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Ocean City brimming with potential; begin planning right now councilman says

(Nov. 25, 2019) Could Ocean City become Maryland’s amateur sports capital? For one councilman the answer is a resounding yes.

“We are built to dominate and be the national leader in [sports] events,” Councilman John Gehrig said during a Tourism Commission meeting last Wednesday, Nov. 13.

Gehrig said the city needs to diversify its advertising budget, which increased by $224,000 from room taxes.

Rather than allowing the money to roll over into advertising, the councilman argued it should be used to “go out and bring sports” to Ocean City. 

The councilman also had brought up the idea during city government’s October Strategic Planning Update meeting. 

Then, his focus was on constructing a sports facility in Worcester County. 

Council Secretary Mary Knight last Wednesday asked City Manager Doug Miller when the feasibility study for the facility would be complete, and Miller replied that it should have already been in the council’s possession. 

Donna Abbott, director of tourism and marketing, said she anticipated the results to come out by the end of November, but would do a follow-up. 

However, Gehrig said he was no longer focused on the facility alone, but on hammering down the city’s available resources to take advantage of the sports industry. 

“We have facilities, whether it’s private facilities, public facilities, county facilities, we have enough,” Gehrig said. “The travel sports industry is an $18 billion industry. This is how families are using their vacation days, 60 percent of kids, from 8 to 16, are involved in travel sports.”

Abbott pointed to the 13th annual United States Specialty Sports Association’s softball series, which was held in July. 

The softball series draws nearly 350 girls’ softball teams from 16 states for three weeks. 

The city managed to secure 46 percent of hotel stays during the event, or roughly 4,001 room nights.

This was an 11 percent increase from last year’s 35 percent. 

In addition, Abbott mentioned popular sports events returning to the city such as Beachfest Volleyball and the Spartan Race.

The Spartan Race held its inaugural event in the city in October, and more than 5,000 people participated, causing a buzz of excitement among city officials over its potential as a revenue source. 

Abbott also mentioned future potential partnerships with sports organizers, one with a sports organizer from Annapolis and the other with the Maryland Office of Sports and Wicomico County. 

The city is looking to partner with the state and the county for the Maryland Crab Bowl — a high school youth football game slated for December. 

Although the game will take place at Salisbury University, players are expected to rest in Ocean City, and their banquet will be held in the convention center. 

“People travel,” said Melanie Pursel, president of the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce. “There are people here [in Ocean City] who play for the Annapolis lacrosse team. They travel to Anne Arundel County to Prince George’s a few times a week just to practice … and the fees it’s like $1,100 to $1,200 just to play in four tournaments.”

With all of this said, Gehrig felt it was in the city’s best interest to begin aggressively pursuing this effort.

“We can still sell ourselves and use the inventory that we have, we just have to plan properly,” Gehrig said. “I don’t think we need to wait, so I’m going to keep putting pressure, and pushing like a crazy person [for this initiative].”

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