Over a decade ago, Owensboro was known as the best sports town in Kentucky and one of the 50 best in America — two titles that the city can no longer claim.
Despite the recession of 2008, sports tourism were never affected. Parents still supported their children in youth league sports. What changed, according to Jared Bratcher, Sports Marketing Director for Owensboro Daviess County Convention and Visitors Bureau, was other towns catching up to Owensboro’s level. Bratcher cited Elizabethtown, Evansville and Greenville as three communities that have excelled with their sports and park facilities.
“Owensboro has nestled into being one of the players,” Bratcher said. “We want to be the best, not just one of the players.”
To help figure out how to get back on top, the CVB hired an outside group, Pinnacle Indoor Sports, to evaluate what Owensboro could be doing better as a sports town. The study, which cost $12,500, began with a site visit in May where in-person interviews were conducted with local sports groups.
The study was returned to the CVB this week, reporting Owensboro is in need of an indoor sports facility, especially after The Next Level closed in 2017. Pinnacle said this would increase weekday revenue with local sports associations staying in Owensboro rather than traveling to other regional facilities. Pinnacle said in its report that many local groups desire an indoor hard-court venue to host regional sports, particularly volleyball, pickleball and archery.
Bratcher and Mark Calitri, President and CEO of the CVB, understands that an indoor sports facility would significantly impact Owensboro, but also know that this is not a quick fix to making the community a go-to sports town again. This is why they are choosing to focus on Pinnacle’s second recommendation: replacing the four infields at Jack C. Fisher Park with turf.
Turf is a realistic looking synthetic material that will be above a sophisticated draining system. Changing the infields to turf will allow for a completely consistent playing surface, eliminating the negative effect of rain outs during baseball and softball seasons.
According to Bratcher, rain delays are a huge problem in youth league baseball and softball tournaments. Turf would set Owensboro apart in the region, making it more desirable for tournaments to book Fisher Park. Bratcher also says that tournament organizers would pay more for turf fields and the season could be extended by several weeks.
“We must give athletic teams and the money they bring a reason to choose Owensboro,” Calitri said. “These teams have many options. World-class facilities with no rain outs is that reason.”
Calitri and Bratcher estimate that occupancy could double at the 21 tournaments (557 teams) that play at Fisher Park in a season, something that both say would help the flat hotel occupancy Owensboro has seen.
Bratcher said replacing the four infields with turf could cost anywhere between $150,000 to $250,000, depending on the amount of below surface work required for Fisher Park. A group has been hired to assess the fields and the CVB hopes to finalize a budget soon, with the goal of completing the conversion to turf fields by Spring 2019.
“We need to step up to what sports tourism is demanding,” Bratcher said. “We want Owensboro to get back on top of the mountain.”