There is an aspect of sports tourism some say the city is ignoring.
Tour agencies, bar owners and the former head of the tourism board say more should be done to promote Windsor as a Canadian destination for professional sports. They say Windsor should piggyback on the success of Detroit’s sports teams.
The Detroit Red Wings are a perennial playoff team. The Detroit Tigers have won the Central Division three consecutive years. And the Detroit Lions are much improved of late.
All three are a 10-minute bus ride away. No other city in Canada can boast of being that close to three pro sports franchises.
Mo Regnier, CEO of Great Adventure Tours of Lakeshore, said the city needs to better sell its proximity to Detroit.
“There is more that can be done, particularly marketing to the London and Toronto area,” Regnier said. “For the staunch Habs fan, with Montreal and Detroit being in the same Division there’s lots of opportunity for Habs or Leafs fans, who wouldn’t otherwise be able to get a ticket [in their cities] to simply come into Windsor, have relatively inexpensive hotel room and go to a hockey game.”
“It’s such an easy avenue for people to get to, being able to take the tunnel bus over extremely easily. Hop back on and come enjoy downtown Windsor, Caesars and enjoy all the entertainment that goes on there.”
Chris Ryan is the former head of Tourism Windsor Essex Pelee Island. He now owns Walkerville Brewery.
He said Windsorites “take for granted” what they have.
'Sometimes we neglect what's in our own backyard.' - Chris Ryan, former TWEPI CEO
“Sometimes we neglect what’s in our own backyard,” he said. “We have to look at what we have, first and foremost, and not try to create things; take the assets we have and better utilize them.”
Ryan said the city should be working with tour groups and charters from within a two-hour radius, including cities in the U.S.
“If you live in an area that doesn’t have a pro sports franchise, they would give their eye teeth to have the opportunities we have,” he said.
Stable base of games
Prior to any playoff games, pro sports teams in Detroit play 130 home games a year. Those dates provide a stable base, Ryan said.
“That’s a third of the year you can capitalize on. Not all those events are sold out on a day-by-day basis,” he said.
Big sports is big money. According to Reuters, last year, the Detroit Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau estimated three World Series games would pour $26 million US into the city's economy.
Ryan said the NHL’s Winter Classic between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings is a prime example of how this region can leverage sports tourism on an ongoing basis. The game is scheduled for New Year’s Day and Mo Regnier has hotel, travel and ticket packages.
Although Ryan said he doesn’t know if Windsor is “being promoted properly” he said “it’s not always up to just the tourism organization or the city” to market Windsor as a pro sports destination.
“It’s also up to the individual property owners,” he said.
He said he can’t recall any hotels offering “ticket and a room deals” for sporting events.
Jamie Greer owns the Manchester Pub on Ouellette Avenue. He said he does see an influx of sports fans when there are big sporting events in Detroit,
Still, he doesn’t want to rely solely on the success of the Detroit pro-sport teams. He wants more multi-national bids on bigger sporting events, such as the Memorial Cup. Windsor has twice lost its bid for the Memorial Cup in the last few years.
Before his short-lived tenure as head of tourism, Ryan owned a handful of bars in downtown Windsor.
“There were times there were busloads were coming in for these games. People love coming to our side of the border to have that two-nation destination,” he said. “You have to look at what makes you stronger than the rest.”
Focus on landing sporting events
Mayor Eddie Francis insists “we’ve demonstrated we support events in Detroit.”
“The Windsor-Essex today is very different than the perceived Windsor-Essex of yesterday,” he said.
Francis is focused on landing the 2014 Ontario Summer Games. He will ask County Council for financial support tonight.
Last week, the city nailed down the FINA Diving World Series for four years. And it hosted the International Children’s Games this past August.
“You can do both and we are doing both,” Francis said of hosting events and working with Detroit. “The fact of the matter is, when there are games in Detroit, whether it’s the Detroit Lions, Detroit Tigers or the Detroit Red Wings, Windsor Transit does a significant amount of traffic."