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Sports Tourism Fund to open for applicants in March

Katie Tabeling
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Sports Tourism

Frawley Stadium has seen millions from state funds in the last five years. This year, the Carney administration is launching the Sports Tourism Capital Investment Fund to award grants to venues.  | DBT PHOTO BY KATIE TABELING

DOVER — The Delaware Tourism Office will start taking applications for the $12 million Sports Tourism Capital Investment Fund on March 1, hoping to incentivize a growing attraction in the First State.

The fund is designed to provide funding to existing or new facilities that attract out-of-state visitors to Delaware, as well as spending money at local businesses. To be considered eligible, facilities must be open to the public and regularly host tournaments, championships or other events that draw out-of-state visitors. Venues seeking funds must also hold sufficient funds to complete the specific project outlined in the application.

Sports facilities seeking funds for renovations must also provide a detailed explanation on how the funding would enhance the facility and draw in tourists through current or future events.

Applications close on April 12 at 4 p.m.

“Sports tourism is a growing industry in our state and in the surrounding region, with millions of dollars spent each year by event participants, their families, and other attendees,” Gov. John Carney said in a prepared statement. “This fund will help keep Delaware’s sports tourism industry competitive by ensuring visitors can play at first-class facilities and enjoy the many benefits that our state has to offer while staying here.” 

As the Delaware Business Times previously reported, state officials quietly worked on setting up the structure of the taxpayer-backed grant program since Carney had signed the fund into law with the Fiscal Year 2024 Bond Bill last summer. The fund was championed by Rep. Debra Heffernan (D-Bellefonte), inspired by the crush of visitors who came for sporting events at the DE Turf Complex in Frederica and the Chase Fieldhouse in Wilmington.

Carney has signaled he intends to see the Sports Tourism Capital Investment Fund at least through two funding rounds, as he has proposed $6 million for it in his Fiscal Year 2025 operating budget. However, legislators can cut or add to that amount before sending it to the governor’s desk for his signature.

In the past, major sports tourism amenities have been funded through the bond bill and other legislation passed by the General Assembly. Instead, the Sports Tourism Capital Investment Fund creates a new system that includes a review process that includes a scoring metric from a panel of county and state tourism officials and elected leaders.

In the last five fiscal years, the Delaware legislature has authorized a piecemeal $24.5 million for major sports complexes. That ranges from Frawley Stadium at the Riverfront, DE Turf complex in Frederica and Chase Fieldhouse on the Riverfront.

But Delaware has also been drawing in major events over the last couple of years, chief among them the 2022 BMW Championship. State tourism officials said that event brought in around 126,000 attendees and generated more than $30 million in economic impact to the greater Wilmington region. 

Secretary of State Jeff Bullock, who’s department oversees the tourism and small business division, pointed out sports tourism is a rising industry valued at $90 billion on a global scale. He added that the Sports Tourism Capital Investment Fund was a way to keep Delaware on top of its game.

“These national events showcase our state’s ability to host large-scale sports competitions and put Delaware in front of event planners and facility developers from around the country,” Bullock said in a prepared statement. “This new fund provides us the opportunity to continue investing in our state’s sports venues to ensure Delaware remains top of mind for national and regional event decision makers for years to come.” 

Applications to the fund will be considered based on the potential impact to the state and local economy; its geographic location; and other public and private funding sources.

The Delaware Tourism Office will be holding two informational webinars for potential applicants to learn more about the Sports Tourism Capital Investment Fund. Those webinars will be held on Feb. 21 at 11 a.m. and Feb. 28 at 1 p.m. For more information about registration, visit the tourism office’s website.

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