Newberry turned into a mecca for softball and baseball tournaments in 2021, drawing thousands of people to the area and generating more than $11 million in revenue.
Richard Blalock, CEO and president of RADDSPORTS, and manager of the 16-field Champions Park, presented the numbers to the Newberry Commission at Tuesday night’s meeting.
According to Blalock, Champions Park hosted 23 weekend and multi-day events involving 1,029 teams.
“One of the main focuses was to go after two, three, four-day events,” Blalock said. “We accomplished that.”
Blalock reported that during showcases and camps, 150 colleges came to Newberry, representing every SEC and ACC school, along with most of the Big 10 universities, Arizona, Arizona State and the University of Washington.
“The University of Washington coach told me on that Saturday morning that when the COVID restrictions were lifted on D1 schools on that Friday, he knew he was going to get on a plane and go somewhere in the country to watch softball, and he ended up in Newberry, Florida, from Spokane, Washington. He offered two scholarships during that event.”
Blalock reported that 42,932 people used Champions Park in 2021. He broke down the number to 6,179 out of state, 28,822 out of county and 7,931 from Alachua County.
The impact of that activity resulted in $2,093,829 in sales of 15,142 hotel room nights. More than $1.86 million of that was in direct room sales, which raised $93,474 in bed tax and $130,866 sales tax.
Blalock also reported an estimate of $9.28 million in indirect sales, which includes restaurant revenue, gas sales and other purchases made by travelers. A typical adult from out of state spends $210 a day.
In a three-year review of operations since Blalock took over managing the park, he reported that 2,520 teams used the fields. A total of 101,817 people came through the park in that time, including 15 percent out of state, 67 percent out of county, and 18 percent local.
“Out of state and out of county add up to most generating bed tax,” he said. “More than 40,000 stay in hotels generating $4.28 million in hotel revenue.”
The park visitors filled 32,248 rooms in three years and the $4.28 million in room sales generated $281,000 in sales tax and $200,000 in bed tax collection.
“For a total $4.5 million direct impact to hotels in Alachua County,” Blalock reported, adding that the indirect impact for the last three years is more than $21 million.
Blalock said the Gainesville Sports Commission paid $114,000 over three years and that money delivered a high return on investment of $192 per dollar.
“I think investors would be pretty happy with those returns on their investment,” he said. “The park is doing exactly what it was supposed to do when it was built with the bed tax.”
The schedule of events for 2022 includes even more multiple-day tournaments than last year.
During the upcoming Presidents’ Day three-day weekend, Blalock said “every single double hotel room in Alachua County is sold out,” adding that rates are between $329 to $350 a night.
Some of the tournaments are so big that nearby fields at the Easton Newberry Sports Complex and in Jonesville Baseball Park are being reserved.
Blalock also reported that colleges that visited in 2021 are putting pressure on events to come to Newberry because Champions Park has 16 fields and coaches can go from field to field to scout and recruit players.
After Blalock spoke, Rebecca Lamb, past president of Alachua County Hospitality Council, came to the podium to present a plaque to the City of Newberry.
“If it was not for your support and Champions Park, we would not have had anything during COVID,” she said. “They brought business in when everything was shut down.”
The plaque stated that Newberry has “visionary leadership” and serves as “a model for others of what is possible.”
In November 2021, the Newberry Commission gave staff the green light to apply for a grant to upgrade Champions Park.
Blalock reported on replacing water systems and pitching mounds and a continued commitment to make sure Champions Park continues to offer top rated facilities.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to remove claims that Champions Park generated more local hotel stays than the University of Florida in 2021.