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September 17, 2013
Monday, September 16, 2013

By BEN R. WILLIAMS - Bulletin Staff Writer

The Smith River Sports Complex could bring nearly $5 million into the area during the course of this fiscal year, according to Billy Russo, its director of operations.

The complex arrived at the figure of $4,995,000 using an economic impact formula from the National Association of Sports Commissions, Russo said.

There are a number of factors that enter into the formula, but basically, it takes the number of people who are expected to spend the night in the Henry County/Martinsville area because of events at the complex, and then multiplies that number by $150 per person.

The $150 figure varies based on the cost of living in an area, Russo said. For example, in a larger city, that number could be closer to $175 or $200.

"Economic impact is very hard to measure sometimes, especially if you're not collecting data from every single individual," Russo said. "We've done very conservative numbers based on the amount of people we think we have here."

For example, Russo said, youth sports tend to draw larger crowds, since parents and other family members might attend, while college club sports generally don't draw out-of-town attendees beyond the players.

Over the next year, he said, he hopes to hand out surveys to visitors at the complex to get a better idea of how much money they are spending in the area and how they are spending it, whether on lodging, food, gasoline or shopping.

"A lot of restaurants and hotels benefit from us being here," he said. "That's one of our goals, the reason why we're here. We have 20 events this year that are hotel revenue-generating events."

The complex's fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30. The current fiscal year, 2013/2014, is the complex's fifth year, and its economic impact has grown significantly since 2009, Russo said.

For 2009/2010 and 2010/2011, the complex's estimated economic impact was $800,000 each year. In 2011/2012, that figure rose to $1.8 million, and then to $2.5 million in 2012/2013. The same formula was used to calculate the impact for the previous years.
Russo credits an expansion of the complex's scope with its continued growth.

"The first couple of years we were here, we were primarily a soccer facility," he said. "We had a couple of soccer events and that was it. ... We really started to look at other ways we could use the facility. All it took was one Frisbee event, then all of a sudden we had two Frisbee events, then four Frisbee events. It started to multiply. Same thing with lacrosse. We've gotten in pretty well with the Greensboro and Roanoke lacrosse clubs. We've helped spread the game and bring tournaments here."

Of the 20 hotel revenue-generating events being held at the complex this year, seven are ultimate Frisbee events, four are soccer events, one is a field hockey event and eight are lacrosse events. The lacrosse figure, Russo pointed out, is made all the more impressive by the fact that there are no lacrosse teams in the Henry County/Martinsville area.

"There are some other activities we're looking at to fill in different dates," he said. "We'd obviously like to bring some more events in the summertime. It's tough sometimes with kids out of school, and then winter is winter."

The complex also has widened its scope to host a number of special events, including the Smith River Fest, family reunions and a large number of smaller scale "day trip" events, such as travel soccer games, youth football games and area high school sports games. The economic impact of these day trip events, however, is much harder to measure, Russo said.

"We have travel soccer. There are over 50 travel soccer games here per year. They play teams from Blacksburg, Lynchburg, Roanoke, all over. ... We've talked to people that have said they've come in from Maryland and Florida and different places for family reunions, and we host them here. ... They're helping the tax base as well, but it's impossible for me to put a number there."

According to Amanda Gray, the complex's director of marketing and public relations, the hospitality the staff offers makes it an appealing choice for tournament directors.

"We work very well with the tourism department of the EDC," she said. "We work extremely closely with (Tourism Director) Jennifer Doss. When (tournament directors) come in, we have goodie bags for them with donations from community restaurants. We have great partnerships with our local businesses. They love the Southern hospitality."
Also, Gray said, the creature comforts of the complex make it appealing.

"A lot of (sports complexes) don't have restroom facilities that have A/C in the summer and then heating in the winter. Most of the time, they just have Port-A-Johns. And then we have misters in the field, and the quality of our fields and of our complex. That helps hugely with the growth of our tournaments."

On July 1, the complex was awarded a grant from the Harvest Foundation for $655,000 to help cover operations over the next three years, more than $200,000 less than its previous three-year grant. According to a previous Bulletin article, the Harvest Foundation paid $8.7 million to construct the complex.

"We've done a very good job, I think, of getting that number (Harvest grant funds) down," Russo said. "When we built this place, one of our goals was to become self-sustaining.

"We're looking at other funding sources and looking at other ways we can close that gap. That's our goal in the next three years: to close it. That's always been our challenge, to become self-sustaining, and I think we've done a really good job," he added.