PANAMA CITY BEACH — Sports is big business in Panama City Beach — and growing.
Representatives from local businesses and sports event holders got an update on the industry during a workshop Wednesday sponsored by the Bay County Tourist Development Council.
The workshop, in its ninth year, was created as a way to bring together local businesses and event holders. In its first year, seven event holders met with 15 people in the boardroom at the TDC. Now, the workshop is host to about 35 event holders — ranging from Ironman and several sports travel leagues to Thunder Beach and the Emerald Coast Boat & Lifestyle Show — drawing more than 200 people in the business community to the Edgewater Conference Center in Panama City Beach.
"The business over that time has grown to an over $100 million economic impact," said Richard Sanders, vice president of sports and events for the Tourist Development Council (TDC), during an educational session before the networking event.
And people — and players — are noticing. Panama City Beach in December was named a 2017 Top Sports Vacation Spot by SportsEvents Media Group in a contest that sought family-friendly sports destinations.
Chris O'Brien, director of sports and special events, said 86 events in Panama City Beach in 2016 brought in a combined 95,000 visitors and 150,000 room nights with an economic impact of $75 million. The city collected $375 million in lodging revenue and $18.7 million in tourism tax while having a 95 percent occupancy rate in July and 41 percent in January, with visitors spending $1.5 billion locally.
"That's pretty good for 52 weeks," O'Brien said.
Beach and tourism officials expect the sports business to grow, especially with the addition of a new sports park on the east end of the Beach. Design plans for the new 210-acre, 13-field sports park are about 95 percent complete, and the TDC expects construction to begin this spring. The TDC also announced the name of the road leading into the park as Chip Seal Parkway, after Panama City Beach Convention Visitors Bureau group sales manager Chip Seal, who died in January.
The TDC plans to promote the sports park with a focus on lacrosse, soccer and football, and says there already has been interest from national organizations capable of attracting large-scale events.