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Sports tourism brings big bucks to Manatee County

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MANATEE COUNTY, FL (WWSB) - Tourism drives our state's economy, but sports tourism is a growing industry as well.

Toi Stauffer traveled from Palm Beach Gardens to Lakewood Ranch to cheer for her son's soccer team. She calls the Premier Sports Campus one of her favorite venues for tournaments.

"It's huge, the fields are phenomenal, there's a lot going on. This is very well organized," said Stauffer of the Sarasota Cup.

"They're here this weekend, not just for the soccer. Most families make vacation out of it," said Antonio Saviano, General Manager of the campus.

Saviano told ABC7 the Sarasota Cup is one of the facility's biggest tournaments to date. It's one of the reasons why Manatee County purchased the land last year for $5.2 million.

"Overall, its an economic impact that you cant put a price on it," said Saviano.

If you were to put a price on it, the number would be seven digits long. Tourism officials expect the impact from this tournament alone to be $8 million, thanks to families like the Stauffers, who are spending on lodging, food, and activities before heading home.

"We did some fundraising, but had we not done the fundraising I'd say its about a thousand dollars, maybe a little more a weekend," said Stauffer.

The annual economic impact of sports tourism in Manatee County is an estimated $150 million. Elliott Falcione of the Bradenton Area Visitors Bureau said the Premier Sports Campus brings in those big bucks, along with IMG Academy, the Ellenton Ice Complex, and Lecom Park, where Pittsburgh Pirates spring training brings $36 million in less than two months.

"We're well versed. We have some of the elite facilities in the state of Florida right here in Manatee County," said Falcione.

Then, Falcione said sports families help market the area to their friends.

"If anyone is on the fence of coming to this tournament at some point in the year, do it," stated Stauffer.