The inaugural Major League Football announced this month it will bring more than 1,000 people to Lakewood Ranch for spring training and located its headquarters there. Local businesses couldn’t be more thrilled.
LAKEWOOD RANCH — Manager Tom Yorke’s 79-room Country Inn & Suites hotel on State Road 70 won’t be accommodating any of Major League Football’s roughly 1,000 team and staff members when the league heads to Lakewood Ranch for spring training this February.
But Yorke still couldn’t be happier with the league’s decision to locate its headquarters in the HomeBanc building off University Parkway and hold spring training for its 10 teams at Premier Sports Campus starting in 2016.
“It’s going to be a big thing and it’s going to be a huge deal on top of all the tourists (visiting),” Yorke said. “We’re thrilled. If they fill up a lot of other hotels, they’re will be more demand for our hotel. Having that many teams here at one time is going to be incredible thing for this area.”
Sports tourism from IMG Academy, Nathan Benderson Park, Premier Sports Campus and other venues already account for about 20% of Country Inn & Suites’ business. But the business from sports tourism is seasonal, and the presence of MLFB’s 10 teams will only extend that season, Yorke said.
Much of Major League Football’s decision to hold training in Lakewood Ranch hinged on the ability to find enough hotel rooms. The league had determined it wanted each of its 10 teams to stay in one hotel, meaning it’d have to find 10 hotels large enough to accommodate 64 rooms during peak season. The hotels also had to be full service, because the league wanted the hotels to provide breakfast and dinner, and sometimes lunch, to ensure team arrangements were equitable.
“From jump street, that looked like it was going to be the long pole in the tent to make sure we could secure enough rooms,” said JJ Coyne, vice president of supply chain management/training camp director for MLFB. “It’s crazy to think six months ago we didn’t think this could happen. We had 1,300 rooms committed to us by hoteliers. (Hoteliers said,) even if you don’t stay at our hotel, we want you here. That’s the same (rhetoric) we got from the counties.”
Rob Ferguson, director of sales for the Holiday Inn Lakewood Ranch and its sister hotel, the Fairfield Inn & Suites Lakewood Ranch, will be one of the hoteliers to see significant business from MLFB.
His hotels, located less than a three minute drive from each other, will count as one of the “lucky 10” to accommodate a team. Ferguson noted the average per person daily spend by the league is about $160.
“When the hotels are busy, people are employed,” Ferguson said. “It does spread wealth around the community. They’re going to be spending money at Premier for the fields, using vendors, T-shirt people, shoe people. Everyone’s going to do well. With headquarters will have people in and out all year round. It’s not just a piece of business that will come first quarter. It will feed us all year, especially in East County.”
Coyne said players will have off time with which they can work out at local gyms, dine at restaurants, shop and enjoy other activities. Practices will be open, and the team will have scrimmages — both of which serve as open invitations for tourists, fans and locals.
And, the league’s headquarters, slated to open in early July, eventually will contain an estimated 49 staff members. Coaches will visit the area frequently for meetings, as well.
“It’s more than just hotels and their food and beverages,” Coyne said. “It’s going to be more.”
Gulf Coast Contract Furnishings’ Allan Shaivitz, membership co-chairman for the Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance, is working with the league on redesign and furnishings for its headquarter building, and already has helped league officials connect with fellow alliance members — a photographer for its announcement-day press conference, for example.
“They want to do business in Lakewood Ranch,” Shaivitz said. “Whatever they can find within Lakewood Ranch, that’s what they want to deal with. “They’ve got a 1,000 people (coming) here. It’s going to hit different businesses. They’ve got to buy gas for their cars. It goes on and on and it’s big.”
Heather Kasten, executive director for the Alliance, agreed.
“The longer people stay, the more needs they have,” she said. “It’s really going to have a huge trickle-down effect. It’s an opportunity to extend our season, which is good for our businesses.”
Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected].