The Tourist Development Council has tentatively recommended this extension, which will involve a budget of over $1.7 million. The final decision for approval lies with the County Commissioners, who will meet to vote on January 9.
Expanding The Tournament
According to Laura Layden of Naples Daily News, Mike Dee from Spirit Promotions recently outlined forthcoming plans for the tournament at the East Naples Community Park.
The proposal involves an annual $345,000 allocation from the county’s tourist tax revenues, earmarked for marketing and drawing visitors to this spring event.
Dee emphasized the significance of the sponsorship, framing it as an intermediate step toward a broader public-private partnership to expand the scope of the tournament.
His company, Pickle4, formed a merger with Spirit Promotions and the U.S. Open Championships about a year ago. Dee says he and the county staff have worked closely since then to establish long and short-term developments for the site.
“We think it’s important that you get to know us. We get to know you,” he commented.
He added how the large sums the county has invested in the Community Park make it the “Fenway Park of pickleball” and has become a “beacon of light throughout the country, as a destination-oriented pickleball facility.”
The 60-Court Site
Plans are underway to enhance the 60-court site even further for the Championships while still maintaining its community-oriented use, including programs for children.
The vision for the event encompasses expanding the championship court’s seating capacity from around 1,000 to over 3,000, improving traffic flow, and parking facilities.
“We need to continue to invest in it and keep it competitive with some of the facilities that are evolving around the country,” Dee said. “And we’re prepared to bring our checkbook in a private-public partnership with the county to do that.”
This year’s tournament witnessed record participation, drawing in 2,800 amateur and 300 professional athletes and about 41,000 spectators over five days of play.
The economic impact was estimated at $14 million, including 9,500 room nights, plus spending on dining, shopping, and entertainment throughout the county. The event generated almost $170,00 in tourist taxes.
He also pointed out that he and the other co-founder of Pickle4 have moved to Collier County now, so they are not “just talking the talk, but walking the walk” and form a part of the “pickleball movement.”
“We love Naples,” he said.
Over 50,000 Attendees
Looking ahead, Dee outlined plans to leverage technology for a larger event next year, aiming to accommodate 1,000 more participants and 10,000 more spectators, meaning figures could exceed 50,000 over the same number of days.
Efforts are underway to extend the event’s activities throughout the year, broaden media coverage, and entice more pickleball events to Collier County.
Clark Hill, a seasoned member of the Tourist Development Council and the general manager of the Hilton Naples, underscored that while extending the contract with Spirit Promotions requires a substantial investment, it’s a fraction compared to the economic gains brought in by the U.S. Open to the county.
“I did some math. The investment is actually 1.26% of the return,” he said. That would be on top of the income generated by the CBS Sports Network live coverage.
“It’s worth a lot,” Hill says. “That’s part of it.”
A Steadfast Host
The council echoed this sentiment. Collier County has been a steadfast host and sponsor of the U.S. Open since 2016.
The existing sponsorship, extended to 2024 in 2019, encompasses more than a mere financial contribution. It involves year-round promotional support, public relations, media coverage, facilitation of permits, hotel arrangements, concessions, and the recruitment of volunteers.
The Minto U.S. Open Pickleball Championships, scheduled for April 13-20, will kick off with a Kids Day and a pre-tournament celebration.
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