Sporting events score big for Warwick hotels

Posted 2/8/23

The way John Gibbons looks at it, any event where a score is kept is a sporting event. That includes the game of bridge where the greatest physical exertion may amount to shuffling cards and pushing …

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Sporting events score big for Warwick hotels


The way John Gibbons looks at it, any event where a score is kept is a sporting event. That includes the game of bridge where the greatest physical exertion may amount to shuffling cards and pushing a pencil to record results to the Athletics Championships cheerleading nationals that brought in 4,500 cheerleaders to the Rhode Island Convention Center last month.

“It was insanity,” Gibbons said of the event where a majority of participants stayed in Warwick.

There’s another way to looking at sports as was made clear as Gibbons, executive director of the Rhode Island Sports Commission, Beverley Wiley, Warwick Parks and Recreation Director, and Mary K. Talbot sat around a table in the Crowne Plaza lobby last week. Talbot (president of MK Talbot Inc., a consultant to the Providence Warwick Convention & Visitors Bureau) was armed with the scores showing Warwick hotels and the state’s economy a big winner of all the games.

According to the report, 10 of the city’s 17 hotels contracted 52,973 room nights through the Sports Commission between Fiscal Years 2016 and 2021. Based on the projection of $431 in expenditures per room night, which includes rental of the room plus expenditures for meals, transportation, purchases in area stores and entertainment, all those athletes, their parents, friends and fans had an estimated $22.8 million economic impact on the Ocean State.

Of the 11 hotels, the Crowne that contracted for 20,741 room nights had the greatest economic impact with $8.9 million for the period. At the bottom of the list is Homewood Suites by Hilton with 295 room nights and an impact of $127,145.

According to counts for the 2022 calendar year, a total of 29 events of which several such as the LobsterFest, a hockey tournament held in June, was held over three weeks accounted for a total of 14,055 room nights. Based on the multiplier of $431 impact per night, sporting events contracted by the commission had nearly a $6 million impact on the economy for the year.

In addition to the LobsterFest, the big June event was the Great Car Race where 130 vintage  cars started from Rocky Point on June 18 on a eight-day 2,300-mile time calculated race to Fargo, ND.

“That was a homerun with four days of events,” says Gibbons. While this year’s race starts in St. Augustine, FL and ends in Colorado Springs, Gibbons said it could be back in 2024. The race won’t start here but he’s working to have Warwick one of the stops.

Another major boost for Warwick hotels last year was the LeapFest that brought in parachuters from across the country.

The report does not show what percentage of overall hotel room rentals is attributable to sports contracts. Nonetheless, Gibbons recognizes the relationship between the cost of Warwick hotel rooms, which run less than those in Providence and Newport, the availability and proximity of sports venues and location as key factors to attracting events to Rhode Island.

Ideally, Gibbons says, entities sponsoring the events are so comfortable with the venues the state has to offer – from ice rink to basketball courts, indoor facilities such as gyms and outdoor playing fields – that they return year after year or, as is happening, book two or three events in a year.

Apart from having the facilities, Rhode Island’s network of connections play a significant role in making things happen. Gibbons recalls how Mayor Frank Picozzi insisted Rocky Point was a preferable site to the State House as the venue to start the Great Race. Race organizers were impressed with the location and how the city was there to make it happen.

Gibbons tells the story of how he learned the organization planning a major soccer tournament was not completely satisfied with the venue they had selected out of state. They looked at Rhode Island, finding that URI had more than 20 fields and ideal facilities. Gibbons made a call to his athletic contacts at the university who were ready to help but believed the university’s president would balk because of the tournament was two weeks away.

He asked what would need to happen to convince the president. The answer was for the governor to make the event a priority. Gibbons knows the Rhode Island ropes and in little time URI became the host.

Finding so many soccer fields at a single location would be impossible today. That doesn’t mean, however, that Gibbons is giving up. He looks to bring together facilities for major events. The ice surfaces at Mickey Stevens Sports Complex may not be large enough to accommodate the crowds for an Eastern hockey tournament or precision skating competition, but they’re ideal for team practice and close to hotels as well as Providence where the events will be staged.

City Parks and Recreation Director Wiley has been instrumental the in scheduling of the rinks, McDermott Swimming Pool and playing fields for events booked by Gibbons. She is excited for the city to move ahead with improvements to the sports complex. A study of soil conditions at the center, once the location of an incinerator and junkyard, is being completed with the intent of moving ahead with new fields and tennis and basketball courts – pickleball courts, too. The improvements would be financed with a bond issue approved by voters in 2006.

“I would love to see Mickey Stevens up and running,” says Gibbons imagining all the events he could book for Warwick.

It’s not always sporting events – bridge counts – that Gibbons looks to bring to the state. He’s brought in 300 gymnastic coaches for their national conference. Rhode Island will also play host to the National Federation of High Schools Association.

According to the vita as posted by SportsTravel TEAMS '22 Conference & Expo held in October in Oklahoma City, where he was a presented, Gibbons past and current clients include the NCAA, Ironman, Varsity Spirit, JVC Tournaments, United States Figure Skating Association, American Contract Bridge League, USA Gymnastics and U.S. Youth Soccer. He has served on the board of directors of National Association of Sports Commissions and served on their mentoring committee and sports legacy committee. He is a graduate of the University of New Haven with a bachelor’s degree in travel and tourism management.

According to Sports Travel, sports is one of the strongest segments of the travel industry generating 90 million room nights and $32 billion in direct spending every year. Sports-event organizers value long-term destination and hotel relationships.

“Sporting events are highly visible, their impact is more easily measured, they enhance the quality of life for residents of the host city and can be key to economic development as well as individual and business relocation,” reads their website.

Gibbons likes to say he’s always soliciting for Rhode Island. Apart from bringing international bridge competitors to the state, he said landing the National Tree Climbers competition was one of the more unusual events to come to Rhode Island. He didn’t need playing fields, courts or ice rinks… just trees. And he found plenty of those.

“You should have seen how quickly they ran up those trees,” he says. Of course, they stayed in Warwick hotels and that made him happy.

sports, hotels


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