Years after Pasco County decided to market itself to sports tournaments and athletic-minded tourists, officials are considering their next big push: hiring a sports marketer.
With 19 events set next year, from lacrosse to mud runs, officials say they need the position to coordinate activities and lure more such events.
"Tourism is economic development and we need to have someone who can bring in those programs," County Commissioner Pat Mulieri said.
Of the five commissioners, four lean toward creating the position with only Commissioner Jack Mariano holding back, saying he wants the existing tourism staff to put more emphasis on sports marketing.
Hiring a sports marketer in Pasco would have raised eyebrows a few years ago, but officials say the growth in tournaments year to year is proof their tourism plan is working.
The change in vision came after the Florida Sports Foundation, which helps counties and cities markets sports, visited Pasco a few years ago and reported the county could boost tourism taxes and aid businesses by reaching out to more organizations that sanction tournaments and races.
Commissioners, looking to distinguish the county from Hillsborough and Pinellas, latched onto the idea.
"We don't have beaches and don't have amusement parks, but we do have a beautiful county primed for active sports people," Commissioner Kathryn Starkey said.
Only a handful of leagues hosted events in Pasco six years ago.
The difference now?
Officials started inviting organizations, like lacrosse-tournament host Dick's Sporting Goods, to Pasco and that brought new events.
Like other commissioners, Starkey wants to see a cost-benefit analysis before making a final decision on hiring a marketer.
The county's tourism office is funded by bed taxes and no property tax dollars would go toward the new job.
Officials say that if the county can generate enough bed taxes to fund the position then it makes sense to make the hire.
"This is an investment in economic development," Commissioner Henry Wilson said. "We just have to make sure the person doing the job for tourism is paid for with tourism dollars."
The county's tourism office is budgeted at about $760,000, of which $182,000 goes toward administration: office supplies, gas, utilities, postage, printing costs, trade-group memberships and salary and benefits for the office's four staffers.
Tourism director Eric Keaton said that the sports marketer would cost about $58,000 a year and come from projected gains in bed taxes.
The office is too swamped now promoting the county to tourists to make a bigger push into sports marketing on its own, he said.
"We need another person on staff to build those relationships, not only with outside events, but with the local leagues," said Keaton.
The clock is ticking though. Keaton is set to resign Aug. 13 to take a senior marketing position at the YMCA of the Suncoast, based in Clearwater.
Also, the county is on the hook to build at least two multi-purpose fields at the Wesley Chapel District Park by December for a lacrosse tournament.
The county is also looking to beef up other facilities at some point, including Starkey Ranch and the proposed Sun West Park, where a developer hopes to build a wakeboard facility.
"I think we're going to need to have a good discussion about this at our next board meeting," said Mulieri, referring to the tourism office's staffing.
"I remember in '94. Nobody paid much attention to this, marketing our athletic fields," she said. "Now it's grown by leaps and bounds."
Rich Shopes can be reached at [email protected]