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Commission OKs study on impact of sports in county

By Staff | Mar 25, 2009

The Lee County Commission would like to show residents how valuable sports have become to the county by funding a $20,000 impact study in conjunction with Florida Gulf Coast University.
The study would focus on the impact of professional, and more specifically, amateur sports activities like national softball and baseball tournaments, which utilize existing structures such as Hammond Stadium and the City of Palms Park.
Tammy Hall said the study is crucial to get a full picture of the importance of all sports to Lee County, not just the 30 or so days each year when Major League Baseball teams visit the area for spring training.
The Lee County Sports Authority, charged with promoting pro and amateur sports, estimates that each spring training team nets $25 million a year for the county. Amateur sporting events generated more than $54 million of direct and indirect economic impact in 2008 alone.
Hall, who is also chairwoman of the Tourism Development Council, wants definite numbers, especially how it relates to the various Lee County sports facilities.
“There’s been a lot of controversy and a lot of assumptions made (about the impact of sports), and not always using quantifiable data,” she said.
The Tourism Development Council requested that the cost of the study be funded using monies from reserves for the new Boston Red Sox stadium. It recently reallocated bed tax away from beach and shoreline funds to pay for the stadium, the cost of which is still unknown.
The request comes on the heels of the Lee County Visitor and Convention Bureau getting the go-ahead from commissioners to sign a $150,000 contract with a marketing representative to act on behalf on the bureau in the Midwest.
Commissioner Frank Mann was particularly unhappy Tuesday with funding a sports study, especially when it comes to the impact of the Red Sox.
“I see the benefit of the study, but I don’t see how it affects what we have with the Red Sox,” he said. “I’ve been in Lee County so long, and I’ve seen so many studies … it’s not a bad thing, but I’m not convinced it’s a necessary thing.”
Commissioner Brian Bigelow echoed Mann, saying the county is spending money to research something everyone already knows — it is good to have sports, professional or otherwise.
Still, Hall insisted the study is necessary to see “beyond spring training” and understand sports’ full impact.
“We need to look at sports the same way we would look at a corporate entity,” she said. “If we were bringing IBM here, we need to know what the impact will be.”
The item passed 3-2, with Bigelow and Mann dissenting.