Sports tourism in Harford County was the source of nearly a $50 million economic impact, and supported 650 jobs, each year over the last three years, primarily in three sports at three sites, according to a recent study.
“Tourism in general, according to a study from the Maryland Office on Tourism, created an impact of $374 million in Harford County alone, that’s more than $1 million a day,” Greg Pizzuto, executive director of Visit Harford!, which commissioned the study. “Obviously, $50 million is a big chunk of that that comes from sports tourism.”
The county recognizes the important role of sports tourism and when Harford County Executive Barry Glassman releases his recommended budget for Fiscal Year 2020 on April 15, it will include the county’s plans to improve and expand sports tourism opportunities in Harford County, said Cindy Mumby, spokeswoman for Harford County government.
The study, by Crossroads Consulting Inc., looked at youth baseball, lacrosse and soccer tournaments played at Ripken Stadium, Cedar Lane Regional Park and Harford Polo Grounds in 2016, 2017 and 2018, Pizzuto said. It examined numbers of tournaments, teams, players, spectators as well as the number of hotel stays those tournaments generated, according to the study.
“We like to check and see how our sports tourism industry does for Harford County,” Pizzuto said. “We know it’s a large piece of our tourism economics.”
A similar study done in 2016, looking at the same sports and the same venues in 2013, 2014 and 2015, found that sports tourism had an average economic impact over those three years of $57.5 million a year and supported 780 jobs.
The future of one of those venues is up in the air, however. As a complement to its fields near the intersection of routes 136 and 543 in Creswell, Cedar Lane Regional Park uses 12 fields on 36 acres on Carsins Run Road, about 1.5 miles off Route 22. That property is part of a 460-acre parcel owned by Harford County Investors Trust and was approved in June for the county’s agricultural preservation program.
Permanent athletic fields could be used on a portion of the property as an institutional use by a nonprofit such as the Cedar Lane Sports Foundation, Mumby said.
“However, the approval process would have to be initiated by the nonprofit, and permanent fields may require approval by our bond counsel — because our ag preservation is funded by county bonds — and would require compliance with applicable zoning regulations,” Mumby said.
The county has been working closely with the Cedar Lane Sports Foundation Inc. to find an alternative venue for its overflow games, Executive Director John McHugh said. Play can continue at Carsins Run through 2021, he said.
“There is an end game in sight for Carsins Run,” McHugh said. “At that time, we need to find other fields.”
Tournament organizers look for venues that can accommodate their sports and that are near vibrant communities and convenient for travel.
“Our location within the I-95 corridor, our efficient and well-kept sporting venues, and our lodging and dining establishments all contribute to an outstanding experience for tournament attendees,” Pizzuto said. “As these tournaments keep coming back, businesses in Harford County will benefit form their patronage, and residents will have job opportunities.”
Baseball by far averaged the most events per year (39) and the most participants (20,600) while drawing 54,700 spectators a year to the Ripken Experience, according to the study. The Aberdeen complex has nine baseball and softball fields and is home to Ripken Stadium.
Fifteen lacrosse tournaments drew a yearly average 33,300 players and 76,100 spectators a year, while an average three soccer tournaments a year attracted 9,000 players and 18,900 spectators, according to the study.
After two soccer tournaments in Harford in 2016 and in 2017, there were six in 2018. The Maryland Youth Soccer Association hosted four events here, which resulted in significantly more teams and total attendees in 2018 compared to the previous two years.
The lacrosse and soccer tournaments were held at two venues — Cedar Lane Regional Park and its ancillary site, the Carsins Run complex, and the Harford Polo Grounds.
The Polo Grounds is used for polo during the summer months, but the property can accommodate up to nine fields in the spring and fall months to host field hockey, lacrosse and soccer tournaments.
Some of the lacrosse and soccer tournaments spread beyond Harford County, according to the study. On average, approximately 90 percent of the teams in the lacrosse tournaments and 65 percent of the teams in the soccer tournaments played in Harford County.
All those players and spectators — an average 63,000 a year — accounted for an average of 39,300 estimated hotel nights in Harford each year, according to the study. The tournaments also supported an average of 650 jobs each year for 2016, 2017 and 2018.
Of the total $49.4 million economic impact, two-thirds ($33.2 million) was in direct spending — lodging, food and beverage, shopping, recreation and entertainment and transportation.
The other third, about $16.2 million, was indirect spending — how the initial spending was re-spent, with wholesalers, manufacturers, distributors, transporters, retailers and other industries, according to the study.
Broken down by sport, baseball had the greatest economic impact, $32.7 million and 430 jobs, followed by lacrosse, at $13.6 million and 180 jobs, and soccer, at $3.1 million and 40 jobs, according to the study.
The average annual hotel tax revenue generated for Harford was $224,000, while the average annual taxes paid to Maryland was $2.8 million.
The Cedar Lane Sports Foundation was formed 10 years ago. It hosted 26 major events — of 100 or more teams — in 2018 and has 25 scheduled this year.
The nonprofit brings in about $800,000 a year, most of is put back into caring for the facility, McHugh said.
He and others with Cedar Lane have been working with county officials to find other sites to use in conjunction with Cedar Lane, he said.
“We’re trying to find that perfect sweet spot without a huge investment,” McHugh said.
While Carsins Run is relatively nearby for overflow games, for some of its especially large tournaments Cedar Lane, will use the Polo Grounds and Harford Community College, even going as far as Cecil County, he said.
Having 24 fields for a tournament is a “huge draw,” and having them 10 minutes away from each other is even bigger, McHugh said.
Decisions about such events are made as many as five years out, he said, and some tournaments have already moved because of the uncertain future of the venue. While some of those dates are being filled in, “that’s the short-term answer,” he said.
There are little to no expansion opportunities at Cedar Lane. The only thing the organization could do is make it more competitive by adding more turf fields.
“We’re competing with new and better facilities all the time,” McHugh said. “We can’t add more fields, but we could improve what we have.”
Turf fields don’t wear as much as grass fields and the weather has less of an impact on them, he said.
“The county recognizes sports tourism and tourism in general, the economic driver it is, and I think is going everything it can to find alternative locations to replace the Carsins Run fields,” Pizzuto said. “We know it’s coming, we’ve known it’s coming and the administration is doing everything they can to find a solution.”