Nearly a decade old, the Erie (Pennsylvania) Sports Commission has demonstrated laserlike focus on accommodating groups, strong local partnerships and access to top-drawer recreational facilities. The commission
received multiple NASC honors and, more importantly, continues to be a major economic driver. Ron Sertz has led the Erie Sports Commission as its executive director since its founding in 2010. Under Sertz, Erie has grown from hosting nine sporting events in 2012 to 54 events in 2016, which accounted for more than $14 million in economic impact for the region. Connect Sports spoke with Sertz recently to learn more about the commission and what makes Erie a great destination for sporting events.
What makes Erie such an attractive events destination?
We're unique in that we're a waterfront community. We sit on Lake Erie right on Presque Isle Bay. Presque Isle State Park gets more visitors every year than Yellowstone National Park. It is a peninsula that goes out onto Lake Erie and is a great multisport venue for us. It's over 3,000 acres and is perfect for biking, swimming and fishing, obviously, [as well as] kayaking, beach soccer, beach volleyball and more.
There's 7 miles of beaches right on the lake. We have hiking trails, boat launches and recreational trails. We do a lot of marathons and half marathons here. It's quite a unique facility for outdoor sports. The park has eight permanent sand volleyball courts, and we’ve had as many as 11 or 12 additional courts established for EVP tournaments held here.
Tell us about other area recreation facilities and venues.
Erie Insurance Arena seats about 7,000 for hockey and basketball. We've had a Women's Frozen Four event and Division II Women's National Basketball Championships as well as state wrestling there. The facility just went through a $50 million renovation.
We've got the Bayfront Convention Center right on the water. It’s less than 10 years old and offers 100,000 square feet, free parking and two beautiful hotels (Courtyard Erie Bayfront and Sheraton Erie Bayfront Hotel) connected right on the water. We recently held the Stars & Stripes Gymnastics Invitational, where 1,700 athletes participated over four days. It is the second-largest coed gymnastics event in Pennsylvania.
How has the commission maximized its facilities?
The ESC has helped reframe the convention center as a sports facility. We just hosted the Pennsylvania State 8-Ball Championships. What started years ago with 10 tables in a local establishment was moved downtown to the waterfront and convention center. This year we had 2,700 players over a three-day tournament with 200 pool tables. It's the fourth-largest eight ball tournament in North America.
How does Erie accommodate visiting groups and fans?
Erie is an easy city to get around. We have 4,500 hotel rooms in the community, great shopping and restaurants. There's Lake Erie Wine Country, which has almost 25 wineries right on the shores of Lake Erie, all within I would say 40 miles. Event holders find it enjoyable to have their events here. They get a lot of media attention. All the networks are located with studios right here and provide pre-event, during and post-event coverage.
We know word spreads about the support events get from the ESC and the community here. We help with promotion, assistance with hotels, securing venues and volunteers. We work to connect our events with local charities, and last year raised over $100,000. This makes it easy to connect events with local charities to supply volunteers because they benefit as well.