This past weekend, athletes from all over the country descended upon Victoria to take part in the Texas Amateur Athletic Federation Winter Games.
Athletes traveled from cities like San Antonio, Houston and New Orleans to compete. One — Jon Cross — even traveled all the way from Norwalk, Ohio, to participate in Riverside Park’s disc golf tournament.
And while these athletes came to Victoria to compete, they also gave a jolt to the Victoria economy by staying in the city’s hotels, dining at its restaurants and seeing its attractions.
The TAAF Winter Games are just the start of Victoria’s initiatives to drive sports tourism in the coming years.
Victoria’s location as the center of three major cities and its weather patterns mean the city could be an ideal spot for sports tourism, assistant city manager Mike Etienne said. The city is focused on sports tourism because it could be a driving force behind the city’s economy by generating sales tax, he said.
“The goal is to have continuous sports or athletic events or tournaments year round,” Etienne said.
Sports tourism is one of the fastest growing sectors of tourism, according to the World Tourism Organization.
The city believes Victoria could be a sports destination that takes advantage of the tourism that comes with athletic events, Etienne said.
This goal is attainable because Victoria has several factors going in its favor, he said.
One, the city’s weather is ideal for sports and outdoor activities such as fishing, hunting and kayaking, he said. There are relatively few cold months that would prevent outdoor events from taking place.
Two, Victoria is centrally located between Houston, San Antonio and Corpus Christi, making it a central point between both major cities and smaller cities like Cuero, Shiner and Port Lavaca.
Three, the city has amenities to support sports tourism, like hotels and restaurants.
Finally, Victoria has an airport, which athletes and supporters could utilize to quickly fly to the city, Etienne said.
“We believe there’s no reason why Victoria should not be known as the sports and outdoors destination for South Texas.”
Etienne cited a December playoff football game featuring Shiner and Refugio high schools played at Victoria’s Memorial Stadium as an example of the city’s potential for sports tourism.
In December, Victoria school district athletic director Spencer Gantt reported 7,232 tickets were sold for the game and an unreported number of people attended with sports passes from the respective schools.
The TAAF Winter Games will take place in Victoria for two more years, and the city is already planning other sporting and outdoor events, Etienne said.
“The TAAF games will lay the groundwork, but when the TAAF games are gone we’ll continue to have tournaments,” he said.
The city will be hosting a 3 vs 3soccer tournament in February and a flag football tournament in March, and they plan to host fishing competitions, baseball, softball and hunting events in the future, Etienne said.
The major benefit of sports tourism is the revenue it generates for the city through sales tax, Etienne said.
“When individuals come to Victoria, they stay in our hotels,” he said. “They eat in our restaurants. That generates sales tax.”
When the city generates more sales tax, that means it has more money in its coffers to spend on city improvements, Etienne said. That includes fixing city streets, sidewalks and gutters, as well as implementing city master plans such as the parks master plan, the drainage master plan and the downtown master plan.
Several Victoria businesses offered special deals to attract TAAF Winter Games athletes to come through their doors. Restaurants like Burdogz Bar & Grill, Fossati’s Delicatessen and Sweet Fountainz Bakery offered discounted meals. The Texas Zoo offered a discount on admission fees while Outlaw Pass Family Fun Center offered a 50% discount on mini golf.
At The Texas Zoo, there is excitement that further sports tourism will attract people to their business, interim director Cari Wittenborn said.
“Any time we have more tourism in town we’re excited, especially whenever it’s in the park,” she said. “It allows us to spread our mission and our animal’s stories to out-of-town people who may fall in love with our little zoo here in Victoria.”
The zoo didn’t keep a count of out-of-town visitors, but they did see a slight increase in customers over the weekend, when they offered 25% off on entry fees, Wittenborn said. She noted that on Saturday, when the zoo offers $1 entry fees, they were very busy but did not take attendance to see if visitors were not from Victoria.
Fairfield Inn & Suites in Victoria was the designated host hotel for the Winter Games, but did not respond when contacted for information about customers served over the weekend.
The city is working to hire a full-time sports tourism manager, Etienne said. They prefer the individual taking the job be from Victoria.