With Atlantic City under more pressure than ever to increase revenue, especially non-gambling, its growing sports tourism industry is beginning to deliver in a big way.

Nicholas Piccillo, ThinkStock
Nicholas Piccillo, ThinkStock

The Atlantic City Sports Commission was formed just over a year ago through Meet AC, a tourism development agency.

Jim Wood, president and CEO of Meet AC and the Atlantic City Sports Commission, immediately launched an aggressive strategy to forge relationships and attract sporting events of all sizes and varieties to Atlantic City.

The city is seeing rapid results from the initiative.

Wood said they have already lined up huge events, such as an IRONMAN triathlon, the debuting Red Bull Global Rallycross, and Ultimate Armwrestling's national tournament.

"We certainly want to showcase Atlantic City as kind of an East Coast destination to host some of these events moving forward," Wood said. "There's so many new sporting events that are out there."

In addition to those unique events, Wood said they are heavily focused on increasing the number of youth tournaments and competitions, which can draw hundreds of teams and their families.

Atlantic City recently played host to the state high school wrestling tournament and a major cheerleading competition. They are also making major inroads with the Amateur Athletic Union, a major national amateur sports organization, to be a main hub for their tournaments.

And this is just a snapshot of the outside-the-box thinking being implemented by Wood and his team.

"We've got a lot of targets that we're looking at for Atlantic City's growth in the sports market," he explained.

The centerpiece of his vision takes shape later this year when Atlantic City hosts TEAMS '16, which is the world's leading conference and expo for the sports-event industry. The conference is being held from September 26-29, 2016, at Harrah's brand-new Waterfront Conference Center, which opens in August.

He believes the city will get a huge return on its investment from the conference by getting face-time with key figures in the industry.

"By hosting TEAMS, we're going to be attracting and bringing to Atlantic City the rights-holders of almost 500 different sporting events," Wood said. "It'll give an opportunity to showcase Atlantic City, meet with these different sports rights-holders."

Wood touts the city's vast and unique assets, which have the potential to make it attractive for these events and tournaments.

"We have some really great indoor and outdoor tools to work with to promote our destination," Wood said. "We have the wonderful beaches. The boardwalk is attractive. We've got over 15,000 hotel rooms, historic Boardwalk Hall."

Despite Atlantic City's sports tourism push being in just its infancy, they are quickly taking big leaps forward. Wood estimates that the first year of the efforts brought $25 million in economic activity to the city and attracted 130,000 visitors. And this year is significantly ahead of pace with nearly 20 different events already scheduled.

Between the progress already being made, the plans to transform Bader Field into a major sports complex, and the aforementioned TEAMS '16, there is an increasing amount of optimism about this burgeoning non-gambling revenue stream.

"There's tremendous growth potential for Atlantic City, and we're going to work as hard as we can to grow our sports footprint in Atlantic City," Wood said.

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