The Southeast: Taking on Mother Nature...and Winning
24 Jun, 2011By: Amy Henderson
An oil spill. Category 5 hurricanes. Tornados. Flooding. And still the games go on, and the area remains one of the country's most desirable sports destinations. Hey, not even Mother Nature can stop the Southeast region of the U.S.
According to the Association of American Geographers, this region is comprised of 10 states: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. This area also boasts more than 50 prominent colleges and universities, and 19 major professional sports teams.
Resources and Resilience in Alabama
Nobody gives up, not even when tornados touch down, as they did in April, with devastating damage to Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee. Like a ball club down by eight runs in the ninth inning, the Southeast prevailed, pulled together and came back a winner.
"No matter where you go in this state, you see everyone helping everyone," said Don Dukemineer, convention sales manager for the Huntsville/Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau and Sports Alabama.
"I have to say first and foremost, our community really embraces sports," said David Galbaugh, director of sports sales and marketing with the Greater Birmingham Convention & Visitors Bureau. "There's a love of sports and it's very attractive to an event planner."
Efforts are supported by Sports Alabama, an organization made up of 11 CVB partners from across the state. "Sports are such a large market for Alabama," said Dukemineer, "and we look out for each other."
The Gulf Coast area has been working around the oil spill since last April, but has bounced back with a vengeance. "We had a 67 percent increase in sports room nights from the previous year," said Beth Gendler, director of sales for the Alabama Gulf Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau and Sports Commission. "We had a lot of scheduled events and the attendance was strong."
The Gulf Shores area hosted the 2011 NAIA Women's Softball Championship in May at the Gulf Shores Sportsplex with 32 teams competing. Over at the Orange Beach Sportsplex, the SEC Women's Soccer Championships will take place in November along with the NAIA Men's Soccer National Championships.
Birmingham's Barber Motorsports Park recently hosted four national motorsports events. The city also hosted the Regents Tradition Senior PGA Tournament, Southeastern Conference Baseball and Gymnastic Championships and will host the NCAA Soccer College Cup in December.
Alabama also has Mobile Bay, known as the College Bowl Capital of the South. It is home to Ladd-Peebles Stadium, which routinely has high-profile football, concerts, conferences and more. The Avnet LPGA Classic brings the top 20 of the best players on the tour to town. Mobile Bay has the Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo, Hank Aaron Stadium for minor league baseball, and drag racing at the NHRA-sanctioned Mobile Dragway.
Don't Miss Mississippi
DeSoto County, Mississippi is one of the 40 fastest growing counties in the United States and is becoming a magnet for sports. It's a great place to find golf, with a variety of courses available. Locally, the DeSoto Civic Center is the premier northwest Mississippi venue for sporting events, concerts and conferences.
The 40,000-acre Arkabutla Lake, located just south of Memphis, is considered one of the best sailing lakes in the U.S. More than 35,000 acres of land around the lake are open to public hunting, and the lake itself is one of the top five crappie fishing locations in the nation. There are eight boat ramps, 300 campsites, nature trails and beaches.
Just Peachy in Georgia
Thomson-McDuffie County, Georgia is located in the eastern part of the state, between Atlanta and Augusta, and offers small-town service with big-time amenities. You can find great spaces for equestrian events at Pine Top Farm Equestrian Center, or take in a rodeo at The Old Frontier.
Montgomery Public Fishing Area and Big Hart Recreation Area are known for their fishing, but Clarks Hill Lake boasts some of the country's best bass fishing and is host to local, regional and national tournaments. The parks and rec areas have ball fields, bird watching and boating, and you can also find GeoCaching throughout the county.
Another popular destination for sports in Georgia is Sandy Springs. The area is home to the Doug Kessler Lightning 10K in September; the Annual Global Imports Sandy Spring Cycling Challenge in May and the Annual Chattahoochee River Summer Splash in July.
Located just minutes from Atlanta, Sandy Springs offers small town amenities with the convenience of a metropolitan area close by. Sandy Springs boasts The Hammond Center and Morgan Falls Athletic Complex, but their natural landscape is key.
"Honestly, our best facilities are the great outdoors," said Kym Hughes with Sandy Springs Hospitality & Tourism. "We have wide open green spaces, 23 miles of shoreline along our rivers, lots of biking and running trails."
Even Mickey is a Sports Fan
In Florida, the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex is a 220-acre facility at Disney World with eight facilities able "to host every sport you can imagine," said Faron Kelly, director of marketing and Disney Sports corporate communications. The Walt Disney Company also owns ABC and ESPN Television and utilizes their resources.
"A year ago, we added the ESPN name to our complex," explained Kelly, "and it was much more than just the name. All the games are producing highlight reels shown throughout the complex; guests and athletes can go back to their rooms and see the highlights."
In many instances, the games are shown on ESPN3 so even if family members can't travel to the game they can still watch their players.
The annual Disney Soccer Showcase "is one of the top recruiting efforts for high school athletes," said Kelly. "We literally have hundreds of college recruiters who are writing scholarships on site."
ESPN Sports Complex also hosted the NFL Flag Football Tournament of Champions in February, the 2011 Special Olympics Florida Summer Games in May and will host the MAAC Men's Soccer Championships in November as well as a number of AAU National Championship games.
Southern Charm and Hospitality
Down the road, the Palm Beach County Sports Commission is preparing for another busy year.
"Palm Beach County is a premier sports destination," said George Linley, executive director of the commission. "The commission supports between 80 and 90 events with a strong portfolio that includes amateur, collegiate and professional events."
The Roger Dean Stadium in Palm Beach County is a premier spring training complex with a total of 13 fields, and has bragging rights as the only baseball complex home to four professional baseball teams. The USA Baseball 16 and Under Championships were held there in June with 72 teams and 1,200 athletes from across the country competing in 264 games.
The American Youth Soccer Association National Games were held at the International Polo Club in Palm Beach County in July 2010 with 220 teams utilizing 10,000 room nights resulting in $8 million dollars in revenue for the area.
A Future So Bright, You Gotta Wear Shades
As with any region, when disaster strikes, there is rebuilding, but the future is bright for the Southeast.
"As a whole, the beach business was down 40 percent from the previous year," explained Gendler. "The business community saw the teams and the big impact they have. They were the saviors of the summer."
Facilities continue to improve and proliferate to keep up with the demand for sports. In October, Florida Atlantic University will open a new 30,000-seat open-air stadium, and in 2012, Montgomery, Alabama will open a new sporting complex.
And of course, there's the weather and the scenery.
"We have some premier sport facilities," Linley continued. "We have 38 different municipalities and are very diverse. But one of our other advantages is that we have 47 miles of white sandy beaches and our average climate is 78 degrees."
Consider the southeast region for your event. Even Mother Nature finds it unbeatable.