Softball: Playing the Numbers
31 Aug, 2012By: Peter Francesconi
Softball is one of the most popular sports in the U.S.—some estimates are that 40 million Americans will play at least one softball game during a year. The game is played by all ages, and there are thousands of teams that compete at tournaments year-round.
There are a number of different sanctioning bodies for the sport. One of the largest is the Amateur Softball Association of America (ASA), which in 1978 was named the National Governing Body of Softball in the U.S. by the U.S. Olympic Committee. The ASA registers over 245,000 softball teams, comprising more than 3.5 million players (among them, more than 83,000 youth girls’ fast-pitch teams, with over 1.2 million girls). The ASA conducts more than 100 National Championships a year, with hundreds of other regional and state events throughout the country. (USA Softball is a “brand” of the ASA and is related specifically to the USA National Teams that compete internationally.)
As many communities have already found out, softball tournaments can bring in huge numbers of players, and often it’s a time for families to travel together to watch their loved ones compete.
Sports events in Bentonville get an extra boost from the Bentonville Convention & Visitors Bureau. “All of our services are free,” says Blair Cromwell, vice president of communications for the CVB. “Because we’re the home of Wal-Mart, we can pull in sponsorships that other areas may not be able to, since we have many vendors and suppliers in the area. We get a lot of local support through those companies."
ASA tournaments, NCAA invitationals, Great American Conference events and more have brought tournaments to Bentonville, often playing their championship at the Bentonville Tiger Athletic Complex, the large high school facility that includes a softball stadium with seating for 500-plus, synthetic-grass outfield, and “skinned” infield—a dirt infield made specifically for softball.
In addition, Memorial Park has six recently renovated, lighted softball fields and other baseball and Tee-ball fields, too. There also are two softball fields at Philips Park.
Binghamton, New York
“We have softball tournaments almost all summer long and into the fall here,” says Judi Hess, the manager of tourism and special events for the Greater Binghamton CVB. “We’ve hosted state championships and have a number of nice venues in the area.”
The top softball facility is the BAGSAI Complex (Binghamton Area Girls Softball Association Inc., which has four fields. “It’s built for girls’ softball,” says Hess. “Most of our tournaments are held there.” The complex has a nice spectator viewing areas, too.
Also, the Binghamton Sports Complex is home to one of the country’s largest indoor sports domes, which can fit two to three softball fields inside, depending on the age group and size of the fields. “We’ve run winter softball tournaments in the dome,” says Hess. There are also a number of lighted fields in area parks capable of hosting softball events, and Binghamton University is renovating its softball fields, which will include new dugouts, press box and more.
“We’re fortunate to have a very active softball group here,” says Hess. “We help tournaments by putting together housing information, helping with publicity and other hospitality items.”
“Our area is a hotbed for softball,” adds Lou Bishop of BAGSAI. “We host and run many tournaments, with teams coming from all over the country, and the Greater Binghamton CVB has always stepped right up and helped us with whatever we need to make all the teams’ stay with us a ‘grand slam.’”
Butler County, Ohio
Just 20 miles north of Cincinnati, Butler County is less than a day’s drive from 65% of the U.S. population. Which means there’s a lot of area to pull from when bringing in softball events. Jason Williams, the senior sales manager of sports and events with the Butler County Visitors Bureau says parks in the county host many ASA tournaments, and regional and state softball events.
North End Athletic Field, for instance, has four lighted, natural grass softball fields, along with concessions and other amenities. Joyce Park offers five softball fields, and Waterworks Park, while primarily for baseball, offers 12 to 14 fields of various sizes, along with concessions and dugouts.
To help event organizers offer the best experience possible for teams, the BCVB will send out press releases, work social media, provide event planning assistance, help with securing accommodations (with more than 2,000 hotel rooms in the area), provide visitors guides, coupon booklets and more.
The Columbia Parks and Recreation Department owns and operates the Rainbow Softball Center, a six-field center in the Columbia Cosmopolitan Recreation Center (“Cosmo Park”). “Rainbow is our main softball facility, and it hosts tournaments starting in the spring right through September, including several ASA slow-pitch and fast-pitch events,” says Julie Ausmus of the Columbia Convention & Visitors Bureau.
The Rainbow Center, which recently underwent renovations, is designed to meet ASA standards. (In 2000, the center won the Facility of the Year Award from the Missouri Amateur Softball Association.) It features 300-foot fences, cinder warning track, batting cages, concession facilities with covered deck seating, electronic scoreboards and covered dugouts.
The city also has other softball fields available nearby at the Antimi Sports Complex, which is at the other end of Cosmo Park. Antimi includes six lighted softball/baseball fields, a concession facility, covered dugouts and electronic scoreboards.
Columbia is centrally located in Missouri, 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.
In the last few years, Conway has been hosting more and more events, utilizing their recently built, state-of-the-art facilities, including City of Colleges Park, says Rachel Earls, director of destination marketing for the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce. City of Colleges Park is a new girls’ fast-pitch softball complex with five 200-foot lighted, natural-grass fields. The city of Conway, located about 30 miles northwest of Little Rock, is home to the University of Central Arkansas, Central Baptist College and Hendrix College, which also host tournaments at City of Colleges Park. In addition, there are softball facilities at the schools, too, including four fields at UCA and a 210-foot field at Hendrix College.
Conway also offers the 125-acre Don Owen Complex, which has three lighted adult softball fields, concessions, restrooms and more. “Our city facilities have been booked pretty steadily in recent months, particularly for softball and baseball events,” says Earls.
While the city of Conway, which has about 59,000 residents, has been growing in recent years, Earls says it still maintains a welcoming small-town charm. For sports events, though, the growth has also meant ample accommodations—the town now has 23 hotels, most built in the past five years—and plenty of restaurants.
Daytona Beach, Florida
The Daytona Beach area has some outstanding softball facilities, in addition to sports facilities available at the five colleges and universities in the area. Two of the largest venues for softball are the Ormond Beach Sports Complex and the Port Orange Sports Complex.
The Ormond Beach complex, combined with Nova Community Park, has 29 multi-use fields available, including five full-sized softball fields (and numerous baseball fields of various sizes). The facilities are designed for many age groups and are used year-round, including hosting professional, national, regional, college and high school competition.
The Port Orange Sports Complex has five lighted softball fields, along with four batting cages. And one of the newest facilities, says Tara Hamburger of the Daytona Beach Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, is also in Port Orange, at Coracci Park just off I-95. It has four softball fields with lights, plenty of parking, spectator seating and concessions. There also are a number of other venues available, including three lighted fields at New Smyrna Beach Sports Complex and facilities at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, Daytona State College and Stetson University.
Hamburger says the CVB does have funding available that can help offset some of the costs for tournaments and event holders. “We can also have a special events person to assist with volunteers or other staffing arrangements,” she says. The CVB also can do welcome signs and banners in the community to let people know of events. “We have great social media and other media contacts, and we can do local promotions as well.”
“We definitely had softball in mind when we were planning the Elizabethtown Sports Park—we’re extremely interested in the softball market,” says Janna Clark, the sports and sales director for the Elizabethtown Tourism and Convention Bureau.
The new 157-acre, $29 million, state-of-the-art park officially opened in July, and it’s the crown jewel for sports in the area, capable of hosting any size event, from local to national in scope. For softball/fast-pitch/baseball, the facility has 12 total diamonds, arranged in three “quads.” Six diamonds have “skinned” infields. “Even our softball fields have brick dugouts, bullpens, warning tracks, and wireless scoreboards,” says Clark.
The Sports Park itself is full of amenities that make it easy on tournament organizers, players and fans and their families. There are three large pavilions for ceremonies, events and meetings, as well as an officials’ meeting room, officials’ locker rooms, stadium lawn seating, convenient and plentiful car and bus parking, family restrooms, wi-fi throughout the park and more.
Findlay-Hancock County, Ohio
When softball and other sports venues were built in the Findlay-Hancock area of Ohio, “It was because the community wanted to have very nice facilities; it wasn’t about attracting people here,” says Angela Crist, director of the Hancock County Convention & Visitors Bureau.
But those top-notch facilities did attract outside events. “We realize now there’s a lot of appeal with our facilities and our community, and that people want to come back here,” Crist says. To help that along, the CVB has put in place grant programs to assist groups in bringing their tournaments to the Findlay-Hancock area.
The main softball facility is Marathon Diamonds located at the Flag City Sports Complex in Findlay. The complex has five lighted, natural-grass fields, stadium-style bleachers, concessions, plenty of parking and a playground for kids. There also are several other facilities all within a few minutes’ drive from Marathon Diamonds if even more space is needed, says Crist. The community recently hosted a statewide ASA tournament with 63 teams, and can accommodate many different softball age groups, from youth through adults.
The area, with 1,200 hotel rooms, is on the I-75 corridor about 50 miles south of Toledo and within two hours from many Midwest airports. “It costs a lot less to be here, compared to other metropolitan areas,” Crist says.
Softball tournament organizers won’t have a problem finding fields in the Milwaukee area. The Milwaukee County Parks system has more than 45 softball fields, says Marissa Pitroski, the sports and entertainment sales manager for Visit Milwaukee. Among the facilities available are lighted fields at the Wilson Recreation Center, KK Sports Center and West Milwaukee Park, and multiple fields at other parks in the county.
Pitroski says Visit Milwaukee has been working with USA Softball to try to bring more events to the area. “We have the capacity for it,” she says. In 2009, the National Wheelchair Softball Association held its championships in Milwaukee, as did the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance.
Visit Milwaukee helps event organizers find facilities, organize accommodations, find volunteers, and can provide public relations and marketing help as well.