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Friday, May. 24, 2019
The case for Sports Tourism in Sudbury
by Randy Pascal

Take a moment and Google “Sudbury Sports Tourism Strategic Plan”. At the very top of the list it produced, at least on my computer, is a document entitled “Destination Sudbury – 2015”. And though the primary focus is far more centered on general tourism strategies and suggestions, it is not all that difficult to isolate the sport-specific references.

Filter through to page 14, and one comes across the following statement: “As indicated in previous reports, the capacity of the host market to contribute to leisure, meetings, conventions and sports activities is underachieving.”

For the hundreds, perhaps thousands of local families who have travelled across the province far more weekends than they care to remember, in support of their children’s sporting activities, this statement is far from earth-shattering. The geographic realities, combined with basic population density, leads to a natural and very heavy preponderance of tournaments and the like being hosted across a relatively narrow slit of Ontario, covering the Ottawa region, down to Cornwall and eastern Ontario, and then extending west to Windsor.

This is precisely why attracting the 2018 Telus Cup, and hopefully, the 2021 Canada Summer Games to Sudbury is so critical. Organizers of amateur sports in our area have long come to the conclusion that hosting “invitational” tournaments in Northern Ontario presents countless challenges.

The fact remains that teams and individuals who reside year-round in the population core of our province find no real need to have to travel several hours north in search of competition. There is ample supply at their disposal within a relatively easy drive, in as much as tackling Highway 401 at any time of year can be termed “easy”.

The key to hosting sporting events, by and large, in Sudbury, is to host the types of qualifying competitions where the participants give little to no thought about the distance involved in reaching their final destination. Provincial championships, OFSAA playdowns, and events that reach beyond this scope tend to fit the bill nicely.

But why is this even important?

There is a tendancy, within many of those in the Sudbury region, to narrowly define the benefit of sports tourism, as the financial influx that occurs during the time events are hosted in our fair city. Certainly, one would not want to discount that payoff.

But in the case of Sudbury, very specifically, the absolute need to attract the good folks of Ontario, and those right across Canada, to our little corner of paradise, is even more crucial. A very small survey of adults attending the Skate Ontario Championships held in Sudbury in March of 2016 found that more than 75% of those visiting the area were doing so either for the first time ever, or the first time in a decade or more.

Generally, they arrived equipped with a "vision" of Sudbury that was likely much more accurate in an era closer to 1970, than it was to the current look and feel of the Nickel City. The fact is that much work still needs to be done to dispel those mythical images.

We all need to remember that every single visitor is a potential “sale” for Sudbury - a sale on the possibility of their children attending post-secondary institutions here, a sale on a down-the-road family visit that incorporates outdoor elements that are difficult to duplicate elsewhere in the province, a sale on the possibility of Sudbury as a retirement destination.

These “sales” are far more decidedly more difficult to factor into the financial equation when one seeks to quantify, with any kind of specificity, the impact of sports tourism. But make no mistake, these sales occur. Think of nothing more than vacation destinations that your families have enjoyed, and subsequently returned to, in order to appreciate the impact of the exposure you initially garnered to those cities, resorts, islands and hamlets.

As Sudbury prepares to duke it out with Ottawa, the Niagara region, and a consortium of Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge in their bid for the Summer Games, it does so without the obvious advantages that come with being home to the capital of our nation, or home to one of the great natural wonders of the world.

Which is precisely why every effort should be made to attract these type of events. Visitors will flow naturally to the parliament buildings in Ottawa, to the roar of the falls in Niagara. Visitors to Sudbury sometimes require a reason to visit. Once they do make the trek up our way, at least we have a chance on selling them on the idea of returning.

Just give us that chance.

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