Soccer: Kick It Into High Gear
31 Mar, 2012By: Peter Francesconi
Every year, there are hundreds of soccer tournaments and events for youngsters and adults throughout the U.S. and Canada. Soccer, particularly for youth, has exploded since the late 1970s—the U.S. Youth Soccer Association says there are now more than 3.2 million youngsters between ages 5 and 19 who play soccer.
As the sport has grown, so has the number of huge soccer complexes with acres of field space, able to accommodate play from the youngest kids up through the professional ranks. That means facilities that can configure fields in sizes tailored to different age groups, amenities that make playing and spectating enjoyable for players and their families, convenient access by car or air, and a range of hotel and dining options to fit any budget.
“Soccer is huge in Boise,” says Terry Kopp of the Boise Convention & Visitors Bureau (www.boise.org). “We have lots of different clubs, and play starts for kids as young as 4 and is in all of the high schools.”
The largest facility in the area is the 161-acre Simplot Sports Complex, meticulously maintained by the Boise Parks & Recreation Department. Simplot has 20 grass soccer fields and has hosted many large events, including the Far West Regionals Soccer Tournament, which brought in more than 200 teams. “In addition to the players, it also brings in a lot of fans and families,” Kopp says. “For the better part of a week, our hotel rooms are filled.”
There are other fields around town, too, and eight fields are available, some with lights, at the FC Nova Soccer Club, which has hosted national events.
The city itself has nearly 6,000 rooms available, from four-diamond hotels to more economical choices. “We have great access by air,” Kopp says, adding, “People who have never been here are always pleasantly surprised—by the weather, the beauty of the city, the amenities.”
Whether it’s providing brochures and guides, helping with hotel room blocks, working with the city or other associations or clubs, the CVB will help event organizers bring their soccer event to Boise. “Sports are big here,” Kopp says. “We love to be at the table.”
With 19 soccer fields, Columbia Cosmopolitan Recreation Area (“Cosmo Park”) is well-equipped to handle any type of soccer tournament or event. But the enthusiasm for soccer in Columbia (www.gocolumbiamo.com) doesn't stop there.
“A new park will be opening in the next few years on about 420 acres,” says Julie Ausmus of the Columbia Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Final design and layout has not been completed by our Parks & Recreation Department, but our wish list includes at least 10 to 12 contiguous fields in the new park, along with various other smaller fields for matches and practice. Plus, we have an indoor facility with one regulation-size field and one smaller practice field.”
Columbia is no stranger to large soccer events. The city is the host of the Show Me State Games, the largest state games in the country, held during the last two weekends in July. Columbia also hosts the Senior Games in June. “Between those two events, we bring in over 30,000 athletes,” Ausmus says. “That’s our biggest soccer tournament. And in the fall, the local soccer club, Columbia Pride, hosts a tournament for recreational and competitive leagues.”
Centrally located in Missouri, Columbia is just off I-70 and within 500 miles of 10 major cities. The city is home to three colleges and has more than 3,600 hotel rooms and a wide variety of restaurants. “We pride ourselves on having the feel of a small town, but with big-city amenities,” Ausmus says.
Findlay-Hancock County, Ohio
Emory Adams Park, with its 21 natural-grass fields, is the main venue for large soccer events in Findlay and Hancock County.
"Two years ago, through a public-private partnership with the city of Findlay and the local Rotary Club, we added two premier, irrigated raised fields,” says Angela Crist, director of the Hancock County Convention & Visitors Bureau (www.visitfindlay.com). “But what makes them truly unique is they are the only 11v11 and 8v8 sized fields that are illuminated and not affiliated with a local high school in the state of Ohio, and probably beyond. Building those two fields really woke us up to all we can offer soccer events. It started with our residents wanting a great place, then we said, 'This is a great reason for others to come and visit our town.'”
Emory Adams Park, which is just one of the dozens of locations suitable for soccer events in the area, is close to downtown and has plenty of room for groups and vendors, Crist says. “We’ve invested a lot in our facilities, and they clearly exceed expectations for a city our size.”
The area, with 1,200 hotel rooms, is on the I-75 corridor about 50 miles south of Toledo and within two hours of many Midwest airports. “It costs a lot less to be here, compared to other metropolitan areas,” Crist says. Plus, the CVB offers grants to help bring in tournaments and events.
Hosting soccer events is a priority for the Lewisville Convention & Visitors Bureau, and with the newest soccer complex at Toyota of Lewisville Railroad Park, tournament organizers have a lot to appreciate. Railroad Park has two 100-yard youth fields and six 120-yard regulation fields, all natural turf, all with lights.
“Railroad Park is really state of the art,” says Carlos Hernandez of the CVB. “It has plenty of parking, and concessions and restrooms are excellent. Each field has its own open pavilion concession space, which serves as a place to gather for teams and for registration.”
Lewisville (www.visitlewisville.com) also has eight fields of various sizes at Lake Park. “We host many tournaments at both facilities,” Hernandez says. “With the amenities available, the logistics work very nicely for players and tournament organizers, and we work closely with event-holders to help them with whatever they need. We take huge pride in servicing groups prior to, during and after their events.”
The parks are just a few minutes’ drive from most of the city’s 2,800 hotel rooms. And Lewisville’s location, right off I-35 between Dallas and Fort Worth, 10 minutes from DFW airport, is hard to beat. “Our hotels are surrounded by more than 150 restaurants of all types, and we have nice attractions for kids and families,” adds Hernandez. “It’s all about location, and we’re proud to say we have that.”
They say “everything is bigger in Texas,” and when it comes to soccer, it’s hard to beat the Berl Huffman Complex in Lubbock, with its 49 soccer fields of all sizes. The city complex offers facilities that can accommodate players of all ages and experience levels, and can handle tournaments and events of all types and sizes. The close proximity of the fields at Berl Huffman makes it extremely convenient for events that have different age groups. The complex also features a main building with concession area, and an indoor referee/coaches area.
Lubbock (www.visitlubbock.org) also has a brand new complex: the John Walker Soccer Field at Texas Tech, home to the university’s women’s soccer program. The facility offers a stadium that seats 2,000 fans, locker rooms, coaches’ offices, players’ lounge, training facilities and more. Additional soccer facilities can also be found at Lubbock Christian University.
Helping to make sure everything runs smoothly, Lubbock Sports and the Convention & Visitors Bureau is committed to teams enjoying their time in the area, with hospitality, service, planning and tournament-management expertise. The city has more than 5,200 hotel rooms at every price point, most within 15 minutes of the above-mentioned sports facilities and local attractions. Access to Lubbock is easy via four major airlines, and five major highways.
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Among the venues in Oklahoma City are two premier facilities, the North Oklahoma City Soccer Club, with 10 full-size fields and seven smaller fields, and the South Lakes Soccer Club, with 11 full-size fields. Adjacent is South Lakes Park, which has more practice space and fields.
All fields are natural grass, and while lights are on some of the fields, both facilities have plans to add lighting, says Holly Shelton of the Oklahoma City Convention and Visitors Bureau (www.visitokc.com).
“Groups coming to Oklahoma City for soccer have a lot of support from the CVB,” Shelton says. “We have 16,000 hotel rooms in the city, and we can help tournaments and events in finding housing for athletes and their families that fit all needs, and are located in areas of the city convenient to the soccer venues, restaurants and other attractions.”
From specialized visitor information maps of the area around the soccer clubs, to “stay and save” booklets for discounts at attractions and restaurants, to welcome banners at the airport and the sports venues, to Oklahoma City “city bags” for athletes, the CVB can help with all planning needs. “We also have a grant program that allows tournament and event organizers to apply for sponsorship funding for their event,” Shelton says.
San Marcos, Texas
At the end of 2010, the city of San Marcos opened the Five-Mile Dam Soccer Complex, complete with 10 natural grass regulation fields, a concession stand, and a shaded playground right on the grounds. “We can hold any size soccer tournament at Five-Mile Dam,” says Charlotte Wattigny of the San Marcos CVB (www.toursanmarcos.com). “The fields were all pretty busy with tournaments throughout last year, and this year is filling up nicely, too.”
Five-Mile Dam also is a “green” complex—solar panels and a windmill on the grounds produce most of the electricity used by the facility. The ADA accessible complex also is right next to the Blanco River, another attraction for tournament-goers. The San Marcos CVB also can help with booking the six natural-grass soccer fields available on the campus of Texas State University.
San Marcos is only 30 miles south of Austin and 47 miles north of San Antonio, right on I-35, so it’s easily accessible by car and through major airports. The city has 23 hotels offering about 1,690 rooms, and all types of restaurants—designed to fit any budget.
“Toronto has always had a great reputation for soccer,” says Robert Kawamoto of Tourism Toronto (www.seetorontonow.com). “It’s one of the largest youth sports in Canada, and we have many soccer venues here, hosting international, national, regional and community tournaments and events.”
Among the premier facilities is the natural-grass BMO Field, with 20,000 seats, which is home to Canada’s National Soccer Team as well as the Major League Soccer team Toronto FC. In 2007, the facility hosted the FIFA U-20 Men’s World Cup and in 2010, it hosted the MLS Cup.
The Brampton Soccer Centre, which has won design awards, features four field houses each with an indoor artificial turf field, changing rooms, and upstairs bleachers that look down onto the field. Each of the four large fields (200 x 85 feet) can be divided to create three smaller fields. The centre, which also has four outdoor fields, includes meeting rooms, snack bar, a youth lounge and a new adult lounge.
The Hershey Centre SportZone has a 5,500-seat multipurpose arena, indoor soccer field, and two outdoor lighted fields. The Toronto area also has a number of other venues suitable for soccer tournaments and events.
Toronto has been ranked among the 10 most desirable travel destinations worldwide, and Kawamoto says Tourism Toronto does everything it can so athletes and event organizers need only focus on their sport. “Our tagline is, ‘We’ve Got Your Back,’” he says. “From the bidding phase right through the hosting phase, including providing funding help if necessary, we’ll do all we can to help organizers host the best possible event.”