The Southeastern United States has long been a refuge for “snowbird” travelers seeking warmer weather in the winter. But athletes competing in sports events will find the region to be much more than a haven from cold temperatures. The Southeast is flanked by the Atlantic and Gulf coasts and stretches west to include the Appalachian Mountains, with communities ranging from small towns with a “hometown” feel to major metropolitan areas.
What this translates into for sports event organizers is as many options as there are types of events. Whether you need multiple baseball fields in close proximity for a youth tournament or a stadium that can seat tens of thousands, locations throughout the Southeast can match the scale and spirit of your event.
Birmingham, Alabama, which sits in the heart of the Southeast, takes its sports events seriously. “We are a great sports town—we certainly embrace it,” says David Galbaugh, director of sports sales and marketing for the Greater Birmingham Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We have the infrastructure needed to put on great sports events, and I think we have a pretty phenomenal resume as well.”
That infrastructure includes a number of premier athletic facilities. Birmingham’s Barber Motorsports Park has been host to AMA Superbike and Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama events, and is also the permanent home of the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum. The new Birmingham CrossPlex is one of only eight track-and-field facilities in the world with an Olympic caliber hydraulically banked track and also boasts a world-class natatorium. Also new is Regions Field, a minor league baseball park. In addition, Birmingham’s 72,000-seat Legion Field stadium plays host to the highly attended BBVA Compass Bowl.
Conway, Arkansas, has the benefit of being a smaller town of about 60,000 people within easy distance of a bigger city, Little Rock, only 30 miles away. Lake Conway, a 6,700-acre man-made lake, is popular for fishing, and the town’s flexibility in accommodating sports events brings in athletes competing in a variety of other sports.
Conway’s three colleges provide facilities that can be included in the mix for sports tournaments. The Arkansas High School Coaches Association All-Star games are an example of the planning that goes into successful collaboration among Conway’s facilities.
“Especially for the All-Star games, the majority of their events are held on campus at the University of Central Arkansas,” says Rachel Earls, director of destination marketing for the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce. “But because we’ll need extra practice facilities, we are also working with the parks department to use their facilities and the high school to use some of their facilities.”
This flexibility also comes in handy for events that require what both Conway and Little Rock can deliver. “In 2015, Little Rock is hosting the U.S. Youth Soccer tournament, but they need more fields, so we are hosting some of the games here,” says Earls. Conway will chip in with more than fields. A gas-drilling boom resulted in the construction of several new hotels within the last five years that will help accommodate staff and athletes and their families.
The Sevierville, Tennessee, area might be best known as the birthplace of country singer Dolly Parton and home to her theme park, Dollywood, but the natural beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains, the area’s sports facilities, and recreational and shopping activities make it a draw for turning sporting events into a vacation.
“It’s a really great place for families, and that is one of the things that makes us ideal for sports events,” says Amanda Marr, marketing director for the Sevierville Chamber of Commerce.
The Sevierville Convention Center, completed in 2007, plays frequent host to volleyball and cheerleading competitions. Additionally, the town’s Wilderness at the Smokies resort is a one-stop-shop for lodging, a water park, and the 36-hole Sevierville Golf Club.
Daytona Beach, Florida
The name “Daytona Beach” is synonymous with fun in the sun, thanks to its temperate climate and oceanside location. This setting makes Daytona Beach a popular destination for sports event attendees who can take in beach life when the day’s activities are over.
Ocean Center, located only 400 feet from the Atlantic Ocean and 10 minutes from Daytona Beach International Airport, is a multi-use facility that is host to frequent sports events.
“We totally expanded and refurbished in 2009,” says Angela Cameron-Daniels, Ocean Center’s director of sales and marketing. The expansion brought the center’s total space to 200,000 square feet. Ocean Center’s arena can seat more than 9,000 spectators. Ocean Center’s sports event bookings encompass a range covering cheer and dance, color guard, gymnastics, volleyball, wrestling, basketball and more. The facility can accommodate groups in either the arena or exhibit spaces and has onsite parking in both a lot and a garage.
Greensboro, North Carolina
Greensboro, North Carolina’s, position halfway between Washington, DC and Atlanta, Georgia, along with its ease of access from interstates and Piedmont Triad International Airport brings in athletes from throughout the region and beyond.
“We actually have the nickname, Tournament Town, since we do host so many types of tournaments from basketball, wrestling, swimming and lacrosse—and gymnastics is starting to take off here,” says Amy Scott, director of marketing for the Greensboro Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Greensboro hosts events from youth through elite competition. Upcoming tournaments include AAU 7th Grade Boys Basketball in 2015 and 2016 and 5th Grade Girls Basketball in 2014, and US National Figure Skating in 2015, among others.
The area’s standout facilities include the Greensboro Coliseum Complex, Greensboro Aquatic Complex, Bryan Park Complex for golf and the Bryan Park Soccer Complex, as well as the Irwin Belk Track at NC A&T State University.
Anderson, South Carolina
Anderson County and the town of Anderson are nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. A chief attraction in the area is the 56,000-acre U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project, Lake Hartwell. Eight million people a year visit the lake to take advantage of fishing, sailing, camping, and other recreational opportunities.
Sports events extend beyond the lake to the county’s roads and facilities.
“We have a lot of cycling and triathlons,” says Jennifer Norman, executive director of the Anderson Convention and Visitors Bureau. “The country roads kind of lend themselves to that. We do a lot of team sports: volleyball, softball. We’ve been trying to recruit more kayak and rowing and also more Paralympic sports. We have handcycling, and we have wheelchair rugby, which we are really proud of.”
The Civic Center of Anderson is part of the Anderson Sports and Entertainment Center, a complex that is host to volleyball, cheer events, softball, tennis and other sports. The county has a strong tennis history and will have over 100 courts once construction is complete.
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Myrtle Beaches’ Grand Park, completed in 2010, is a hub for field-based sports, with six lighted baseball/softball fields, four lighted Little League fields and a field to accommodate soccer or football. Another popular facility, the Ned Donkle complex, contains seven all-natural surface baseball fields and two FieldTurf football/soccer fields.
Mark Beale, sports sales manager for the Myrtle Beach Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, says you can’t underestimate the draw of a tournament location on the ocean.
“When you have the beach there, you are pretty much at an advantage already. People know Myrtle Beach. They know there is something for their athletes to do in the evening,” he says.
Savannah’s status as a historic port city on the Savannah River offers much for athletes to do in the off-hours, but not at the expense of the core reason for traveling—the sport event itself.
Savannah’s major athletic facilities include the Savannah International Trade and Convention Center, Savannah Civic Center and Grayson Stadium. Small- to mid-size events can find a home at one of the area’s universities or parks and recreation facilities, as well as numerous facilities dedicated to golf, tennis and other sports.