According to the Florida Sports Foundation, the sports industry creates over $57.4 Billion in economic impact for the Sunshine State, provides over 580,000 jobs for its citizens, and attracts over 16 million out of state visitors each year. The Business Report asked contributing writer Michael Robinson to take a look at Gainesville and how our community is maximizing opportunities for growth in sports, even beyond the Gator Nation.
As a long-time resident of Gainesville, I have attended or read about the many sporting events in our city and surrounding Alachua County municipalities. A short list of sporting events would include but certainly not limited to a High School Flag Football championship, under 25 Weightlifting Championship, Florida High School Athletic Association Cheerleading Finals; Sunshine State Games Basketball Tournament, and U.S. Amateur Boys Basketball National Championships.
Who or what drives this powerful athletic train? Answer – The Gainesville Sports Commission.
Founded in 1988, The Gainesville Sports Commission works to bring sporting events to our local community and assists with hosting, creating and supporting over 45 events annually. Since its inception, Gainesville Sports Commission has directly contributed more than $200 million of economic growth and creates approximately $20 million annually of direct economic impact for our community.
In order to gather insight about the GSC and its workings, I sought input from a knowledgeable source and authority, Joleen Cacciatore, Executive Director of the Gainesville Sports Commission:
Question. What are your goals for the GSC?
Answer. “The main goal of the GSC has always been to bring in tourism and out of county economic impact through sporting events for Gainesville and Alachua County. Our ancillary goals are to promote the community throughout the state and the country as not only as a sports town, but also as a great destination for outdoor recreation and wildlife, a hub of arts and culture, and unique restaurants and nightlife.”
Q. What are the challenges?
A. “Events just on their own can be very challenging with long hours during nights and weekends. Additionally scheduling what events we can bring in and pairing them up with local facilities and their schedules is an additional hurdle. It’s always difficult to turn away events that want to come to the area because facilities are booked or require a facility that we simply do not have locally. Sports tourism is becoming more and more competitive each year and those communities who don’t keep up with competitive facilities will see tourism drop.”
Cacciatore continued: “With Alachua County adding additional hotel rooms faster and additional facilities to attract tourist to those hotels, the added challenge is self-evident. This is why the GSC is very excited for Alachua County’s new fairgrounds to be built which will bring in new opportunities for the community to host events that were never possible before.”
Ms. Cacciatore stated also that “educating the public as to what GSC is and why sport tourism is such a valuable part of our communities here in Alachua County is another challenge we have faced, even though the GSC has been operating since 1988.”
Q. What is it like to direct a large organization dealing with various sporting events?
A. “Sports and sporting events have historically been shown to be the number 1 driver for tourism and tourism related economic impact in Gainesville and Alachua County. I take great pride in taking on this challenge and responsibility by the GSC successfully bringing in millions of dollars to the community through sporting events we host or help host each year. It is extremely satisfying to see the difference our events make for hotels and businesses in Gainesville and Alachua County.”
Joleen Cacciatore was appointed Executive Director of the Gainesville Sports Commission in 2013. Prior to that position, she was interim ED, and before that she was Associate ED.
Blake Farrell is the GSC President and leads the Board of Trustees. Kevin Houseknecht serves as Events Manager.
By Michael W. Robinson