USA Cycling National Championships could bring millions of dollars to Knoxville

Visit Knoxville anticipates this weekend's USA Cycling National Championships will have a local economic impact of several million dollars as approximately 20,000 people are expected to attend the event.

Kim Bumpas, Visit Knoxville's president, said riders and fans started coming into town Tuesday.

"They come from all over the country," she said. "They're already starting to arrive because what happens is people research the course online and then they come into town a little early."

Bicyclists ride the course in advance, while spectators scope out the best place to watch.

Bumpas said 10,000 spectators attended the event in 2017, which was the first year Knoxville hosted. This year, she expects 20,000.

"I'm going to tell you that if you're out Sunday, you need to go up Sherrod (Road) because there will be 10,000 people just on that hill," she said.

The championship events start Thursday and culminate Sunday with a road race. In between events, Bumpas said people spend a lot of time exploring the city.

"You think of the economic impact of an event like this — it produces several million dollars of economic impact, if not more," she said.

An immediate financial impact

Bumpas said cycling fans are typically older and spend a lot of time checking out attractions and shopping while in town.

"What I've seen is that most of the professional riders are younger," she said. "They do definitely go out at night. Cycling and beer is sort of a synonymous situation. They're spending money there."

Merchants of Beer has already started to see some of that business. David Suits, the bar's manager, said riders from Germany and Switzerland stopped in Tuesday afternoon for a drink.

"Definitely, on Sunday, we're going to have a big party out here on the patio because it's going to come by here," Suits said. "We're looking for all those beer drinkers to enjoy a pint on a hot, steamy day."

Suits said he did not see a substantial financial impact on the business last year but hopes to see more as the event continues to grow.

"And hopefully, on Friday night, people kind of stay in the Old City and downtown and visit some of the other venues down here," he said.

But whether people want to spend their downtime going out or just relaxing, Bumpas said everyone needs accommodations.

Hotel Knoxville is the event's host hotel and is booked up with riders, fans and event officials.

"This has had a great impact on us," said Shannon Green, the hotel's sales and marketing director. "It's kept us busy over the next few days. It keeps our staff working ... It appears as though all the (Knoxville) hotels are impacted."

But while the money being spent this weekend is important, both Green and Bumpas agree that the event will have a larger impact down the road.

Pedaling into the future

To get the event to Knoxville last year, Bumpas said Visit Knoxville created a sports commission to show it had the resources to host. There were other cities in the running, but Knoxville ultimately was selected for a three-year contract.

"It really boiled down to the support services that Visit Knoxville can offer," Bumpas said. "And then two, our terrain. They love the hills. We really edged out the competition with the terrain and just being on the riverfront."

The event costs roughly $280,000 to put on, but Bumpas said the money is well worth the reward.

"You can’t get this kind of coverage for $280,000," she said. "(Media coverage) is a big deal when thinking about marketing the destination for future visitation."

Parts of the event will be aired on TV stations across the state and on USA Cycling's Youtube and Facebook channels.

Will Smith is the technical director of Medalist Sports, the company helping put on the event. He said that, in addition to broadcast coverage, having so many people in Knoxville could bring people back to spend money, he said.

Smith said he has already seen an impact since last year's event with more riders registered to participate this weekend.

"The riders love this course, and they love Knoxville," he said. "If they don’t like the event, they’ll find any reason not to go. But if they like the event, they’ll bend over backwards to get here.”

Return visits

Smith is from Richmond, Virginia, which hosted a world championship cycling event a few years back. Smith said he saw businesses relocate to Richmond after visiting the city for the event.

"When you look at events in cities and people have a good time, that’s an OK outcome," Smith said. "But what makes an event special and a success is when they have a good time and to come back whether the event is there or not.”

Green said she has even seen people return to the hotel to visit after previously attending large events in Knoxville.

"I think, straight up, the thing that should not be missed is that events like this are awesome to our destination even outside of the economic impact that they provide," Bumpas said. "It gives us a lot of street cred. And I’ll be honest with you, that’s almost bigger than the economic impact because it reaches further. It pushes us into the future.”

Source: Knoxville News Sentinel, by Ryan Wilusz

The East Tennessee Economic Development Agency markets and recruits business for the 15 counties in the greater Knoxville-Oak Ridge region of East Tennessee. Visit

Published June 22, 2018