 to be similar in terms of revenue generated from sporting events that are coming back to the county.
“We focus on all different size events—regional, state, national and international,” he said.
The economic impact of these events is felt in the hospitality industry.
The Snowbird Baseball NCAA Classic has been held annually in the county in February and March for 16 years. Teams from many colleges and universities, including Indiana State, Harvard, the universities of Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Ohio State and Pittsburgh have competed in the past.
There are usually 25 to 35 teams participating.
The last Snowbird Baseball event generated 10,165 room nights and generated a little more than $11 million, according to the tourism office.
There also are youth baseball events, which the county also sponsors.
Using the Economic Impact Calculator software, Walter assesses how much revenue these events create.
Visitors pay a Tourist Development Tax on hotel rooms, which generated $6,180,468 for the county from October 2022 through September 2023.
In addition, there are unknown dollars, which Walter called trickle down revenue.
For instance, the influx of visitors creates more restaurant business. Servers receive more tips, and that might prompt some to go out and buy clothes, furniture or a new car with the added income. That spending can’t be charted.
Also, parents accompanying minors to their events or those watching their college student playing baseball may want to visit the area. Those visitors would probably stay in a county hotel, shop in the area and maybe even look into buying a vacation or retirement home.
To entice visitors to visit the area, Walter runs 30-second commercials touting the beauty of Charlotte County and the Gulf islands during Snowbird Baseball Classic, which in the past has been livestreamed on ESPN and CBS.
Baseball isn’t the only sport luring visitors.
“The national pickleball tournaments have brought players from all over, and the Association of Pickleball Players tour had players from six to eight countries,” he said.
According to the Association of Pickleball Players, the 2022 tour gave out more than $2 million in prize money for professional players.
Tournaments are played at the Pickleplex on Airport Road in Punta Gorda on the grounds of Florida SouthWestern State College’s Charlotte campus. Despite Hurricane Ian, the Pickleplex was restored quickly after the storm, and tournaments were held there in 2023.
Another major event is the USA BMX Citrus Nationals, which will be held at Charlotte BMX park Jan. 12-14, 2024, in Punta Gorda.
Olympian Amanda Carr, a Charlotte County resident and former Charlotte High School athlete who has won numerous awards and trophies during her school years, is the organizer for the BMX Nationals event in Punta Gorda.
Like the Pickleplex, the BMX track on Carmalita Street in Punta Gorda was restored in time to host events in 2023.