Southern Miss

The 1st C-USA tourney brought economic boost, exposure for Coast. What’s in store for ‘18?

A Southern Miss fan holds up a caught foul ball during the fifth inning of the C-USA tournament championship game at MGM Park in Biloxi on May 28, 2017.
A Southern Miss fan holds up a caught foul ball during the fifth inning of the C-USA tournament championship game at MGM Park in Biloxi on May 28, 2017. jcfitzhugh@sunherald.com file

The record crowds that showed up for the 2017 Conference USA baseball tournament in Biloxi brought with them a healthy economic boost for the area.

Tim Bennett, whose Overtime Sports produces the event at MGM Park, puts the estimated economic impact in excess of $4 million after drawing over 21,000 fans to the ballpark over the course of five days on May 24-28.

Attendance at the 2017 tournament easily surpassed the 14,000 that showed up at Pete Taylor Park in Hattiesburg in 2016 and that event had an estimated impact of $2.7 million for the Hub City.

Bennett is in the process of trying to determine a more specific economic impact figure for Biloxi.

“I met with Southern University and they're going to do a certified economic impact study,” Bennett said. “Right now, we feel the economic impact exceeded $4 million. In Hattiesburg the year prior, it was $2.7 million and that did not include local spending in the 39401 and 39402 area codes. We feel we may reach at least $4.5 based on economic projections.”

Along with that economic impact, Bennett points to the increased exposure for the Mississippi Gulf Coast via ESPN3's airing of the first four days of the tournament and broadcast of the title game on CBS Sports Network. Coverage of the C-USA tournament reached local TV markets that total over 14 million viewers. CBS Sports Network has 44 million subscribers and is available in over 98 million homes.

This year's tournament will take place on May 23-27 and is again expected be broadcast on ESPN3 and CBS Sports Network.

“The coaches all came back with glowing revues (from last year's tournament),” Bennett said. “I got off a conference call with Conference USA (on Wednesday) and everybody has been extremely excited with the way it's turned out.

“We want to get as much local support as we can, raise awareness. If you look at the most successful events on the Coast, you have Mardi Gras, Cruisin' the Coast, the Billfish Classic and the (Rapiscan Systems Classic). We're not competing with those, but we're looking to fit in.”

While also aiming to bolster support in the Biloxi-Gulfport area, Bennett hopes to draw more on fans from Conference USA's other markets for 2018.

“We hope to be able to reach out to more of the markets,” Bennett said. “Ideally, we'd like to look at Houston, San Antonio and South Florida. Our first goal is to reach out to more markets and get some national exposure.”

Bennett plans to make a handful of upgrades for 2018 and those include charitable efforts.

“The 'Champion for Charities' has been renamed now that Keesler Federal Credit Union is picking up the tab,” Bennett said. “It's now called 'Keesler Champions for Charities.'

“After giving $18,000 to local charities last year, our goal is to raise $50,000 this year.”

Bennett also hopes to avoid long lines for tickets that were an issue before some of the Southern Miss games. An ongoing dispute between Bennett and Biloxi Shuckers managing owner Ken Young limited access to the main box office in 2017.

“We had nobody in the (main) box office and did everything out of the south box office,” Bennett said. “We certainly hope to use the main box office this year. That will help the tournament go a lot smoother. It's only fair to the fans to not have to stand in line.”

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