Tiny riders help local sports tourism

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SARASOTA--They may be small, but the two to five year old riders at the Strider World Championship bike races are part of something much bigger when it comes to sports tourism on the Suncoast.

"We've got kids from Japan, Australia, the U.K., Canada, Ecuador," said organizer Ryan McFarland.

This weekend's Strider World Championships is just the latest international sporting event to show up in Sarasota county.

It's all part of a bigger push by local officials to make the Suncoast a mecca for sports tourism.

"Sarasota county and the city of Sarasota bent over backwards to help us, they do a phenomenal job of promoting this event," said event official Kyla Wright.

Thanks to major biking, rowing and swimming events the area hosted over the past year, officials say more than one hundred million dollars has been pumped into the local economy. They also believe that nearly ten percent of visitors come because of something related to sports.

"We are here to learn all about the fantastic events here in the states," said Nicole Kotarac, who flew in all the way from Sydney, Australia this week to see how the Strider event was handled.

She's hoping to use what she's learned in Sarasota back in Sydney.

"We're keen to learn as much as we can this week and take them home with us," said Kotarac.

Organizers say part of the appeal is that the area is a great value for families, meaning there's lots to do other than just the sporting event they're coming for.

"[The area] is easy to get to, from around the world, fabulous weather, the city and county really support us bringing sports to the area," said McFarland.