October 23, 2014

Sports Tourism

Clermont Is on the Fast Track

Communities around Florida are vying for the millions spent by amateur athletes who travel to train and compete. Tiny Clermont -- pop. 23,000 -- has made itself the epicenter of the state's sports tourism industry.

Amy Keller | 7/1/2009

A home run

Though Clermont remains a Mecca for triathletes, women’s softball has emerged in recent years as perhaps the National Training Center’s hottest athletic niche. Dot Richardson, an orthopedic surgeon and two-time Olympic softball gold medalist, took the helm of the center in 2002, believing that Clermont should get a slice of the business that other Florida cities generated by hosting spring training camps for college softball teams from northern states. “They’re in Cocoa. They’re in Clearwater. They’re in Fort Myers. They’re also in Osceola,” says Richardson. “So I thought, why don’t we make sure we build this facility focused on fast-pitch softball, and we can multipurpose use it for Little League overflow, for example.”


» Pay to Play
Becky Norris, coach of the Indiana Tech women’s softball program, says she spent $20,000 on travel, lodging and tournament fees for two squads (40 players) she brought to Clermont’s National Training Center in March. Teams also can buy training packages. A $1,000 softball package, for example, provides the team with three one-hour “sports performance training” sessions and use of the center five days a week. Dot Richardson, who provides motivational talks with teams for $300, is an equally big draw: “Our athletes get to meet an Olympic gold medalist. What a motivator,” gushes Norris.

Food is also key to the financial success of the softball complex. Sales of “famous angus burgers” and refreshments to players and fans provide the extra revenue needed to keep the center in the black. “That’s where you make most of your money with tournaments — the concession stand,” says Richardson. [Photo: Kelly LaDuke]


The Human Performance Lab offers an array of sports science testing to help athletes maximize their potential. The maximal oxygen uptake analysis (V02 max test) seen here measures how efficiently one’s body uses oxygen. The test costs $150.
Richardson had little trouble convincing local economic development officials that softball was a solid investment. With $2 million from the county and another $1 million through Lake-Sumter Community College, the center’s softball complex was constructed on 25 acres donated by Lake Sumter Community College. The “Legends Way Ball Fields” hosted 54 teams in the opening season, which began in March 2008. This year, 117 teams from as far away as Wisconsin and Vermont came to play, making good on Richardson’s promise that the softball program would “put heads in beds.” Since opening, the softball complex has drawn more than 15,000 participants — a boon for the hotels and restaurants that have sprung up around the center’s perimeter. “The last time I looked, over 80% were from out of the state of Florida,” says Mihalic. “It’s been a terrific investment.”

Leslie Longacre, CEO and executive director of South Lake Hospital, says business from the softball events is contributing to the overall success of the facility. “We knew from the beginning that we had to grow this business to be a financially solvent, independent piece of South Lake Hospital, and we knew it was going to take some time. We are seeing tremendous strides toward our goal of being financial solvent across the board in all areas.”

Tags: Dining & Travel, Central, North Central, Education

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