Steve Lewis/Durango Herald
This weekend, gymnasiums around Durango swelled with the rhythmic slap of hand on leather and leather on wood as club volleyball players from across the Southwest poured into town for the annual Diggin’ It in Durango tournament.
For Durango’s local economy, though, the chants of parents lining the Fort Lewis College gyms, the yells of girls sliding under spikes at Durango High School and Miller Middle School and that sound of ball hitting court at Ignacio High School, Ignacio Junior High and the Sun Ute Community Center are just melodic flourishes on top of the tournament symphony’s driving bass line: the ka-ching of the cash register.
“We just love sporting events like this one,” said John Cohen, executive director of the Durango Area Tourism Office.
Terene Foutz, executive director of tournament-host Four Corners Volleyball Club, said 72 teams are participating in the tournament this year – almost triple the number from the tournament’s third year, Foutz’s first. And all of them spend money.
Five years ago, only 28 teams played, eight of them from Four Corners Volleyball; now just 15 come from the local club, while the remaining 57 hail from as far away as Albuquerque or Colorado Springs. With much of the growth happening in the younger age brackets, next year the club is looking to expand the tournament to as many as 88 teams as old teams return and new teams make the trip for the first time.
This year, teams ranging in age from 10- to 18-years-old play throughout Saturday and today at the variety of sites in Durango and Ignacio.
“We’re completely stoked they’re here. ... We’re becoming a tradition because they keep returning,” Foutz said. “When April rolls around, people go ‘It’s time to go to Durango.’ I love that; I love that idea.”
Each volleyball team averages about 10 players and a pair of coaches, Foutz said, plus families.
Melissa Rohr, who coaches for the Albuquerque’s New Mexico Juniors club said each girl usually brings two or three family members with them, and Jackie Rodriquez, who also coaches for the club, said dinner reservations for her team alone usually include between 40 and 50 people.
“It’s a family sport; it’s a family event,” Foutz said.
In terms of numbers, Diggin’ It in Durango now ranks just below the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic and the Durango Youth Soccer Association’s annual Shootout Tournament in terms of people and impact.
Gaige Sippy, race director of the Iron Horse, said about 4,000 people participated in the 2011 race, just more than 3,000 of them from out of town. On average, he said, each rider brings about half a person with them, and each person spends about $200 per day on lodging, food and other amenities.
In total, Sippy said the Iron Horse estimates that race participants spend about $2 million over Memorial Day weekend in Durango and bring in an extra $75,000 in sales tax revenue.
More comparable to Diggin’ It in Durango, the soccer Shootout averages about 140 teams a year, said Kate Stahlin, DYSA director. Those teams average about 15 players and also bring with them an assortment of family members for a total of about 2,500 people over Mothers’ Day weekend.
The Shootout almost always fills Durango’s lodging to capacity, Cohen said, and Stahlin said teams some years have had to find lodging in Cortez or other surrounding towns because the hotels fill up so fast.
At about half that size, Diggin’ It in Durango “might not fill up the town, might not be at 100-percent occupancy, but certainly it’s increasing our occupancy, and people are eating in restaurants,” Cohen said.
Although each individual spends around $200 a day on IHBC weekend, the exact dollar amounts sports tournaments bring into town are hard to nail down without deep drilling since many of the teams and families share rooms, Cohen said.
“What we do know is sports events, especially youth sports events ... have an incredible economic impact,” he said.
Without money from outside sources, Durango’s economy is something of a zero-sum game as citizens and businesses shuffle money back and forth between each other, Sippy said.
“We all kind of sit in a circle and pass our money around,” he said.
Events like the Iron Horse, Shootout, Diggin’ It in Durango or even run-of-the-mill tourism infuse fresh, outside dollars into the local economy.
“You get new money to put into that circle,” Sippy said. “You get some new dollars to play around with and add to the mix.”
And new dollars in the mix courtesy of Diggin’ It in Durango couldn’t come at a better time.
Despite the warming weather, April and May – when all three of the big sporting events take place – still are part of the slower shoulder season for Durango tourism, Cohen said, so the sporting events provide a boon that local businesses couldn’t otherwise count on.
“Having an event like this now, in early April, is a perfect time for this event,” Cohen said. “I’d be less excited about this event in July because there’s a lot of people anyway. It’s really good for us.”
That impact particularly is apparent for the local hotels, motels and inns, which housed volleyball teams for at least Friday and Saturday night. Some visitors even elect to stay an extra night, either Thursday or Sunday, to make a mini vacation out of it, said Megan Meehan, general manager for the Durango Downtown Inn.
Over the course of the weekend, Meehan said the Inn has booked about 200 rooms for volleyball visitors; usually Durango Downtown only would fill about half of that, she said.
“We would never sell out on a normal April weekend, and we’re sold out both (Friday and Saturday) nights,” Meehan said.
Melissa Reeves, front desk supervisor for the Best Western Mountain Shadows, said her hotel also is doing much better business than is typical of an early spring weekend. With three groups of volleyball players, about half of the hotel has been taken up by Diggin’ It in Durango, filling the Mountain Shadows just a few rooms shy of capacity for Saturday night, she said.
And even the Sky Ute Casino is feeling the volleyball bubble. For a few years now, some of the New Mexico clubs have elected to stay at the Sky Ute, Foutz said, taking about 90 rooms on their own this year. In all, Foutz guessed Diggin’ It in Durango visitors filled between 600 and 700 rooms between players and families.
“It’s kind of the one thing that people will absolutely travel for,” said Peter Marshall, general manager of the Durango Doubletree Hotel, who said his business also has seen a spike in occupancy from the tournament. “They always travel for their kids.”
The lodgers aren’t the only businesses that benefit, either.
In Durango High School on Saturday morning, teams crowded around lunch tables covered with snack food and lunch ingredients from local grocery stores. That’s just one place teams spend their money, said Anne Klein Barney with the Durango Tourism Office, on top of the local shops and restaurants volleyball visitors hit during their average 2½-day stay.
“Any of these events that bring people in have them stay overnight, have them eat in our restaurants. We know there’s a value,” Barney said.
“My entire team is going out to eat (Saturday) night,” said Carli Torr with the New Mexico Juniors.
On Saturday morning, Durango Doughworks saw an influx of breakfast-goers hitting the early morning volleyball games. Ahni Francisco and her fellow servers estimated they made about $400 extra in sales from the volleyball crowd.
The north Serious Texas BBQ saw a similar influx at lunch and expected to see a dinner crunch as well. Serious Texas employee Abigail Barth said Saturday afternoon was much busier than normal; instead of getting a break in between rushes, the lunch rush started at 12:30 p.m., she said, and didn’t let up for about an hour and a half. The line snaked out the door, Barth said, and 95 percent of the people told her they were in town for volleyball.
“(Local businesses) really embrace special events like volleyball tournaments and other things that bring in paying customers from another place ... they all at once inject money they wouldn’t otherwise get,” Sippy said.