As the local economy begins to recover from a pandemic slump, youth sports revitalize Norman through the generation of tax dollars and revenue for the city’s businesses.
In the last year, concerts and gatherings were postponed or cancelled and sporting events allowed limited to no attendees, resulting in significantly less revenue for businesses in Norman. Dan Schemm, VisitNorman executive director, said youth sports have been constant throughout the duration of the pandemic.
“What we have seen this past year, is not only are youth sports recession proof, but they are pandemic proof,” Schemm said. “People are still playing basketball and soccer, and parents and grandparents are still wanting to go see their kids or grandkids play.”
According to event impact summaries from VisitNorman, a 2019 youth basketball tournament yielded over $224,000 in direct sales and over $347,000 in total sales for Norman.
Mandy Haws, vice president and general manager of Sooner Bowl said she sees a boost in business from youth sports teams coming to bowl.
She said she often gets calls from sports teams looking to book lanes at the bowling alley.
“My girls play soccer and we do the same thing,” Haws said. “You’ve got some downtime and you want to go burn off some nervous energy and maybe get some food. We had some groups last weekend and will be having some this weekend too.”
In 2016, the Owasso Soccer Club held their Classic Cup for youth soccer in Norman. The three day event generated over $1,000,000 in total sales for businesses and $678,631 in direct sales for Norman businesses, according to a VisitNorman EIS.
The Norman lodging industry saw $136,383 in revenue from the tournament which garnered just under 1,400 overnight attendees.
Lori Elshouki, area director of sales for both the Hilton Garden Inn and Holiday Inn Express said both hotels were filled to capacity last weekend, primarily due to traveling youth sports teams playing in tournaments in Norman.
Elshouki said in what is hopefully the turnaround from the pandemic, it was refreshing to see a surge of business in the industry locally.
“People don’t realize how important youth sports is for every sector, as restaurants were busier than usual too and it was just great to see,” Elshouki said. “Increased revenue means we can help those who are without a job, because we are actually doing some hiring right now. It’s just great to see it’s definitely a big difference.”
Jason Olsen, Norman Parks and Recreation superintendent, said early in the pandemic some youth sporting events were cancelled during a time when there was much uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, but numbers have since rebounded.
“While it’s not back to pre-COVID-19 numbers, I would say we anticipate a [rebound] to continue,” Olsen said.
As spring and summer youth sporting events continue to ramp up, Olsen said businesses should continue to see the financial benefit. With the ongoing renovations to Norman sports facilities like Griffin Park and Reaves Park, and the construction of a multi-sport facility, Olsen foresees youth sports to grow as an economic driver as Norman attracts sporting events from around the country.
“When you’re talking about commerce, I mean that’s one of the main drivers behind Norman Forward,” Olsen said. “All these families leave town to go to Dallas, Kansas City or Little Rock to play in a tournament… Now, you’re going to start seeing turnaround at Griffin Park, which is starting to get bigger and better tournaments.”
Olsen said in the near future Norman will start to see the benefits of those renovations trickle down into different sectors of the local economy.
“Families stay overnight at hotels in the area and they go eat and shop here,” Olsen said. “I think even more so in the next two years with the park renovations and the Young Family multi-sports and aquatic center, it’s going to be a complete game changer to Norman.”
Schemm said ideally, a boom could come sooner than later with restrictions lifted statewide and further progression of the vaccine rollout.
“Tournament attendees spend a lot of money, and the Norman Youth Soccer Association is part of a league that has teams from Texas and other places that come here,” Schemm said. “It’s great to see that our hotels absolutely see the benefit of youth sports, and our restaurants and shops get that benefit as well.”