If you build it…Windsor and the fine business of sports tourism

Since 2009 Windsor has been a town in search of a new identity. No longer the automotive powerhouse of days past; city council has been charged with breathing new life into this proud blue collar town.

The International Children’s Games was held in Windsor this summer. Photo by Travis Fauteux.
The International Children’s Games was held in Windsor this summer. Photo by Travis Fauteux.

The International Children’s Games was held in Windsor this summer. Photo by Travis Fauteux.

Mike Specht

Sports Editor

Since 2009 Windsor has been a town in search of a new identity. No longer the automotive powerhouse of days past; city council has been charged with breathing new life into this proud blue collar town.

The answer that Mayor Eddie Francis and company have come up with comes in the form of sports tourism.  With the construction of the new aquatics facility complete, the city and a successful International Children’s Games on its resume, Windsor is again ready to play host to the world.

Last Monday city council approved the 2014 FINA diving championships to take place at the $77 million pool in the city’s downtown core and also approved a bid for the 2014 Ontario Summer Games.

“We in the city of Windsor do several things well, but we do very few things really, really well. This is one of those areas where we now have an asset that sets us apart, and distinguishes us from other communities,” said councilman Fulvio Valentinis in an interview with the CBC.

“It’s important that we enhance and we use that as a marketing tool.”

2013/2014 looks to be a huge year for Windsor as it tries to establish itself as a destination for national and international events.

The addition of FINA and potential Summer Games would provide a huge boost to a Windsor tourism industry that has struggled since the mid 2000’s

Prior to 9/11 the tourism in Windsor drew in 9 million annual visitors, at one point 80 per cent of Caesars Windsor visitors were from the U.S.  That number has decreased dramatically in the wake of passport regulations as well as the economic downturn.

“We’re now spending 70 per cent of our marketing dollars on trying to attract tourists from elsewhere in Ontario and only 30 per cent on the U.S. market,” said councilman Drew Dilkens in an interview with the CBC.

Excluding the Summer Games, Windsor will have accommodated five major sporting championships by the end of 2014 bringing in over 10,000 athletes and coaches to the Rose City.

The University has played a key role in garnering national attention, with the ICG relying heavily on UWindsor facilities.

Earlier this month, the Lancers Men’s baseball club held the league championship at their new facility in Amherstburg, and will welcome the best teams from across Canada from October 17 to 19 for the Canadian Intercollegiate Baseball National Championship.

In Women’s Basketball the three time defending CIS champion Lancers are gearing up to host the CIS final 8 at the St. Denis Centre, which will be covered by all the major sports networks in Canada.

“Perhaps the biggest negative for Windsor is just the perception of the region from the Detroit bankruptcy,” said chief economist Douglas Porter of BMO Nesbitt Burns.

That perception is slowly changing as the City does more to draw in folks from out of town.  Athletic Director, and event convenor of the ICG, Mike Havey notes that proximity to Detroit is not necessarily a bad thing.

“There are so many things this city has to offer, in terms of [location].  Where else in this country can you live where you are on Canadian soil, but have all the major amenities of a major metropolitan area,” said Havey.

“Small enough to be comfortable, but large enough to be able to offer a range of opportunity,” he said.

After an ICG that netted $6.3 million in revenue, Windsor has embraced the opportunity and appears eager to play host to more top level events.  A successful summer games bid would bring over 3000 athletes and coaches to the region bringing another strong shot to the arm for Windsor tourism.

For a city that still boasts a Canada-high unemployment rate of 9.8 per cent, sport tourism may not be the solution for all of its economic woes, but it is certainly a start.  A successful bid for the 2014 Ontario Summer Games would prove that if you build the facilities, the athletes will come.

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