#Gripesinsauga: Does Sauga Need a “Sports Tourism Strategy?”

 

Earlier this week, the city put out the call to residents to join in a discussion of a potential "sports tourism strategy." 

Now, before you get too excited, note there's no talk of bringing a major sports team to Sauga. Instead, city officials are wondering if they should dedicate more resources to making Mississauga more hospitable to people traveling from out of town for the purpose of viewing or participating in sporting events. 

At the public meeting, which was held in City Hall and hosted by Jason Klomp, the city's project head for the sports tourism strategy, about a dozen sports enthusiasts showed up to hear the presentation and raise concerns (of which there were many, but more on that later). 

The city has retained the services of Cameron Hawkins and Associates Inc., a consultation firm that helps public and private entities address and develop tourism strategies with past clients like Peterborough Memorial Centre, Ricoh Coliseum and the Rogers Centre to name a few. 

Cameron Hawkins himself led a presentation that essentially asked the sparse audience if they thought the city needed to focus on bringing sporting tourists (defined as people traveling from 40 or more kilometers away specifically for a sporting event) to our spacious suburb. As for people's answers, well, more on that soon. 

Hawkins -- who mentioned that Sauga has already successfully hosted such large-scale events as World Cup of Curling  and Memorial Cup -- said that the city has the major metrics in place to be a good home to major events. He praised the solid infrastructure, mainly the proximity ofPearsonAirport, presence of 400-series highways and potentially supportive businesses. He also said that, although Sauga is similar to other GTA citiesBramptonandRichmond Hill, it has a little more going for it. 

"It has hotels and the airport, and better public transportation." 

He also said the city's major venues -- Hershey Sport Zone,Meadowvale Sports Park, etc. -- are good but not great, meaning some facelifts and investment would be in order should Sauga decide to become a sports Mecca in the near future. 

And although the presentation didn't appear to aim to sell the idea, Hawkins did list some positive effects of a sports-friendly city, including healthy youth engagement, cultural celebration, quality of life benefits, and modest economic returns (increases in employment, revenue, and some municipal taxes). 

Now, the catch (if you want to call it that), is that the city would need to invest in better spectator facilities and implementing a wide-reaching tourism strategy would cost money. It would also potentially inconvenience local sports groups who would have to give up field or ice time for out-of-town teams or events. Also, in the event that several-day events come to Sauga, residents could face short-term street and facility closures that would disrupt traffic and regularly scheduled activities. Beneficiaries in the growth of sports tourism would be local restaurant and hotel owners who would service out of town guests, but it probably wouldn't be fair to say a modest surge in tourists would create significantly more jobs or private sector revenue. 

"[Mississauga] has the resources to do more," said Hawkins. "But it doesn't mean it should do more. Every dollar taken for sports tourism would have to be taken from somewhere else. So the question is, does the city need the strategy?" 

So, with the city courting the public before deciding to say "yay" or "nay" to focusing on bringing bigger or longer events to the city, what was the audience's reaction? 

Mostly complaints about how local teams suffer municipal neglect and that should be taken care of first. 

"What's the incentive for the community to give up a facility for an event?" an attendee said.

Hawkins asserted that, should the tourism initiative take off, the city would keep an open dialogue with the community, warning locals well in advance of blocked off days and weeks for events. The attendee scoffed at the idea, saying the meeting was essentially pointless and accomplished nothing -- an assertion Hawkins denied, saying the meeting was held simply to bounce ideas off of residents, not set anything in stone. 

Other attendees were more enthusiastic; with one saying there would be "no down side" to a sports tourism strategy. The attendee did, however, ask that the city connect with local sports organizers first to strengthen those relationships before reaching out to far off entities. 

So Insauga readers, what do you think? Is a sports tourism strategy good for the city, or does Sauga need to better connect with local sports organizers first? 

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