By STEVE KNIGHT/The Lufkin News
Visitors to Lufkin for various sporting events in 2014 spent nearly $546,000 in the community and stayed more than 7,000 room nights in Lufkin hotels and motels, according to figures from the Lufkin Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Those events have included softball, baseball and other sports tournaments as well as fishing tournaments and the Neches River Rendezvous.
One of the larger tournaments, the Mizuno Youth Softball Tournament hosted by the Lufkin Parks and Recreation Department in April, brought in 50 teams and used both Kit McConnico and Winston parks. According to LCVB figures, about 1,200 participants, including players, coaches and their families, stayed about 600 room nights in Lufkin hotels.
Jason Arnold, the park and recreation department’s assistant director, said there’s some strategy involved in attracting and hosting such tournaments.
“We pay attention to people who we compete with,” Arnold said. “Those are the bigger areas like Houston, Tyler, even the Metroplex. We look at what they’re doing and make sure we don’t have anything conflicting with what they’re doing. We make sure we offer what the teams and coaches want as far as the way we format tournaments.”
In the case of the Mizuno softball tournament, the city teamed up with Mizuno Sports to offer bats and bat bags as part of a prize package. First-place teams in each age division — 8 and under, 10 and under, 12 and under and 14 and under — received a Mizuno bat, 12 Mizuno bat bags, 12 Mizuno bat bags, T-shirts and a team trophy. Second-place teams received a Mizuno bat, T-shirts and a team trophy, and third-place teams will receive T-shirts and a team trophy.
Funding for those items comes from sponsorships, Arnold said.
“We offer nice prize packages, and that’s where the LCVB comes into play, in which they help us with the prize packages. It helps us stand out from the crowd. These teams that travel two or three times a month; wherever they go, they are taken care of. They’re used to having these nice prize packages and good rates on hotels.
“We try to make it a team effort with LCVB and the hotels, and once they’re here, we take care of the details. We have nice complexes and playing surfaces. We make sure the rules are followed. We make sure the umpiring is good. We make sure that the format is what they want. That’s what we’re good at.”
The LCVB board approved a $3,000 sponsorship this year for the tournament. The city also hosted the Summer Sizzler Youth Softball Tournament in August.
It’s all about putting heads in beds, said Tara Watson-Watkins, executive director of the Lufkin Convention and Visitors Bureau, referring to the hotel and motel taxes that fund the CVB. However, it’s also about creating events that will benefit restaurants, grocery stores and other businesses.
“The sponsorships we provide go toward trophies, awards and items from umpires, and it’s the perfect way for hotel and motel tax money to be spent,” Watson-Watkins said. “We know it’s going directly back to the hotels, which is exactly what we want it to do. We love softball tournaments because they bring in the girls’ parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and lots of people. Any type of sporting event, whether it’s softball, baseball or soccer, is a great way for the LCVB to partner and bring in people to Lufkin to see what fantastic sporting complexes we have.”
The highest-profile sporting event hosted in Angelina County in 2014 was the FLW fishing tour’s stop at Sam Rayburn Reservoir in March.
Anglers who participated spent 2,574 room nights in Angelina County area accommodations, according to LCVB figures. Motels, motels, campgrounds and RV parks from Broaddus and Zavalla to Lufkin and Diboll benefited from hosting the tournament in the area, which took place at Cassels-Boykin County Park and featured 177 of the best bass-fishing pros along with 177 co-anglers.
The room night statistics do not include rooms used by FLW staff members, which according to the LCVB was about 300 room nights.
About 50 anglers stayed in Lufkin accommodations, staying 250 room nights.
Broken down by Angelina County hotel, room nights spent by anglers follows: private house or condo, 998; Jackson Hill Park Marina, 327; La Quinta Inn, 157; Quality Inn, 150; Lakeview RV and Motel, 133; Bass Buster Inn, 103; Texas Inn, 72; Lufkin Inn, 31; Shady Acres, 57; Campground and RV sites, 262; Hampton Inn, 86; Holiday Inn Express, 55; Country Inn and Suites, 54; Super 8, 17; Best Western, 16; Courtyard by Marriott, 18; Econo Lodge, 20; Royal Inn, 5; American Inn, 4; Comfort Suites, 6; and Diboll Inn, 3.
Angelina College also hosts several tournaments during the year. The college in May hosted the regional softball and baseball tournaments, which brought eight junior college teams to Lufkin to compete.
According to Gary Stallard, the college’s sports information director, visitors like Lufkin’s location and amenities.
“You have everything available right here in this area and near the fields,” Stallard said. “A lot of places we go, you have to drive 20 minutes from the ballpark. Things are right here. It’s a very convenient location.”
According to LCVB figures, the regional tournaments brought in 1,250 people who stayed 600 room nights in Lufkin.
It’s a boon for Lufkin hotel operators, Stallard said.
“Talking to the vendors around here, they talk about the upswing in revenue,” Stallard said. “They get a big boost in revenue every time this happens.”