Missouri lawmakers to mull incentives for sports events

Although Missouri has hosted amateur sports events such as NCAA Final Four basketball games and U.S. Olympic trials, some public officials say if the state wants to continue to draw such events — and the dollars of fans who watch them — it must be willing to put some cash on the line.

State lawmakers are proposing new tax breaks for groups that organize amateur sporting events and for donors that help provide financial backing. Supporters say it’s necessary to keep pace with Texas and a growing number of other states that are offering sports incentives.

The sports proposal is part of an expansive overhaul of Missouri’s tax credits to be considered during a special legislative session that starts Tuesday.

“Without some version of this we are convinced that we are never going to see another Final Four in the NCAA in basketball in Missouri,” said Dick Fleming, president and CEO of the St. Louis Regional Chamber and Growth Association.

Business groups contend the sports events are important not only for the attention they bring to Missouri, but for the economic boost they provide to restaurants, hotels and retail shopping stores.

Numerous NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournament games have been played in Kansas City or St. Louis during the past decade. St. Louis hosted the Final Four for the men’s tournament in 2005 and the Final Four for the women’s tournament in 2001 and 2009. St. Louis also has held games for college hockey tournaments and U.S. Olympic trials. Kansas City has hosted the Big 12 Conference basketball tournament and NCAA tournament matches for college volleyball and wrestling.’’

Yet the most recent men’s basketball Final Four was in Houston and the Final Four will be in Texas twice more during the next five years.

Sports commission officials in Kansas City and St. Louis are backing a plan that could allow up to $3 million annually in refundable tax credits for committees that organize amateur sports and up to $10 million annually of tax credits for donors who provide the money to help attract sports events to Missouri.

“We’ve been doing this very largely on our own, fueled by the private sector members that support the sports commission,” said Frank Viverito, the president of the St. Louis Sports Commission. “Without the partnership, we’re just finding that we’re falling behind in our ability to attract these events.”

Nationwide, about 20 states have some program to help fund sporting events, according to the National Association of Sports Commissions. Don Schumacher, the association’s executive director, said the proposal in Missouri makes sense.

“I hope to see it happen, because I think it is a great way to fund something and cause additional spending to take place in the state,” Schumacher said.

Amateur sports can attract significant sums of money. The St. Louis Sports Commission estimates that its major events from 1994-2010 brought a $347 million economic impact and generated $239 million in direct spending. The commission says that in the past several years, Missouri lost out on events that would have generated $200 million in direct visitor spending.

The National Association of Sports Commissions estimates that amateur sporting events across the country have generated about $7 billion per year in direct spending by visitors. That does not include college football games that are played in the home stadium of one team.

Still, tax credits have been a touchy subject among state lawmakers in recent years. Some lawmakers contend tax credits have become too big of a drain on state revenues and must be curtailed. Others have argued for tax credits to be handled through the budget process like other forms of government spending.

Supporters say the benefits from the proposed sports incentives extend beyond the metropolitan areas to other cities that also hold amateur events such as St. Joseph and Springfield. For example, a national basketball tournament for homeschool students has been held in Springfield for the past three years and has been booked for another three years.

Sen. Eric Schmitt, who supports the sports incentives, said Missouri is on the verge of no longer being competitive at sports events.

“We’re talking about bringing new events to the state. This is new revenue. These are things that we otherwise wouldn’t have,” said Schmitt, a Republican from St. Louis County.

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