With several major sport events lined up to take place at Metra Park over the next couple of months- the "softest" months for the hospitality industry - the significant impact of the visiting athletes and fans on the local economy underscores the importance of the TBID (Tourism Business Improvement Districts). It's evidence that Alex Tyson, Executive Director for Visit Billings, hopes will be focused upon as the TBID faces its first ten-year renewal mandate before the City Council.
"We are headed into our own March sports madness, only it starts in February," said Tyson, in reviewing what's in store for sport enthusiasts over the next few weeks at Metra Park, which includes events that would not be possible without the financial support that is provided by the TBID. Statewide competition of All Class Wrestling at Metra Park, on Feb. 10 and 11, "slides into" Super A Divisional Basketball, Feb. 22 -25, followed by Southern B Divisional Basketball on March 3 and 4. And, then its Boys and Girls Class B State Basketball Tournament on March 9 - 11, topped off by the week long competition of NAIA Women's Division I National Championships from March 15 through March 21. It's a line-up that begins to mark Billings as the sport event destination center that is a goal of Visit Billings, TBID provides funding that is necessary to entice events to Billings or to help defray costs - such as paying the capital improvement fees at Metra Park. Or to fully sponsor an event, as is the case with the NAIA basketball tournament for both 2017 and 2018, the success of which fully rests upon the TBID program and the spectator draw they can generate. The bid fee to host the NAIA tournament was $30,000, which TBID paid. Visit Billings and Rocky Mountain College are now responsible for covering the $175,000 that is estimated as the cost to put on the tournament. Rocky is providing the staffing and technical support for the tournament while TBID is focused on funding, marketing and sponsorships. Tyson expressed gratitude to Wells Fargo Bank for stepping up as the primary sponsor. Other sponsorships are still being sought. Red Lion is sponsoring a banquet for all of the teams on the evening of March 15. Launched in October of 2007, part of the founding ordinance for TBID was that it must be renewed by the city council every ten years. It's time. The TBID is actually pushing the process ahead by a few months in order to be able to continue without interruption their recruitment efforts with the confidence that they will be able to keep commitments, said Tyson. The process requires buy-in from a majority of hoteliers in the community based upon the square footage of their properties. While Tyson doesn't want to "count her chickens before they hatch," the commitment they are seeing so far from property owners is very positive, she said. TBID revenue is generated by a $2 fee for each hotel/motel room rental in Billings. It annually raises about $1.7 million, which is just barely enough to keep Billings in competition with other communities vying for the same events, said Tyson. There are no plans to increase the fee or to change the makeup of the administrative board. "We want things to be just like they are," said Tyson, "It works. We have a great board." Tyson is quick to give credit to Rocky Mountain College for the role they too are playing in hosting the NAIA, which will feature 32 teams of "high caliber of female college student athletes." They will play 31 games during the week at Rimrock Auto Arena. Besides the economic boost the tournament brings to Billings, "It's a great opportunity for great entertainment and it gives our youth an opportunity to watch amazing athletes play ball," said Tyson. Metra Park manager Bill Dutcher also deserves credit, said Tyson, for making it a priority to use the capital improvement program to get a new basketball floor. "We knew we needed it," said Tyson, "We couldn't make the bid relying on a 30-year floor with dead spots in it." Tyson hopes that the community will step up and demonstrate support for the tournament which could bring as much as $9 million into the local economy. It is possible that Billings could continue to host the tournament beyond 2018. Not only are more sponsors needed, but she urged everyone to attend the games. To be a team sponsor costs $1,500 plus the cost of hosting a dinner for the team. Each team sponsor is to help the team members become familiar with Billings. Sponsor benefits, besides the public exposure, include being associated with the team, getting to know team members, and being closely involved with their games, including sitting on their bench. Tickets are now on sale. A one day pass for adults is $15; for students its $8. Courtside seats are $45/day. A special rate applies for the first three night games of $10/$5. All tournament passes are $65 for adults and $38 for students.