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Push to attract more amateur sports events has the potential for a big reward

Visit Buffalo Niagara has an ambitious plan to greatly increase the number of amateur sporting events in Buffalo. While some aspects of the plan seem overly ambitious, there is little doubt that significant expansion is possible.

Amateur sports is already an important part of the region’s economy. VBN President and CEO Patrick Kaler puts the impact now at $70 million a year. Just last year, he said, the VBN secured 168 sports events, generating about 80,000 hotel room nights.

Kaler makes a strong argument for using the success of the VBN and the Buffalo Niagara Sports Commission to add to the number of amateur sporting events here. To that end, the VBN commissioned a report by Indianapolis-based TSE Consulting. The report concluded that the local impact of amateur sports could grow to as much as $140 million, although that would take a significant investment in new facilities or upgrades to existing venues.

The report suggests updating the swimming facilities at Erie Community College’s Burt Flickinger Athletic Center downtown, improving the track and field stadium at the University at Buffalo North Campus and renovating the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center to better accommodate indoor sports such as volleyball, gymnastics and martial arts. While the need for improvements sounds plausible, those institutions need to be shown how the upgrades will pay off for them in the long run.

Even more challenging are suggestions for a new arena seating 3,000 to 5,000 and a multifield complex that would include sites for soccer, lacrosse, rugby, baseball and softball. Such a complex is envisioned as a self-contained attraction with its own hotels and restaurants.

With the proper facilities, according to the report, the region could expand on its five core sports of ice hockey, softball, baseball, swimming and track and field, and add four more concentrations: basketball, skating, gymnastics and bowling.

Kaler and company understand that such proposals will be a heavy lift, requiring a mix of funding from government, corporate sponsorships, membership programs and grants. Those sources are in short supply, but much can be done to bring more events to existing venues. That activity will demonstrate the value of major investments.

Going after more events will take some money for bidding fees and to cover the cost of using the venues. There is a source for that funding: the county bed tax. The bed tax, paid mostly by visitors to the region, is the logical source of funding to attract more visitors. Some bed tax revenue goes to the VBN, but a bigger allotment would be returned to the county many times over from increased tourism and more sporting events.

Bringing more amateur sports to Buffalo is a good idea. It will take quite a bit of effort to reach some of the bigger goals, but building on what we already have will be a solid start.