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Friday, Jun 2, 2023

Santa Clarita Plays Sports Tourism Game

Earlier this month, crews were preparing the Valencia Country Club for one of the Santa Clarita Valley’s most visible events of the year the AT & T; Champions Classic, a six-day, 54-hole tournament broadcast on national TV. The tournament, which kicked off March 12, was expected to bring 40,000 spectators to the area. For the Santa Clarita Valley, that type of attention is a major money generator, adding at least $7 million to the local economy. But the Classic is only a small part of a growing cottage industry for the area: sports tourism. “The city over the last year has really started to hone in on these sporting events as a tourism opportunity,” said Jessica Freude, a tourism analyst for the city. In 2006 alone, Santa Clarita hosted the Junior Olympic Swim Meet, United States Tennis Association’s Men’s Pro Challenger Tennis Tournament, Special Olympics Spirit Games, Verizon USA Luge Tour and Santa Clarita Marathon, along with numerous smaller softball, soccer and other tournaments, swim meets and invitations throughout the year. So far this year, Santa Clarita has been a stop on the Amgen Tour of California bicycle race and played host to the PGA event, which has called Valencia home for the past seven years. Peter deYoung, tournament director of the AT & T; Champions Classic, said Santa Clarita is ideal for a large-scale sporting event: close to a major city, with plenty of room and home to a committed, enthusiastic city government and business population that take pride in their area. “This is just the right size community,” said deYoung. “The community is the major reason. They got behind the golf tournament. They support it.” He pointed particularly to College of the Canyons and Six Flags Magic Mountain, which have provided support and parking for past tournaments. “They’re all good neighbors,” he said. “It just works. That’s why we stayed.” While the city has not completed a study on the total economic impact of sport tourism, Freude said events like the PGA tournament generate hundreds of jobs, bring in thousands of participants and spectators and infuse significant dollars in the local economy through retail, restaurant and other purchases. The events are especially beneficial for the relatively modest stock of Santa Clarita-area hotels, which already have some of the lowest vacancy rates in the region. Wendy Heineke is senior vice president of operations for Valencia-based Ocean Park Hotels Inc., which owns four properties in Santa Clarita. She said her hotels the Best Western Valencia Inn, Comfort Suites Stevenson Ranch, Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites Valencia and Hilton Garden Inn Six Flags Valencia see a spike in demand whenever a large event is planned in the Santa Clarita Valley. “It’s just a fantastic market for it,” she said. “It’ll keep growing.” Heineke credits the city for recruiting the business. “We used to be able to just sit here and wait for it to come in,” she said. “But now they go out and get it.” Six Flags side effects The effort to bulk up on sporting events diversifies a tourism market that for decades mostly relied on a single banner money generator: Six Flags Magic Mountain. But such dependence on one business was somewhat risky, which became evident last summer when New York-based Six Flags announced it was mulling over plans to close Magic Mountain. It came as a surprise. “We felt the demand will always be there. The demand will be there because of Six Flags,” Heineke said. While Six Flags decided to keep Magic Mountain open, it highlighted that many took the park for granted. At the same time, the city launched its own effort to diversify the tourism business, although Freude said it was not triggered by the threat of Magic Mountain’s closure. “Six Flags is a huge component to our tourism, so we looked to other things that help complement that,” she said. The plan called for aggressively marketing Santa Clarita for sporting events. One of the first events to take the bait was the Amgen Tour, a staged bicycle race from San Francisco to Long Beach. The city served as the race’s Feb. 24 stop and attracted an estimated 100,000 fans. Freude said events like the race are helping attract attention from other organizers, such as the California Police Athletic Federation, which approached the city last year to play host to the Western States Police and Fire Games in 2009. “They come in, enjoy and spend and it’s a great benefit to our residents,” Freude said. “It helps us.” She said Santa Clarita is also well positioned to benefit from perhaps the biggest sporting event of all: the Olympics. Los Angeles is one of two cities the U.S. Olympic Committee is considering to nominate for the 2016 summer games. If L.A. is picked, Santa Clarita would surely benefit, Freude said. “We’re close enough,” she said, adding later that no specific plans have been made. “That’s certainly a consideration. But the success of sports tourism is also starting to show early signs of outstripping resources. DeYoung said even in the past seven years, Santa Clarita’s swift pace of development has snapped up acreage around the Valencia Country Club, which makes it tough to expand. “It shrinks a little bit each year as they build more and more housing units,” deYoung said. “It keeps getting bigger and bigger each year.” Despite the boom, PGA officials like what Santa Clarita has to offer and are likely to return next year, he said. They just can’t beat the eagerness of the city, where residents and businesses appreciate the events, deYoung said. “It isn’t always the case. In larger communities, bringing a major golf tournament to their community doesn’t really make the impact that it made here,” he said. “We’re very fortunate here.”

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