University of Maine men's hockey team assistant captain Lynden Breen takes a shot on goal during a game against the University of Denver in the Ice Breaker Tournament on Oct. 8, 2022, in Denver, Colorado. Credit: Courtesy of the Universiyt of Maine Athletics Department

Marathons, pickleball, hockey and other sporting events in Maine contributed more than $155 million to the state’s economy in 2019 and attracted 253,071 participants and fans from out of state, according to a new study released Thursday.

Sports is a growing contributor to the state’s economy, even though it lags the lobster industry’s record $725 million record catch in 2021 and even craft brewing’s $260 million economic contribution in 2020. The hope is that more events will come to the state and that out-of-state visitors will come back to Maine.

The study, the first of its kind in Maine, was conducted by the University of Southern Maine’s Center for Business and Economic Research for the Maine Sports Commission.

“The report quantifies what we’ve been seeing and feeling over recent years, that sports events are having a significant economic impact on the state,” Sheila Brennan Nee, director of the Maine Sports Commission, said.

The study also measured the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which was significant. In 2020, when many sporting events were paused, the number of visitors dropped 71 percent to 72,834 and spending fell 64 percent to $20 million.

Sporting events have come back gradually since then. Brennan Nee estimates that spending and attendance has returned to pre-pandemic levels and may even be higher.

The economic impact in 2019 includes $94.4 million in direct spending by event organizers and visitors on items such as venue rentals, hotels and meals in restaurants. Another $61.1 million went to indirect spending, for example, by venue workers who spend their paychecks on food, housing and entertainment.

Some 55 percent of the people at sporting events in 2019 came from out of state. Some small events such as the All-American Lighthouse Classic youth regional baseball tournament and the Lobsterman Triathlon drew 90 percent of participants and spectators from out of state.

Maine hosted half a dozen new events in 2022 including the Cal Ripken Jr. World Series in Waterville, the Gran Fondo Hincapie road cycling event in Bangor, USA Artistic Swimming at Colby College and the Enduro World Series at Sugarloaf.

New events booked for 2023 and the future include the American Cornhole Organization in Bangor and the National Collegiate Roller Hockey Tournament in Auburn.

The hope is that visitors will want to come back to Maine, Laura Yeitz, a research analyst at the USM center, said.

“As the state is losing young people, it’s important to have that opportunity to bring people here to experience Maine’s quality of life, and hopefully bring them back to visit and stay,” she said.