To the editor:
When someone refers to "the season" along The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel, most people envision the beautiful winter and spring months in our tropical paradise. However, we are immersed in an equally important time right now: sports season. Each summer and fall, the Lee County Sports Development office lures hundreds of sporting events to our area. These important competitions help infuse our local economy in the months when it's a little tougher to attract northern vacationers. The exposure to our region also encourages repeat visitation among travelers who might not otherwise have given us a try.
Our baseball facilities alone play host to amateur events 200 days a year when they aren't being used for spring training games. The estimated economic impact of these events is $34 million annually. Case in point: in May, Lee County hosted 32 of Florida's best high school baseball teams at JetBlue Park when they competed for the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) championship. It's not just baseball that lures athletes to Lee County either. About 300 soccer players ages 6 to 14 and up to 40 coaches converged on JetBlue Park earlier this month as part of Futbol Club Barcelona's affiliate for youth soccer. This is the first year the club among the highest profile soccer groups worldwide has staged a camp in Fort Myers.
Nontraditional sports fill the summer calendar as well. Events earlier this year included the National High School Gymnastics Association's Girls National Championships at the Estero Recreation Center, USA Badminton Masters Championships at the Estero Recreation Center, Florida Firefighter Games at multiple locations locally and State BMX Cycling Championships in Cape Coral. Later this year, Lee County will host myriad of events such as rugby, softball, beach soccer, senior softball and tennis.
While they're in Lee County, the athletes and their families fill our hotel rooms, eat in local restaurants, visit our attractions and shop in our stores, all the while helping ensure that the 52,000 people who are employed locally in the tourism industry have jobs during these slower months. In all, the Sports Development office estimates that amateur sports provide an annual economic impact of more than $50 million.
Naturally, we hope these athletes and guests enjoy their stay so much, they come back for future visits. If you have the opportunity to interact with our sports guests, please sure be sure to add our special Lee County charm!