Making Change: If You Can't Be An Athlete: Sports & the Economy

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U.S. Masters Synchronized Swimming Championship - Photos
View a gallery of photos from the event taken by Shula Neuman.

Announcer: Swimmer number nine from the Brecksville Blue Dolphins, Kim Colten...

In her sparkling swimsuit, hair securely gelled into to a bun and nose clip firmly clamped on her nose, the competitor assumes a statue-like pose. Then the music starts.

And Kim dives into the pool, emerging feet first and performing a series of turns, kicks and splits before coming up for air. So it went last weekend at Cleveland State University for about 260 competitors in the U.S. Master's Synchronized Swimming Championship - or synchro to those in the know. Now, you may be wondering: Cleveland and Synchro? What's the connection?

Pat Craft: For us it was really the willingness to help. They understood they don't know much about synchro, which is normal.

Pat Craft is business development manager for U.S. Synchronized Swimming, the governing body for the sport. He says ignorance didn't stop the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission from accommodating the group's every need.

Pat Craft: We feel we're an important event. And we want to be important; we don't want to be second best to anyone. I don't care if you bring the Superbowl, we want to be in their eyes as important and that's how they treat us. That's how it's been here. Like I said, Cleveland has - they're really on the radar screen for a lot of the national governing bodies.

There's been wrestling and diving championships, equestrian pony finals, judo and wheelchair games. With five years under its belt, the Sports Commission is responsible for raising the profile of Northeast Ohio as the place to hold major amateur sporting events. David Gilbert, president and CEO of the Sports Commission, says it's the smaller events that make or break a city's reputation. Take the synchro competition, for example.

David Gilbert: We've never hosted a national synchronized swim event in Cleveland. So, you do well with this and there's opportunity for others. Quite frankly, in the Olympic movement, you do well with any and the word spreads and it helps you get other events.

Of course, the big events boost the city's status, too. The U.S. Gymnastics Championships in 2002 was a biggie, so are the Gravity Games. The International Children's Games are coming up next year and the NCAA Women's Final Four in 2007. Gilbert says each successful event lures another, which in turn attracts money to the region. Gilbert brags that in all, the commission has a $165,000,000 economic impact - that's including all 45 events the commission has lined up through 2007.

David Gilbert: If you get one or two major events a year, an event that fills an arena, an event that has national television exposure, I think you're doing very well. But also need another six, eight ten events that are small or medium that the biggest benefit may be that they fill hotel rooms.

The synchro championship filled about 500 hotel rooms for four nights last week.

Mark Rosentraub: In the realm of things, you say, "well, what's 500 people." Very small.

Mark Rosentraub, dean of the school of urban affairs at Cleveland State University.

Mark Rosentraub: But if you have these kinds of things happening on a regularized basis it becomes an important part of the cash flow of the city of Cleveland.

Rosentraub says considering the paltry condition of the city's finances, those 500-person events on a regular basis could have a significant impact on the city's well-being as well as the region's.

Mark Rosentraub: When Cleveland hosts the high school wrestling championships, this is very important for the region because we bring a lot of people in from the state of Ohio. It's very important for the city of Cleveland, because a lot of people stay downtown. That generates money for the city that has to be very focused on the amount of revenue that it produces.

What's more, amateur sports have a greater benefit to our economy than our professional sports teams, Rosentraub says. The Browns and Indians entertain the locals, mostly, which brings money from the suburbs to the city. But amateur sports draw outsiders, and those visitors spend their money checking out Cleveland. In other words, the $175,000 the synchro championship generated was new money from places outside of Northeast Ohio. According to U.S. Synchro's Pat Clark, the swimmers found a lot of opportunities to spend in Cleveland.

Pat Clark: And everyone was commenting on the theatre. I was not aware about Les Mis and all those shows that are in town. The big thing here is the restaurants, everyone loves to eat and so the wide array of restaurants has really been cool. That's a nice plus here.

So, while these events allow visiting athletes to sample Cleveland's gastronomical selection, they also give the locals a chance to broaden their athletic palate. There's a weight-lifting championship coming up in November. And next year you can check out speed skating, jump rope and platform tennis championships-just to name a few. In Cleveland, Shula Neuman, 90.3.

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