Gillette is seeking to grow its position as a center for sports tourism
The tourism industry has played a role in the Gillette economy for years, but now community members are trying a new approach.
“Gillette's fortunate to have so many different types of youth sports,” said Jessica Seders, Executive Director of the Campbell County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Swimming, hockey, baseball, softball, soccer, football, wrestling, dance, tennis--we host all of those tournaments here.”
Over the past several years, sports tourism has become an important revenue source for the community, which hosts numerous athletic events and facilities for several different sports.
“I think that originally, it was mostly about serving our locals,” said Seders. “We have a lot of youth sports here in town and I think that that was originally the reason that we had so many facilities and fields. But then in 2020, there was a push to build out the Energy Capitol Sports Complex. And I think that's when we started to really see things take off.”
The complex was initially opened in 2015 and consisted of four softball fields. It has since grown to include a splash pad as well as three multi-use turf fields, which opened in 2020. These, in addition to other youth sports facilities near Dalby and Bicentennial Parks and those at the Campbell County Recreation Center, Campbell County High School and Thunder Basin High School, regularly host athletic events and tournaments. The Cam-Plex facilities also host the National High School Finals Rodeo, which rotates through various venues across the country and has held many finals events in Gillette over the past three decades.
“We can see the bump in our lodging tax collections during those shoulder months when we normally don't have a lot of tourism happening here,” she said. “Now that we're hosting tournaments, it's really bridging those months for us.”
Sports tourism helps to keep an inflow of money into the local economy during traditionally slow times of year for more traditional seasonal tourism.
“Our local youth organizations understand now how important it is to host tournaments here,” she said. “COVID actually helped facilitate that for us, because there were many surrounding communities, even states surrounding us who are closed and for the most part, we stayed open and so Gillette was really able to show off all of our amazing infrastructure and facilities. The number of hotel rooms we have and restaurants to support large tournaments, during COVID [was possible]. So, I think we gained a lot of tournaments that were originally being hosted in other places that now come here.”
Seders noted that people coming to events spend roughly $122 a day. There have been discussions of expanding the athletic infrastructure the city already hosts, which includes adding four additional softball fields at the Energy Capital Sports Complex as well as building a new aquatic center, Seders said.
“I think that Gillette leadership understands how impactful it can be on a community, but it's just doing it at the right time,” she added. With your community's economic stance where you are at the time, I think, but it's also an investment in the community's future when they make those sorts of build outs. We have so many youth organizations now that use our facilities, that if we want to continue to attract more and larger tournaments, it's going to require more facilities to do that.”