By David Lyman
Just as the blossoms on almond trees signal spring time in Bakersfield, so does the arrival of thousands of high school wrestlers, their coaches, families and friends from throughout California.
Each spring since 2004, the CIF State High School Boys Wrestling Championships have convened at Bakersfield’s Rabobank Arena. Wrestlers who once competed at the high school level are now coaches who return with the next generation of wrestlers. Families who cheered on their sons years ago come back every year to root for today’s competitors. The CIF Boys Wrestling Championships have been held in Bakersfield for so long, Rabobank Arena refers to itself as “the home of high school wrestling.”
Every year, Bakersfield has enthusiastically cheered the arrival of this event. But there has been an asterisk, of sorts, associated with CIF boys’ wrestling because, in most years in the past, CIF wrestling landed on the same weekend as the legendary Good Vibrations Motorsports March Meet at Auto Club Famoso Raceway. The result: two big events overlapping on one weekend. That made for a shortage of hotel rooms and a near overload of the city’s hospitality grid.
But then came 2019. CIF not only returned to Bakersfield with the boy’s wrestling championships, it added the girls championships that had previously been held in Visalia. That move expanded a previous two-day event into a three-day boys and girls wrestling extravaganza. Even better, CIF moved the championships ahead one week on the calendar, meaning no more competing with March Meet for local hotel rooms.
This expanded CIF wrestling championships brought a significant number of visitors to Bakersfield. According to AEG, the operators of Rabobank Arena, 16,024 people came through the Arena doors for the combined CIF wrestling championships over three days. That number was a mix of locals and out-of-town visitors, with the percentage of out-of-towners exceeding the locals by at least two to one. Accounting for people who attended more than one day of the event, AEG estimated that the number of unique out-of-town attendees was around 3,500, plus 750 out-of-town wrestlers and 1,000 out-of-town coaches, for an estimated total of 5,250 out-of-town individuals attending the three-day event.
Near the end of the championships, on its last day, CIF Executive Director Roger Blake commented to the crowd, “This has been a great weekend. So proud and appreciative of the great hospitality and kindness of the Bakersfield community. Lifetime of memories for a thousand girls and boys wrestlers.”
In addition to CIF moving ahead a week on the calendar compared to last year, March Meet moved back one week. These two changes to this year’s calendar provided an ideal opportunity to measure the effects of each large event by isolating their impacts on local hotels and comparing those impacts to the same respective weekend the year before.
For CIF wrestling, Bakersfield-area hotel room sales for Wednesday through Saturday of CIF week were up an average of seven percent compared with the same non-CIF period the year before, according to STR, Inc. The average daily rate that hotels charged was up about 23 precent and hotel revenue was up about 33 percent over the previous year.
For March Meet, data from STR, Inc., showed hotel rooms sales increased about 17 percent compared with the same non-March Meet weekend the year before. The average daily rate charged by hotels was up about 20 percent and hotel revenue was up about 41 percent.
But what about the first weekend of March that fell between CIF Wrestling and March Meet? As expected, Bakersfield-area hotels saw significant declines across the board for that non-event weekend, compared with the same CIF and March Meet-filled weekend in 2018. According to STR, Inc., hotel room sales declined about 29% and the average daily rate charged by hotels was down about 26%. Revenue also was down about 47%.
As these figures show, separating CIF Wrestling and March Meet gave Bakersfield hotels two big weekends, rather than trying to accommodate both events on overlapping dates. More hotel revenue means more hotel tax revenue flowing to local governments.
These calendar changes also will allow CIF Wrestling and March Meet to continue to grow. As they grow, Bakersfield hotels will be able to keep up with the demand. As of April 2019, three hotels were under construction in the City of Bakersfield and plans for an additional three hotels have been submitted to City Planning. When all six of those hotels are completed, an additional 658 rooms will be added to Bakersfield’s hotel inventory.
David Lyman, PhD is manager of Visit Bakersfield. He and other members of Team More to Explore help visitors from throughout the world spend their money in California’s ninth largest city. They are available toll-free (866) 425-7353 or at Info@VisitBakersfield.com.