June 15, 2017 10:49:12 AM
Alex Holloway - [email protected]
Sports tourism is already strong in Columbus, Thomas Berkery said. If he has his way, it's about to become much stronger.
Berkery began working as the Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau's sports tourism director about two weeks ago.
"We're looking to add to what they've already got set in place, which is a great foundation of events," he said. "It's about doing more than what they've got so we're going to continue trying to grow it."
Berkery said there are opportunities to use the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway to draw more events and visitors to the city.
He said he will also work to draw more people who come to the region for athletic events at Mississippi State University -- which he said is CVB's biggest sports tourism asset--to Columbus.
"We will be doing our best to promote Columbus and present these visiting fans with a great experience while they're here in town," he said. "We try to attract folks to stay here as opposed to Tupelo or wherever else. And there's a lot of phone calls to operations guys for visiting teams for all the different sports, (so we'll try) to present to them why they should stay here."
Berkery said he will also work with local hotels to put together packages to help attract visitors.
Berkery's salary is $50,000 plus benefits, according to CVB Director Nancy Carpenter.
Berkery, 34, is from Sarasota, Florida. He attended Mississippi State University, where he played baseball from 2002-06. After finishing at MSU, he played three years with the Texas Rangers in the Major Leagues.
Berkery has a wife, Jana, an 8-year-old son, Brantley, and a 5-year-old daughter, Leighton.
He owns The Swing, a 10,000 square-foot indoor baseball training facility on Industrial Park Road in Starkville. The Swing opened in December 2010.
Carpenter said Berkery's sports background should be an asset for the CVB in working to attract more sporting events to the city.
"He knows a lot about every aspect of sports, whether it's baseball or soccer or fishing," she said. "He will provide an element of professionalism when we're speaking with different associations that we're bringing to Columbus."
Carpenter said the CVB budgeted $175,000 for sports tourism this year. She said Berkery will also help with some special events, such as Fireworks on the Water.
She said sporting events, whether at MSU or local events like soccer and softball tournaments, are a key part of drawing visitors to hotels and generating tax revenue for Columbus.
"It is a proven fact that revenue is directly tied to events," Carpenter said. "As I've said many times, we have a host of visitors who come during the week because of the strong industrial base that we have here, but on weekends we really are dependent on sporting activities, or even family reunions and other visitors."
Berkery said he wants to help draw new events to the city. For example, he said the soccer complex is a big asset for attracting tournaments, which the city could host more of. He also said he'd like to do more to host camps and clinics in Columbus.
"You've got some ex-Mississippi State athletes that I'm going to try to draw on to do camps," he said. "We're looking at some basketball camps with some former MSU guys that not only is it cool to be around those pros, but it's a chance for these younger basketball players to learn from them and the team of instructors they'll bring with them.
"It's hard to get that kind of knowledge in a one-on-one deal, so bringing them in as a large group should help attract more people like that who want to host their camps here," he added.