Richmond sporting events drive up tourism dollars

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Cities across the country are competing for tourism dollars in this tough economy.

It may not come as a surprise for many people, but sports are king in Richmond.

The Richmond Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau released its study Friday that shows sporting events are bringing people here by the millions.

Right now, there are more than 7,000 soccer players from all over the country competing across Richmond. Behind each one of these players is a parent traveling with the team, like Kevin Gaffey. He's in town this weekend with his daughter from New Jersey.

"It's important to do this with the kids, because you get a lot of one-on-one time with your kid. It's really that special time you get to spend with them," said Gaffey.

The CVB says there are six million people like Kevin coming to Richmond each year. It turns out the Jefferson Cup soccer tournament going on this weekend was the number one tourism event in Richmond last year, according to a survey by VCU. Roughly 900 teams compete each year, with each team bringing dozens of spectators who eat at local restaurants and stay in local hotels.

It's estimated the Jefferson Cup alone filled 22,000 hotel rooms and brought in about $15 million to the local economy last year.

NASCAR races, the SunTrust Richmond Marathon and the Monument Avenue 10k all made the list for the events that filled the most number of hotel rooms.

Jack Berry with the Richmond Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau says sports tourism has become a booming business with revenue doubling in the last ten years.

"It's recession proof. In '09 and 2010, people were cutting back on cruises, going to Europe... they didn't cut back on their sports participation with their kids," said Berry.

Several conventions also brought in large crowds last year. Hurricane Irene was also one of the non-sports related events last year that also drove up hotel room rentals.

The CVB estimates tourism brought roughly $1.75 billion to the local economy last year.

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