In the rough and tumble competition for a bite of the sports tourism pie, Pasco doesn’t have a world class swimming complex, a 45,000-square-foot gymnasium or a 100-acre equestrian center.
That means Pasco won’t be at the head of the line for clubs and organizations looking to hold major swim meets and competitions. They’ll go to the International Swimming Hall of Fame in Ft. Lauderdale.
Pasco won’t host gymnastics, volleyball, basketball or roller hockey events. Competitors can go to the Jostens Center at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex at Disney, which is close to the size of two Best Buy stores.
Pasco also doesn’t have a rival to the 110-acres in Palm Beach County at the Jim Brandon Equestrian Center.
But the county does have something many of the bigger draws for sports tournaments do not: hundreds of sprawling, undeveloped acres.
“With all that land there, that’s a big thing these days for building parks for sports,” said Nick Gandy, spokesman for the Florida Sports Foundation, an agency that helps promote sporting events and the money they bring to the state.
Pasco is trying to work a deal with the Porter family, owners of Wiregrass Ranch, to build an
Having places for youngsters and adults to play outdoor tournaments and competitions that include soccer, lacrosse, softball, flag football or even archery is a major business for Florida.
“The climate is perfect all year round. We’re a great playground,” said Eric Keaton, spokesman for Pasco’s Office of Tourism Development.
The state sports foundation estimates that hosting sports events and competitions produced $1.19 billion in economic impacts statewide in 2010, including the impact from the state’s professional sports teams. That’s only slightly more than half the $3.6 billion impact the foundation estimated from 2005, but the type of sports tourism Pasco wants has proven to be more resilient.
“Even with the recession, people still went to tournaments,” Keaton said. Parents are often reluctant to prevent their child from being part of a major athletic tournament or championship, he said.
You can look at the Dick's Sporting Goods Tournament of Champions national lacrosse event coming to Pasco at the end of December as an example of standing up to recession. Its economic impact on Pasco went from about $1 million in 2008 to more than $3 million last year, Keaton said.
The demand for places to play tournaments can be large enough that groups seeking to put on events in Hillsborough sometimes have to spill into Pasco to find room, Keaton said.
The sporting tournaments cover just about any activity that involves keeping score or two people in competition. The major events Pasco is battling other counties to lure include soccer, lacrosse, flag football and others that can be played on the same basic field, along with baseball on various size diamonds.
Pasco doesn’t have the facilities to pursue large events in sports that need pools or gymnasium space, Keaton said.
But plenty of other counties want the sports that Pasco is after, too. There are more than 20 county sports commissions as part of the Florida Sports Foundation, Gandy said.
Their job is to entice tournament organizers and all want the bucks an event with a couple thousand athletes and spectators can bring.
“If you can get a national tournament from one of a sport’s governing bodies, that’s huge,” he said.
Other places try to seduce existing tournaments to uproot.
“Lacrosse is always being asked to move,” Keaton said.
Polk County did lure away a less traditional sporting event that drew close to 40,000 spectators and participants to Pasco.
The Tough Mudder event held at Little Everglades Ranch attracted about 18,000 competitors and 20,000 spectators over two days. It was the largest endurance event ever held in Florida, Keaton said.
“That doesn’t mean Tough Mudder won’t come back to Pasco County,” he said.
Next year, Pasco County may join a National Association of Sports Commisssions that would give the county access to larger events and wider exposure to organizers, although the county already has plenty to compete with other parts of the state, Keaton said.
"Personally, I think we're already in the big leagues," he said.