The Competitive Advantage


How sports tourism is driving economic growth and making cities across Oregon a better place to live.

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How sports tourism is driving economic growth and making cities across Oregon a better place to live.

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From top-to-bottom: Heron Lakes Cyclocross Race in Portland (photo by Nate Wyeth).
Hayward Field in Eugene.
Bottom: Kiger Stadium in Klamath Falls.

Hayward Field is at full capacity as tens of thousands of fans eagerly take their seats. Outside, a large screen displays the track and field action for thousands more. Tourists mingle with locals across Eugene to experience the festivities of the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials, an event drawing thousands of athletes, members of the media and fans from across the country for the world’s largest national championship track meet.0115 travelor03 500px

With the nickname TrackTown U.S.A., Eugene has a mythic track and field history. The University of Oregon has produced many top Olympic athletes and is world-famous for its legendary coaches, including Bill Bowerman, Bill Dellinger and Vin Lananna. The reputation as a top-notch athletic city has made it an international sports destination. Consequently, Eugene hosts countless K-12, collegiate and professional events (Eugene will host the U.S. Olympic Trials again in 2016), injecting millions of dollars into the local economy each year.

Sports tourism does more than attract athletic enthusiasts from around the world. Cities across the state see sports tourism, which accounts for a growing percentage of the 94,000 jobs and $9.6 billion in revenue from Oregon’s tourism industry, driving economic growth through events, sports-related business clusters, and an improved recreation infrastructure. In 2012, for example, sports tourism contributed over $54 million to Eugene and Lane County’s economy; the U.S. Olympic Trials alone contributed over $30 million. Even in smaller cities like Klamath Falls, athletic enthusiasts are pumping millions into the local economy.

“The economic impact of sports tourism is tremendous for our area,” says Janis Ross, executive director of the Eugene, Cascades & Coast Sports Commission. And it’s not just major events like the Olympic Trials that benefit local economies. “Youth sports are our bread and butter,” she says, pointing to events like high school volleyball tournaments and swim meets. “Children come to compete while their friends and families fill hotel rooms, dine in local restaurants and shop in local stores.”

The benefit extends far beyond the hospitality industry. “When you’re an athletics destination, the result is clusters of businesses that grow up organically around sports,” Ross explains. She points to world-class sports medicine facilities like the Slocum Center for Orthopedics, as well as thriving clusters of physical therapists and athletic trainers. “All of this is possible when you have a robust sports industry driving growth in related sectors of the economy,” she says.

Eugene’s niche tourism industry is not an anomaly; cities across Oregon are seeing improved livability and economic growth from sports tourism. Just a three-hour drive southeast of Eugene, Klamath Falls, a small city of just 21,000 residents, is earning a national reputation for baseball and the great outdoors.

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Klamath Falls is home to Kiger Stadium, the only remaining all-wood baseball stadium west of the Mississippi River. And the city is gearing up to host the Babe Ruth Baseball’s World Series in 2015, bringing together eight teams from across the country and two teams from Oregon. Along with fans from across the country in attendance, each player will bring friends and family to Klamath Falls, adding to the total economic impact of the event.

“When sports lovers come here, they not only experience our beautiful stadium; they stay and explore all of the great things Klamath Falls has to offer,” explains Teri Cline, PR director for the 2015 Babe Ruth World Series. Families across the city will host 160 baseball players, all between the ages of 16 and 18. And the city expects to fill 1,200 hotel rooms with players’ friends and families, adding to Klamath County’s $132 million in annual tourism revenue.

“This has been a baseball town for decades,” says Jim Chadderdon, executive director of Discover Klamath. “We’re really excited about this event from a tourism perspective,” he says, explaining how the economic impact from one marquee event can have long-term benefits to a city like Klamath Falls. “When a community like ours hosts tournaments, we get the reputation as a sports town. That’s a big boost to the economy.”

The impact extends beyond economic growth. Becoming a sports destination makes cities a better place to live. An emphasis on recreational activities and an improved sports infrastructure gives residents a sense of civic pride and encourages an active lifestyle. “Having exciting landmarks like Kiger Stadium gives me pride for my city and my region,” Chadderdon says. “There is just so much Oregon has to offer visitors, and sports tourism helps us grow a stronger community.” 

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