Photo | Courtesy of Mobile Sports Authority
Danny Corte may not be a Grateful Dead fan, but he can certainly agree with the famous jam band on one matter — what a long, strange trip it’s been!
Corte is the executive director of the Mobile Sports Authority (MSA). This is a nonprofit sports commission formed in 2009 by the Mobile County Commission. The main mission is to create a positive economic and public relations impact through supporting sporting events that attract visitors to the area.
Like much of life, sports tourism was greatly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. So many events were canceled that year, MSA actually passed on doing its normal economic impact report.
However, activities managed to bounce back in the latest fiscal year. Corte is quite pleased with how things turned out from October 2020 through September 2021.
“We didn’t do a report last year because of COVID,” Corte told Lagniappe. “We just had so many events canceled.”
This past year, though, was a different story.
“It has come back with a vengeance,” Corte said. “We see it continuing.
“Sports has to take place in person, while meetings can be virtual. So, sports tourism could be even bigger in the future. The numbers show that.”
Once again, the most successful event for the last fiscal year was the Gulf Coast Challenge football game. The fourth-annual game was between the Tuskegee Golden Tigers and the Alabama A&M Bulldogs at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. The game attracted 17,000 fans, which included visitors from at least 10 states.
The weeklong agenda included a college and career fair for local high school students, two free concerts at Cathedral Square (one with Ruben Studdard and the other with the Ying Yang Twins), a team/alumni luncheon, a Mardi Gras-style parade and a game-day tailgating experience.
“It continues to be our biggest event,” Corte said. “This one hit $5.6 million.
“The matchups really make the difference. Next fall we will have Jackson State and Alabama State. JSU always draws huge crowds, so this could be the largest athletic event at Ladd since Tim Tebow played in the Senior Bowl. Coach Prime [Deion Sanders] always brings it to the table. We are really looking forward to the game.”
But it is not always one of the big three sports that makes the largest impact.
“Volleyball was responsible for $2.4 million last year,” Corte said of the seventh-annual USA Volleyball Gulf Coast Region Championship. “We had the largest volleyball tournament we’ve ever held in Mobile County. We’ve hosted the regionals for years, but this time we had to use Foley because we didn’t have enough room.” In Mobile, 183 teams played and 65 more did in Foley.
“This was followed up six weeks later with the ‘Balling on the Bay’ basketball tournament. There were 96 teams. It was the largest youth basketball event ever held in Mobile County.” It also had an estimated $2.4 million economic impact.
The Babe Ruth 16U-18U World Series baseball event was another key player. It produced an estimated $1.07 million in economic impact.
“Pre-COVID in 2019, it was one of our biggest events hosted at the University of Mobile,” Corte said. “This year it was still an excellent event at Hank Aaron Stadium. COVID hurt us because we had no international team take part. We also had less families traveling this time.”
Of the 31 sports events on the fiscal year report, 17 were either taking place for the first or second time. Of those, 14 were oriented toward youth teams. MSA-hosted events generated an estimated $22.4 million for the Mobile area economy.
“We started a Christmas volleyball tournament in December 2020 called the Volley Jolley,” Corte said. “We had 31 teams, with 16 being from out of town.
“We just had the second one a few weeks ago. This time we had 56 teams. You can see the growth in that one event of volleyball.”
Future is bright
Corte is optimistic sporting events will continue to bounce back.
“Sports tourism is about 20 to 25 percent of normal tourism,” he said. “It could be a bigger percentage from what we are seeing now. It might not change in the future, but it is sure trending that way.”
Corte believes non-traditional sports will drive the industry. MSA is always looking for trends outside football, baseball and basketball.
“One of the fastest youth sports is girls’ wrestling,” Corte said. “We host the Gulf Coast Clash high school event in September. For the first time, we had girls’ teams. That is something no one thought of four to five years ago.”
Corte said MSA couldn’t take credit for the growth in 2021.
“It starts with the investment from the city and county,” Corte said. “We take that and multiply it on a return back to them.
“Some events are small and some are big. We host various events for various reasons.”
One such event was the North-South All-Star Football Game at Hancock Whitney Stadium.
“I am pleased that our relationship with the AHSAA (Alabama High School Athletic Association) continues to grow,” Corte said. “We hope to have more of their championships down here.
“But it all has to do with having the facilities. The University of South Alabama has opened their arms to us. [USA Athletic Director] Joel Erdmann and his staff have been great to work with. Without facilities, sports aren’t coming.”
Since 2012, MSA has attracted, hosted, managed or co-managed 284 sporting events. Over the last five fiscal years (2017-21), MSA has helped with an average of 30 sports events per year that have generated an estimated economic impact of $18.6 million per year.
The full economic impact report can be found at tinyurl.com/mryzkca9.
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