SARASOTA, Fla. — What the huge international golf tournament coming to eastern Manatee County at the end of the month lacks in physical spectators it will more than make up in television viewers, according to the head of the Bradenton area visitors bureau.
The annual PGA Tour World Golf Championships-Mexico Championship, at The Concession Golf Club in Lakewood Ranch, Florida, Feb. 25-28, won’t have a huge in-person audience. The only people allowed on-site to watch will be event sponsors and people affiliated with the athletes.
But millions of people worldwide are expected to watch from home.
The Golf Channel will carry the tournament Feb. 25-26, and PGA Tour Live and NBC Sports will pick up coverage Feb. 27-28. NBC will sell its platform internationally, meaning the tournament will be broadcast in 120 countries and 800 million households worldwide.
“The demographic viewership aligns perfectly with our target market,” Elliott Falcione, executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, told members of the Manatee County Tourist Development Council at the board’s Monday meeting.
Falcione asked the council to recommend that Manatee County commissioners allocate $250,000 of tourist development tax funds toward the tournament, which will be used to promote the area on screen with signs and shots of the destination’s many amenities to cut in between putts and commercials.
The motion to do so, by Palmetto Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant, was approved unanimously by the council and now will go to Manatee County commissioners for approval.
“I think this is what we’re here for,” Bryant said.
Normally, an event of this size would draw about 12,000 on-site spectators. But broadcasting this event around the world will be further evidence that the Sarasota-Bradenton area can host more major sporting events, Falcione said.
The area has hosted several high-profile events, including the 2017 World Rowing Championships, the 2018 World Rowing Masters Regatta and the 2019 World Rowing Under 23 Championships, all at Nathan Benderson Park.
The park, on the border of Sarasota and Manatee counties, is also set to host the International Dragon Boat Federation’s Club Crew World Championships in 2022, which could feature roughly 7,000 athletes and 14,000 spectators.
The Korn Ferry Tour’s LECOM Suncoast Classic will be played the week before the Mexico Championship across the street from The Concession Lakewood National Golf Club.
“The one thing about getting a world caliber event is this will brand not only The Concession as a world championship golf course, but it will also brand our region. … and show another event this region is capable of hosting,” he said.
The WGC-Mexico Championship was moved to the U.S. this year because of COVID-19 concerns. The final roster of players will not be available until shortly before the event, Falcione said, but last year’s winner was Patrick Reed, and competitors included Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm and Bryson DeChambeau.
Golfers such as Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson have won the tournament in past years.
Introducing the area to potential travelers is especially important now, as local tourism data indicate growing interest in travel.
Information from Research Data Services, a Tampa-based data analytics service provider, shows that people are looking forward to going on vacation in 2021. They’ve started to make statements like “I’m going on vacation this summer,” something no one surveyed has really said at all since COVID-19 started, Anne Wittine, director of data analysis for Research Data Services, said.
Wittine told the tourism development council that potential travelers have started to bring up the vaccine when they’re asked about planning trips.
“One person categorized themselves as a caged animal, and another as a horse at the starting gate, who’s nervous, but ready to get out,” she said.
While interest in attractions and destinations known for big crowds has waned since COVID-19 hit, interest in outdoor activities like hiking and going to the beach has grown, Wittine said. That bodes well for Manatee County, she said.
Hotel occupancy was 57.3 percent in 2020, down 18.4 percent from 70.2 percent in 2019. The average daily room rate fell by 5.6 percent from $172.90 in 2019 to $163.18 last year. Revenue per available room fell by 22.4 percent from $124.20 to $96.38, Research Data Services data show.
Floridians made up a large share of Manatee County’s tourism base in 2020, as people stayed closer to home if they did decide to book a quick getaway. The number of visitors from Florida to Manatee County increased by 58.1 percent last year, Wittine said. But in December, 49 percent of visitors to the area were from out-of-state.
“Out-of-state markets are starting to come back. That’s an encouraging sign,” she said.
Source: USA Today