Lubbock is at the forefront for hosting sports tournaments in West Texas, but now members of the sports community fear the community is missing out on millions of dollars. They say Lubbock lacks the facilities needed to recruit large tournaments and the thousands of visitors who come with them.
A total of 19 tournaments that expressed interest in Lubbock as a host last year opted for another location. Their 23,000 visitors went with them, spending more than $8.5 million elsewhere. NewsChannel 11 spoke to some concerned citizens who would like to see Lubbock get off the bench and onto the playing field. Those citizens say even some of Lubbock's own league teams are opting to join out of town tournaments rather than tournaments hosted right here in Lubbock. They say what facilities we have are adequate, but they need to grow.
Dee Rutherford, a self proclaimed soccer dad, wrestling dad, softball dad, and football dad, can attest to the problem. Between son Nolan and daughter Kailey, the Rutherford family is involved in league sports year round. Dee says, "I'd say we probably spend $2,000 per year that we spend on travel and hotels and all that."
Dee and his wife Jackie, along with many other parents, are spending dollars in Lubbock's neighboring communities that could be spent here. Kailey says, "In soccer, I wish we could have a tournament here because most of the time we only have them in Midland and Amarillo."
Now those concerned citizens are devising a way to keep families like the Rutherfords in Lubbock. Billy Babcock, President of the Lubbock Soccer Association, is one of them. He says, "It'd be nice if we could get a facility where our kids and parents could get in and out and not worry about traffic jams and taking 45 minutes to get to a game." Bobby Drum, President of Lubbock Youth Softball & Texas State Director of the United States Specialty Sports Association says, "We have to go out there and break them apart sometimes and just talk because they're fighting over a parking space, taking 2 to 3 hours to get in."
Bobby and Billy are forced to share Lubbock's Berle Huffman Complex and its single parking lot. Babcock says just last month Lubbock missed out on a soccer tournament because there was a softball tourney scheduled the same weekend. Drum says, "What happens here, we have tournaments but we have to spread them over 22 different weekends and we have to take tournaments no one else wants, the small tournaments and there are huge tournaments other people are getting."
That means Lubbock is missing out on money. Lots of it. Drum and Babcock decided to bring their concerns to Jeff chase, Director of the Lubbock Sports Authority, and Anthony Garcia, President of the Lubbock Hotel Motel Assocation. Garcia recalls, "They were concerned about the lack of facilities and the inability to bring in new tournaments and the possibility of losing existing tournaments." Chase says, "Midland, Amarillo, Odessa, all have dramatically more softball fields than we do. Soccer we're ahead, but we can't utilize them the way we need to."
Last year, visitor spending contributed to Odessa's $5 million in total sports economic impact, Abilene's $5.5 million, and Midland's $5.8 million. Lubbock was still on top with $14.5 million of non-Texas Tech related sports spending, but that number is in danger of dropping as other cities recognize Lubbock's weakness and try to cut into the hub cities piece of the pie. Drum says, "If we could get 12 to 16 new fields here and have them all in one location, we'd be the premier spot. I think specifically $15 to $17 million to get all 16 fields built."
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Chase says one of the ways to get that done is possibly through a venue tax. A venue tax is an additional fee applied to purchases like hotel rooms or parking to fund the building of stadiums and other sports arenas. Garcia says, "It'd primarily be hotels, that would be the discussion right now, the hotel portion. Some cities add on with rental cars."
The idea is to design a tax that would impact visitors to Lubbock more than it would Lubbock citizens themselves. Chase adds, "Heads and beds. That's the catch phrase for us. We want to make sure what we're doing is putting people in hotel rooms and helping generate money in the city and it becomes a tax relief for the citizens of Lubbock."
A tax relief for citizens and a different kind of relief for some local parents who won't have to wrestle quite as often with trips out of town. Dee Rutherford says, "I think it'd be a great thing and I think we, as parents of a daughter involved in softball and soccer, I think for sure we'd be supportive of that."
Chase, Garcia, Drum and Babcock plan to explore every option for funding and present a proposal to city council in the near future. Mayor Marc McDougal told NewsChannel 11 they look forward to listening to ideas and will do whatever they can to support the sports authority, the hotel motel assocation and the rest of the guys.