Sports Force Parks fees, impact on city fields raise concerns

Published 8:07 pm Friday, March 15, 2019

The opening of Sport Force Parks on the Mississippi has been heralded as a great boon for Vicksburg, but it also has some concerned over fees The Sports Force charges for the park and the tournaments at the facility.

It has also raised questions about the fate of the city’s Halls Ferry and Bazinsky fields.

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Since it opened in February, the park has hosted three tournaments. The Hinds Community College baseball team has played at the park, and the Vicksburg Soccer Association and Vicksburg Warren Athletic Association now practice and play their games at the complex during the week.

Will Spence, The Sport Force regional manager, said there is no admission during the weekday period when the local teams play.

“During the weekdays, typically Monday through Thursday, which are the contracted days with VSO and the Vicksburg Warren Athletic Association, at that point, the park is open to the public,” Spence said.

“During those times, if you want to come out here with your kids and play on the playground, that’s the public use option and it’s open to everyone during that time, traditionally from a 5-9 p.m. block.”

The local use option, Spence said, is based on the belief “that the local population are really our most critical customer. We are obviously going to be bringing in people booked from Tennessee to Texas to Alabama and an Ohio team coming to check out the park; that’s the economic development side.

“We engage the local community; we have the local use provision with the soccer as well as the baseball,” he said.

“The great part about that is they’re going to be interacting (with visitors) when we bring all these great out of town guests. They’ll be the ones standing in line with them at the store, and everywhere else, and I want them to talk positively about how great this park is for Vicksburg.”

And it’s the out of state teams that come for the weekend tournaments that are the park’s and the city’s economic engine.

Spence said people attending tournaments have the option of paying a single day admission price or purchasing an event-long admission for the length of the tournament. The prices vary, he said, depending on the length of the tournament. People who buy the event-long admission receive a wristband to wear.

Besides charging admission for the tournaments, Sports Force also charges entry fees for tournaments that can range from $185 to $445 per team.

Travel team penalty?

Teams from outside the park’s 60-mile local area book their rooms through Northville, Michigan-based Travel Teams Inc. a company that specializes on booking rooms for youth teams competing in tournaments. Sports Force has a contract with Travel Teams to serve as the travel agent for the tournaments.

If a team books its rooms through another service or by itself, it must pay a $200 penalty at registration.

Spence said the determination whether a team is local depends on the coach’s address.

The local designation he said, is “really about trying to create an experience where they’re not spending three hours a day (traveling); that’s the first battle. The 60 miles is a guide based off the geographic reference, it’s tough to draw a 60-mile circle.”

Local teams are not required to stay in a hotel during the tournament. If they choose to do so, Spence said, they follow the same requirements as a team from out of town.

Using Travel Teams, he said is part of the process Sports Force has with its partner hotels.

“We secure the best rates in the marketplace during those weekend type of events,” he said, adding using a booking agent and the penalty is “standard procedure in the tournament travel world.”

Non-compete clause

The city’s contract with The Sports Force has a “non-compete” clause, which required the city to raise the rate for using the ball fields at Halls Ferry and Bazinsky for tournaments from the $75 a day to $600 a day, or $350 per half-day to discourage events at the parks competing with Sports Force Parks on the Mississippi.

City recreation director Joe Graves said he wants to get the amount reduced so it doesn’t hurt small tournaments at the parks.

“We used to host 10-15 small tournaments (a year); most of those were benefit tournaments that were for people who were injured in car wrecks, things like that,” he said.

“We’re hoping we can get that worked out, or maybe they can work something out with those people who want to host those tournaments to maybe host them at Sports Force.”

Graves said the Vicksburg Girls Softball Association are playing their games at Halls Ferry, and the adult men’s and women’s softball leagues and the church leagues play at the fields near City Park on Lee Street.

“We’ll still have people playing on the fields,” he said, adding he hopes to get some of the adult league games at Sports Force Parks on the Mississippi after the Little League season ends.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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