Jacksonville Emerging as “Sports Oasis” Helps Drive Tourism Dollars to Local Economy

By Jeremy Coumbes on February 18, 2022 at 5:03pm

The Jacksonville area is fast becoming known as a hub for all things sports as recognition and word spreads about local facilities. The ever-rising awareness means more tourism dollars injected into the local economy.

Earlier this month, Future Champions Sports Complex was named one of the eight best baseball fields in Illinois for 2022 by Sports Planning Guide. A division of Premier Travel Media, Sports Planning Guide profiles sports facilities across the country in an effort to connect sporting event professionals with the best and at times unique locations for holding tournaments.

Brittany Henry, Executive Director of the Jacksonville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau says she and her organization are very excited for the Future Champions ownership group and the attention the facility brings to Jacksonville.

So I think that really makes us stand out for a community of our size. I think it’s just a great mention and really lays eyes on Jacksonville and the work that they have done to that complex. So it not only promotes them as a complex, it lays eyes on the Jacksonville area and the sports market.”

Adam and Kristen Jamison are part of the ownership group of Future Champions and the Future Swings training complex. Kristen Jamison says they are thrilled to be recognized by the Sports Planning Guide, and says it speaks to not only the hard work put in by the group to give Future Champions a small-town feel but also speaks to the community at large in helping to draw teams in.

Jamison has a unique perspective and viewpoint for the impact the complex has on the area, as she is also President of the Jacksonville Regional Economic Development Corporation.

She says she was not aware of the full impact sports have in the Jacksonville area economy, until her own children became involved in sports. Jamison says sometimes as a resident, it can be tough to see a restaurant filled with baseball teams or a gas station lot crammed full of race car trailers as more than an inconvenience at the time.

She says from the Future Champions complex, and the Midwest Athletic Center, to the Jacksonville Speedway and even Lake Jacksonville, the area is full of opportunities to draw in visitors for sports-related tourism.

We are really special to have those very diverse types of recreation and I know Midwest Athletic Center is adding to that with a number of tournaments that they are hosting. Whether it’s tumbling to basketball, that only strengthens this community because we have become known as that sports recreation community.

What I would just ask of our residents is to be patient when you do go into that restaurant and there are ball teams there, because truly they are making this community stronger and really giving the opportunity for more entrepreneurs to think creatively about what type of businesses will help these travelers that are coming to Jacksonville.

We want to make sure that we have the best experience ready for them. I think collaboratively, all of us that work in some way to push Jacksonville forward understands that we need to embrace travelers, and that can only have positive impacts on Jacksonville and the surrounding communities.”

Henry says the timing is right for an increased emphasis on sports in the area, which is why the Convention and Visitors Bureau earmarked more funding for sports marketing recently. She says it plays a big part in the economic impact tourism has locally.

The last number that we had, over fifty million dollars being spent in our community, you know, part of that is sports tourism when we break that down. And when they are coming for that event, they are taking time at whether it’s an attraction in the community, experiencing the local culture, maybe it’s flavors in the community, and afterward, they are making a buzz about our community.

Maybe it’s they are posting something on social media at that sports complex, maybe it’s a downtown restaurant or local shop, but it can really create that buzz. Then there’s the direct spending at that host facility, hotel, or restaurant. It really stimulates our local economy, but then it keeps jobs in the community and helps contribute to the tax revenue earned.”

Henry says with only a staff of two people, it’s impossible to attend trade shows to promote Jacksonville in the many different avenues that can attract tourism dollars to the community. So part of the increased focus on sports marketing includes a relationship with the Sports Planning Guide that describes Jacksonville as “an oasis for athletes and sporting events.”

Henry says the marketing agreements did not lead to Future Champions making the top eight list, but rather the recognition is a testament to the hard work being put in by the Future Champions staff, as well as everyone involved in local sporting events, from auto racing, and bass tournaments, to baseball and basketball, they are all helping to drive tourism dollars to West Central Illinois’ “sports oasis.”