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TARGETING AMATEUR SPORTS <br> 57% OF SPORTS TRAVELERS PLAN TO RETURN TO AREA

People visiting the Buffalo Niagara region to attend amateur sporting events spend an average of $341 each, and 57 percent of them plan to return within two years to visit local attractions, according to a recent study completed for the Buffalo Niagara Convention and Visitors Bureau.

As part of its campaign to boost the region as a tourist attraction, the local bureau is increasingly targeting amateur swimming, track, figure skating and other sports events as a growth market. About 40 percent of all hotel business booked by the Buffalo Niagara CVB in the last year were for amateur competitions.

The marketing strategy focuses on selling newer facilities, such as the Burt Flickinger Athletic Center in Buffalo and the Amherst Pepsi Center, while local officials decide whether to renovate or replace the antiquated Buffalo Convention Center.

"We made a decision three years ago to increase our marketing in amateur sports largely because we have good facilities here. We realize this is an important market for us and we continue to pursue it aggressively," said Richard Geiger, president of the Buffalo Niagara CVB.

The amateur sports business is, in some ways, the legacy of the 1993 World University Games held in Buffalo. The Flickinger Center at Erie Community College's city campus and a world-class track and field facility at the University at Buffalo's Amherst campus were constructed for those games.

More than half of arriving amateur sports travelers are visiting Erie County for the first time, according to the recent market research study completed by Choice Communications Systems of Washington, D.C.

About 40 percent of the sports travelers arrived by airline.

Fifty-seven percent of those surveyed said they planned on returning to the area within two years to visit Niagara Falls, museums, professional sports events or other attractions.

Major events held in the region in recent years have included a regional competition for the NCAA Men's Basketball Championships, popularly called the "March Madness" tournament, and the USA Track and Field Junior Olympics. Both those events were staged in 2000.

The Flickinger Center has hosted numerous scholastic, collegiate and USA Swimming events this year.

"The prices of hotels in Buffalo are affordable compared with New York City and other cities with good pools. That's especially important with many of the parents who accompany the swimmers," said Brian Brown, director of the Flickinger Center.

Although amateur sports continues to be a growing market locally, those events are generally smaller and have less economic impact than the traditional convention market.

The Buffalo Niagara CVB has booked 151 future events through August, which tops 123 events booked through August 2000. But the events booked this year will use only 75,028 hotel room nights and generate a $50.6 million economic impact, compared with 81,013 room nights and a $53.9 million impact from the events booked last year. The CVB estimates economic impact using a "multiplier effect" calculation that estimates each dollar spent by a visitor generates about $2.40 in local economic activity.

For example, the local bureau calculates that the impact of the $341 average expenditure is worth $814 to the economy, using a formula from the International Association of Convention and Visitors Bureaus.

David Hart, president of Hart Hotels in Buffalo, thinks a continued focus on amateur sports, working in cooperation with a new convention center, could give Buffalo a year-round market for events and meetings.

"You can't just take these sports facilities and milk them for all that they're worth. You're going to need to invest in these facilities to maintain and enhance them," said Hart, who owns five local hotels.

e-mail: cbridger@buffnews.com

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