Collier County wants a piece of Lee County’s booming sports tourism industry

Writer: Matthew Seaver
Published: Updated:
sports tourism
Crowd at U.S. Open Pickleball Tournament in Collier County. (Credit: WINK News)

Sports tourism is knocking it out of the park in Lee County, bringing in more than $70 million last year alone. That’s just from amateur athletics, not including spring training. Now, Collier County wants to be called off the bench.

In Lee County, sports are helping to drive the tourism game. In 2021, Lee County brought in $72 million and booked 181,000 hotel rooms just for sports. The county hosted 140 amateur sporting events in 2021.

Those numbers do not include MLB spring training which also brings thousands of people to Southwest Florida each year.

“When it comes to sports tourism, it’s such a monolith,” said Paul Beirnes, executive director of Naples, Marco Island Convention Visitors Bureau.

Collier County has noticed Lee County’s success.

“It’s not just one event. It’s not the Super Bowl of anything, but it’s actually the accumulation of everything,” said Beirnes.

That’s why they were set to talk about hiring a sports tourism director at Tuesday’s Collier County commissioners’ meeting, but the item got dropped from the agenda.

That didn’t stop WINK News from asking Beirnes if Collier County needs a sports tourism director

“You know what, the thing about sports is, there are so many elements of it,” Beirnes said.

For example, if you host an event, where will people sleep? Collier County doesn’t have the resources to compete with Lee County.

“What Lee County has, as far as the amount of hotels, is vastly different than what we have. So it’s a fine balance,” said Beirnes.

This means Collier County has to be picky with its event. The county recently played host to the U.S. Open Pickleball Tournament in late April, which drew more than 33,000 people and brought in more than $10 million in revenue.

According to the dropped Collier County commissioners’ agenda item, the sports tourism director would be part of Collier County’s Convention and Visitors Bureau and would earn between $80,000 and $130,000.

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