TAMPA, Fla. - Gov. Charlie Crist spent the morning touting the state’s $36 billion sports industry, an economic engine that continues to hum despite the worst recession since World War II.
Crist invited a handful of national and regional sports
promoters to the Governor’s Mansion for an informal chat.
The meeting came as the Pittsburgh Steelers were still celebrating a nail-biting Super Bowl victory over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, and the host city of Tampa is expected to score a $500 million economic impact.
The state’s tourist industry will reap the benefits of a nationwide TV audience, Crist said.
“It’s just a wonderful marketing opportunity,”
Crist’s guest list included Larry Pendleton, the president of Crist’s Florida Sports Foundation; Jack Swope, vice president of the Orlando Magic; Randy Spetman, athletic director for Florida State University and Jeff Mielke, executive director of the Lee County Sports Authority.
No industry is immune from an economic downturn that has seen Florida’s unemployment rate creep above 8 percent, group members said.
Florida’s nearly 1,300 golf courses employ 56,000 people with a $1.4 billion payroll. They draw 1 million visitors a year, with each spending an average of $1,700.
But scores of private courses are losing members and shedding
employees as corporate America cuts back on luxuries, said Joe
Steranka, CEO of PGA of America.
Regardless, the pastime remains popular and there are still bright spots, he said.
“The real winners are the state’s 87 municipal golf
courses. People are going to find the time and the money for
golf,” Steranka said. “We’re a vibrant, healthy
and stable industry. Like everybody else, we’re just going to
have to tighten our belts.”
Motor sports in Florida rack up a $2.5 billion economic impact, and remain a big draw for traveling fans, said Kathy Milthorpe of Daytona Beach, a managing director for the International Speedway Corporation.
Non-traditional and amateur sports are also magnets for traveling participants, Mielke said.
In Southwest Florida, 70 major events, including in-line hockey,
youth soccer and senior sporting events, accounted for a $65
million economic impact and generated 102,000 hotel-room nights,
That’s not counting the impact of spring training, he said.
Mielke asked Crist to work harder to keep teams from moving their operations out of state.
“In Southwest Florida, we don’t have the Super Bowl,” Mielke said. “Bring some teams back from Arizona to the state.”
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