The 2021 Canada Summer Games could be a game changer for Niagara — if stakeholders seize the moment.
That’s the message Brock Associate Professor of Sport Management Julie Stevens is hoping to convey as preparations for the much-anticipated event continue.
The Games, she says, have the potential to be a catalyst for Niagara’s economic revitalization, and work is underway to make that possibility a reality.
Stevens says Niagara’s hosting of the Games puts into the spotlight what she and others in the field have known for a long time: sport plays an important role “as an engine of the Niagara economy.”
“Niagara stakeholders are great at tourism but we really are missing out on the business of sport tourism,” she says, noting that in 2017, some 259,000 sport tourists came to Niagara, spending more than $45 million in the area.
“How can we increase public awareness and discuss ways to build this part of Niagara’s economy?”
To that end, Stevens gave a presentation on her research report, Towards a “Made-in-Niagara” Sport Tourism Model, to Niagara Region’s Planning and Economic Development Committee July 10.
The research, commissioned by the Region, involved identifying best practices from sport tourism offices in nine Canadian municipalities. Stevens consulted 64 people from the tourism, business, economic development, sport and recreation sectors across Niagara on the issue of sport tourism being an important driver of the region’s economy.
She makes six recommendations that include creating a sport event office that would co-ordinate and market sport tourism.
The report defines sport tourism as being “sport events that attract people from outside the community, whether for a few hours or a few days.”
The numbers are substantial. For instance, master’s student Chris Charlebois and Stevens wrote a policy brief last year that found the Royal Canadian Henley Regatta had a $2.8-million impact in 2015, and the Scotties Tournament of Hearts had an impact of $6.8 million in 2017.
Yet, there are obstacles that prevent Niagara from recognizing and capitalizing on economic opportunities that sport tourism can bring.
One is that government and businesses tend not to view sport organizations and events within a broader economic development context. There’s a host of services offered by a range of sources, such as hotels, restaurants, legal offices, marketing and promotional companies, that are associated with sport events and organizations, says Stevens.
In her report, she gives the example of a hotel chain in which half of its business comes from sport tourism, accounting for 200 jobs.
“In order to capitalize on the “sport wave,” Niagara business owners must think of sport as more than the professional game you see on television or streamed on the internet,” Stevens wrote in a recent article in Reveal Niagara. “Sport exists in the commercial, non-profit and public sectors.”
But an even bigger obstacle is that Niagara doesn’t have a centralized, formal structure to provide information on and co-ordinate sport tourism efforts in the region.
According to Stevens’ research report, the lack of a sport event office means “there is a void in Niagara’s sport tourism market, as no one is strategically and actively marketing the whole of Niagara as a sport tourism destination and seeking to attract new large-scale sport events to the community.”
The report notes that, until funding ran out in 2017, the Niagara Sport Commission had taken on this role.
“Hopefully we’ll see stakeholders think about next steps and keep the discussion going, especially given that the Region and two municipalities — St. Catharines and Thorold — have committed infrastructure funding for the new Canada Games Park and the Henley Rowing Centre facilities,” Stevens says.