Blake sees tourism as way ahead

Sports tourism is one of few global industries not adversely affected by the worldwide recession, and the Cayman Islands has benefited from a number of football events recently to endorse that fact.  

In the past year, the tournaments and events have boosted local sports tourism immensely and elevated Cayman’s profile on the international stage.  

The most popular global sporting events are the FIFA World Cup and the Olympics, followed by the European Football Championships.  

On average, an estimated 12 million international trips are made annually to watch a sporting event, and Cayman is increasingly attracting larger numbers for its own events.  

Cayman’s staging of international football tournament and events is mainly due to the efforts of Jeffrey Webb, president of the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football, who has established a CONCACAF office here.  

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In August 2013, there was the staging of the inaugural CONCACAF Boy’s Under-15 Championship that included 22 teams from throughout the region. It was a huge success. Honduras was crowned champions, with Cayman just missing out on reaching the semifinals, finishing fifth overall and boasting the tournament’s top goal-scorer with 11 in Leighton Thomas Jr.  

Two months later, the inaugural CONCACAF Sports Summit was held at the Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman. It encompassed a series of seminars and functions that attracted hundreds of footballers, coaches, media, administrators and officials, including FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who endorsed Cayman’s relevance in the region and commended Webb and the Cayman Islands Football Association.  

CIFA First Vice-President Bruce Blake received plenty of praise for his organizational skills during this hectic phase, which has not let up in 2014.  

In January, the CONCACAF Women’s Under-20 Championship, involving eight teams, was staged at the Truman Bodden Sports Complex.  

The Cayman team did well against much more experienced and mature teams and benefited significantly from the exposure.  

Reigning champions USA won easily, beating Mexico 4-0 in the final. Both teams plus Costa Rica progressed to the FIFA Women’s Under-20 World Cup finals in Canada this summer.  

Blake, a corporate lawyer, was heavily involved throughout. “All the events of the past year have been significant,” Blake said.  

“The U-15 tournament demonstrated that we are seriously into sports tourism and has brought us immense attention worldwide.  

“On the heels of the U-15 tournament, we went straight into the CONCACAF Sports Summit, which generated a lot of international media attention.”  

Webb is passionate about promoting sports tourism locally through football. At the recent Fidelity Cayman Outlook, his speech referred to a PwC report which stated that global sports market revenues will rise at an annual rate of 3.7 percent from $121 billion in 2010, to $145 billion in 2015.  

North America will see the largest increase with 41 percent, and Latin America will see a 5.6 percent increase.  

“The 2010 World Cup generated total revenue of $3.6 billion for FIFA [excluding ticketing sales], driven by TV rights of $2.5 billion,” Webb said.  

“The World Cup is the most-viewed sporting event on the planet, and the next one is only a few months away, in Brazil.”  

To highlight how big football is, Webb said, in 2002, World Cup viewership reached 3.2 billion people around the world, or 46 percent of the global population, and FIFA’s official World Cup website had more than 2 billion registered viewers worldwide.  

Webb is proud of the fact that CONCACAF’s signature championship, the Gold Cup, hosted in 13 cities throughout the United States last year was the most profitable in its history.  

“More than 60 million people in the CONCACAF region tuned in to watch the final game, making it the number-one rated football game for 2013 in the United States,” he said.  

Webb added that CONCACAF’s direct impact in Cayman exceeded $5 million from the three big events here.  

“Over 45,000 people attended the two tournaments, delivering unprecedented ad value in electronic and social media in excess of $10 million,” he said.  

He also said that with the U-20 Women’s final airing live on FOX, it provided Cayman with an exceptional promotional opportunity.  

“On the last day of the tournament, we had 17 million impressions on Twitter,” Webb said.  

“For the Sports Summit, exposure measured through ad value was $4 million, with journalists visiting from BBC, CNN, Reuters and other high-profile media houses, to give Cayman a global prominence.”  

Webb is grateful for the government’s input but feels that if more funds were directed at sporting programs, it could help relieve the cost of police and prison resources.  

He added that Cayman’s Gross Domestic Product is $2.5 billion but the government invests only $5 million in sports and recreation per year, compared to considerably more in police and prison services.  

He acknowledged that police and prison expenditure is essential but would like to see more investment in youth sports which could help alleviate crime problems.  

“Investing in sports tourism is an opportunity to bridge that gap,” Webb said. “At $600 billion a year, it is the fastest-growing sector of the global travel industry.  

“Football is here to enhance the Cayman Islands as an exciting place to live, visit and do business. We can promote our cultural and social heritage while helping businesses and communities grow by investing in our youth. We may help give this paradise island a unique advantage in the global race for economic success. This will provide new opportunities to boost sports tourism, social and economic development. Thousands will benefit from our shared vision.  

“As an economic driver of prosperity, football without a doubt injects nations with a platform for exposure through participating in and hosting international tournaments.”  

Blake is pleased that the influx of visitors for all the events boosted the local economy, especially considering that August is traditionally a slow period.  

“The feedback has been good,” Blake said. “When you look at the U-15 tournament, it was the biggest event Cayman has ever hosted, irrespective of sport. From that perspective, it has to be significant.”  

From a football perspective, Blake sees that local players have enjoyed playing at a higher level, which will ultimately raise standards. It also affords new opportunities for scholarships and professional playing careers.  

This year’s football calendar is full of potential sports tourism boosts. There are various seminars and coaching courses, as well as the inaugural CONCACAF Girls U-15 Championship in August.  

“I thank President Webb for letting us host these events and having the confidence in us to run them well,” Blake said.  

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