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Erie Sports Tourism Back in a Big Way

NCAA Frozen Four 192 March 20 2021 WEB

This year was about recovery, and sports tourism in Erie County came back in a big way in 2021. 

The year saw events from youth lacrosse to professional cornhole, and was highlighted by several events that favorably placed Erie, Pa. in the national spotlight.  

Events supported by the Erie Sports Commission (ESC) had an economic impact of more than $18 million in Erie County, more than double the impact of events hosted in 2020, a year marked by extensive event cancellations due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When 2021 began, sports tourism was still very much in a state of uncertainty and flux, both in Erie and nationally,” said Mark Jeanneret, Executive Director of the Erie Sports Commission. “What we ultimately saw was that our event directors had learned how to host events safely in 2020, and as restrictions slowly lifted, we were all ready to begin hosting again. There was an obvious appetite for athletes and their families to travel for sports again, and we saw those competitors return to Erie for events more quickly than we anticipated. To see our impact reaching nearly what it was in 2019 so soon is extremely encouraging.”

In every area, the ESC saw a stark contrast in 2021 compared to the previous year:

  • 69 events supported (compared to 29 in 2020)
  • 174 event days (compared to 64.5 in 2020)
  • 26 new events (compared to 8 in 2020)
  • $18.1 million in estimated economic impact (compared to $9.2 million in 2020)
  • 18 facilities utilized (compared to 15 in 2020)

“Erie’s sports market was a huge part of why we saw Erie County’s tourism industry rebound so quickly from the effects of 2020,” said John Oliver, President and CEO of VisitErie. “We saw multiple NCAA postseason events, major youth travel tournaments and much more. It was clear that athletes were ready to compete and, more importantly, that we were ready to accommodate them. Though we are still coping with the effects of the pandemic and our recovery is far from complete, I’m optimistic about 2022.”

The 2021 sporting events calendar was highlighted by some major events: several shined a positive light on Erie in front of a national audience, but all of them brought athletes back together and back to our shores.

NCAA Frozen Four 321 March 20 2021 WEB
2021 NCAA Women's Ice Hockey Championships

When the Erie Sports Commission and co-host Mercyhurst University learned in 2017 that they had been selected to host the 2021 NCAA Women's Frozen Four, the potential of hosting during a pandemic wasn't on anyone's mind. As plans progressed and the event date got closer, the top women's collegiate hockey event in the nation worked with local hosts to make adjustments to ensure athlete and community safety. This included hosting all eight teams in the collegiate women’s hockey tournament at one location for the first time in the tournament’s 20-year history, a decision made by the NCAA to reduce travel by teams in the postseason. The event was open to a limited number of fans, but reached a national audience through live broadcasts on ESPN networks.

A visiting coach commented to the Erie Times-News that Erie "knocked it out of the park" hosting the event. This followed Erie's success in hosting the College Hockey America (CHA) Tournament, which was also hosted at Erie Insurance Arena for the first time, and in Erie for the first time since 2015. 

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2021 B.A.S.S. Nation Northeast Regional Championship

One of the largest and most prestigious fishing events in the country, the TNT Fireworks B.A.S.S. Nation Northeast Regional Championship, was hosted in Erie in June 2021 after the event was forced to be canceled in 2020. The event, held at Presque Isle State Park, saw 220 anglers from 11 states compete in Erie for nearly a week on the path to the Bassmaster Classic. In addition to generating nearly $350,000 in estimated economic impact, Erie received tremendous national attention from the event through Bassmaster. 

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Lax Bash Tournaments

Lax Bash Tournaments returned to Erie in 2021, bringing two tournaments and thousands of young lacrosse players to our shores. The Gem City Tournament and the Boo Bash Tournament saw a combined economic impact of nearly $1.4 million in 2021, and nearly 2,000 players from across several states. The tournament series was also rewarded for its efforts to host events in Erie in 2020, by being awarded a 2020-21 Champions of Economic Impact Award from Sports Destination Management magazine. 

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American Cornhole League Open #9 and Pro Shootout #1

American Cornhole League rolled into Erie in a big way in May 2021, setting up hundreds of cornhole boards in the Bayfront Convention Center's Great Hall and Grand Ballroom, hosting nearly 500 competitors in the national tournament. The event included some recreational players as well as the pros. The event culminated in a national broadcast on CBS and CBS Sportsnet. 

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Lake Erie Cyclefest

A flat, picturesque community like Erie needs a cycling festival, and the Erie Sports Commission was excited to bring back Lake Erie Cyclefest in 2021. Along with nonprofit partners Asbury Woods, Because You Care, Inc., BikeErie, the Erie Downtown Partnership, and Presque Isle Partnership, four rides were hosted over three days, and nearly 500 participants from six states came to Erie to take part. As always, all event proceeds went to the partnering charities. The event will return in July 2022!