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Editorial: Take regional approach in sports tourism push

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Sports events in Franklin generate about $1 million per year, but that number could increase significantly if the city worked to promote local facilities, according to recent studies.

According to the studies by two researchers, facilities at Franklin Community High School, Franklin College and local parks could host many more tournaments and competitions each year, if the city had an agency focused on bringing in new events. But the research also showed that the city would need to address a significant problem — a lack of hotel space.

The studies were completed by an Indiana University professor who specializes in sports tourism and the National Association of Sports Commissions. They were done as part of a plan the city, Franklin Community School Corp., Franklin College and Johnson Memorial Hospital have been considering to form a nonprofit group that would work to attract more sports events.

Local facilities, especially those at the high school, put the city in a good position to compete for new events, the report from the association said.

“We found several of your facilities to be among the best we have seen anywhere in the country,” the report said.

For example, the fieldhouse at the high school has four courts, flexible dividers between courts, air conditioning and pull-out bleachers, which make it a good option for hosting large events such as wrestling, volleyball or basketball tournaments, the report said. The staff who visited the school said the building is the largest and most flexible fieldhouse they’ve seen at a high school.

The school also received high praise for its pool and cross-country course, which are both large enough to host statewide or national competitions.

Lodging accounts for the biggest spending by visitors, but Franklin is severely hampered by its lack of hotel space, both reports said. Franklin has the facilities to host an event that can draw more than 1,000 people, but those visitors have to stay in Greenwood, Indianapolis or Taylorsville, where larger hotels are located.

Promoting youth sports spurs new economic development. The money spent by visitors goes into small businesses, such as local shops or restaurants, and more events could lead to growth of those businesses.

The study shows a clear value to sports tourism and also points out well Franklin’s shortcomings to becoming a significant destination for events.

The concept, though, is broader than just Franklin. Johnson County as a whole should be marketed for its sports potential, from the equestrian facilities at Hoosier Horse Park in the south to the youth football and soccer fields in the Center Grove area.

If the Johnson County Council passes an innkeeper’s tax and establishes a tourism bureau, then this would be the best place to coordinate sports marketing.

Rather than one community battling it out with another, efforts should be countywide.

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