"God, where do I begin?" Spokane Sports Commission CEO Eric Sawyer says. "Basically, I'm working in an industry that doesn't exist anymore right now."
Sawyer is not a doomsayer. He's the ceaseless optimist, the twinkle-eyed salesman perpetually selling Spokane on the magic of the world of sports and selling the world of sports on the magic of Spokane.
He's been damn good at his job, too — recruiting countless sporting events to come to Spokane, and cheering on the cascade of economic prosperity that resulted.
And lately, for him, it seemed like every one of his dreams were coming true, culminating with the vision he'd been pursuing for the last 25 years — a massive sportsplex capable of attracting huge economic events to Spokane.
"I was riding high," Sawyer says. Then, everything from the Pacific Northwest Qualifier to Bloomsday to March Madness was canceled.
"March is probably the biggest month that we have for sports in our community and you can just basically kind of wipe out the whole month," Sawyer says. "In economic development numbers, that's over $20 million of economic influence that we just lost."
During the recession, sports tourism actually grew. But this time it's different. Right now, there is no sports tourism industry. Sawyer is struggling to figure out ways to make sure there's still a sports commission.
"We're just looking at ways to cut our budget so we can stay afloat as an organization," Sawyer says. "It's somber, you know, there's no question, we all worked really, really hard to get these things to come into the community. And you basically have to say, 'We can't do them.'"
So lately, in the isolated quiet that has descended upon so many of us, Sawyer has time to read. He's pouring through all those articles about sports tourism that he's saved over the years, reading information on the industry.
But the cruel Twilight Zone twist is that, in this moment, all that research and all those expert opinions are obsolete, an artifact of a past where people were allowed to attend big sporting events.
At least, for now.
Someday soon, Sawyer hopes, he "can turn loose the racehorses again" and start competing for the big sporting events that can resurrect Spokane's economy.