Sports events put millions into economy

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Augusta has scored big with two new sporting events: the Augusta Half Marathon and the Iron Man Triathlon.

The events, which are expected to bring new tourism spending to Augusta, join dozens of other sporting events that draw crowds -- and millions of dollars -- into Augusta's economy each year.

Augusta's sporting industry is "the biggest sleeping economic engine in the community," said Tammy Stout, the executive director of the Greater Augusta Sports Council. "Annually, the sports industry recruits $10 million of new spending within the community."

Each year, about 25,000 sports fans visit the city and reserve 20,000 hotel room nights, Ms. Stout said, and restaurants and retail businesses benefit from visiting crowds.

In April and May, Augusta gained $3.5 million from sporting events, including softball, archery, golf, track and field, and tennis, Ms. Stout said.

The U.S. Tennis Association's Georgia Adult Championship in May brought $1 million into the local economy, Ms. Stout said.

She is optimistic that the new events, particularly the Iron Man Triathlon, will draw crowds to Augusta because the event is "respected and established in the name of sports."

"It's very prestigious to be hosting an Iron Man event in your community," Ms. Stout said. "It's not only economic impact for us, but it's also incredible community promotion."

This October, runners will have their chance at the inaugural Half Marathon Race Festival in downtown Augusta. The event, which includes a 5K race on Saturday and a half-marathon on Sunday, is expected to draw 1,000 people.

In September 2009, the one-day Iron Man Triathlon will debut in Augusta, and it should attract an athletic delegation of 1,500. The competition features a cycling race to South Carolina, a 1.2-mile swim down the Savannah River and a 13.1-mile run through downtown.

Ms. Stout said the sports council, a nonprofit organization formed in 1992, markets Augusta as an "amateur sports destination."

Few cities in Georgia have a similar organization, Ms. Stout said, which gives Augusta an advantage. Midsize cities such as Augusta are attractive because event planners believe they can get a better economic deal and won't have to compete for spectators and media coverage, unlike in major cities.

The sports council hopes to expand several existing events, including rowing, tennis, disc golf, softball and BMX, a dirt-bike racing competition.

Ms. Stout said a strong sports industry gets the attention of businesses thinking of coming to a community.

Darryl Leech, the vice president and general manager of the Augusta Marriott Hotel & Suites, said May's tennis event probably filled more than 1,000 hotel rooms a night citywide for several days.

"These are first-class events that bring lots of people to town," Mr. Leech said. "People have to eat and use goods and services, and they're in our community creating positive economic impact."

Reach LaTina Emerson at (706) 823-3227 or latina.emerson@augustachronicle.com.

IMPACT


- Augusta's sports industry had an estimated economic impact of $3.5 million this spring.


- Tennis events alone brought $1 million to Augusta.


- On average, sporting events in the city attract about 25,000 tourists each year. This averages about 20,000 hotel rooms occupied per year.


- In April, seven sporting events (including softball, archery, golf, track and field, and tennis) drew about 7,000 guests to Augusta.


- In May, the U.S. Tennis Association's Georgia Adult Championship drew 1,100 players and a total athletic delegation of 1,500.


- The Iron Man competition is expected to attract about 1,500 athletes.


- Officials expect the Augusta Half Marathon to draw a crowd of 1,000.

Source: Tammy Stout, executive director of the Greater Augusta Sports Council

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