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With 56,000-Plus AAU Athletes in Orlando, Sports Tourism Roars Back

18 Jun, 2021

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

With more than 3,400 teams and 56,000 athletes rolling into town for one tournament, Orlando has officially kicked 2020 to the curb. The world’s largest volleyball tournament is in town, bringing with it a welcome influx of tourism and a boom in hotel usage – not to mention plenty of economic impact.

The 48th AAU Junior National Volleyball Championships is expected to bring more than $173.2 million in economic impact to Central Florida with an estimated 14,000 coaches and 600 college coaches in attendance.

In total, 171 courts will spread across all three concourses at the OCCC- North, South and West. This is set to be the largest sporting event ever to be held at the OCCC.

The AAU Junior Nationals have dug in for the long game at the Orange County Convention Center, running from June 17-29. Teams for boys and girls range from age 10 to 18 (including nationally ranked elite squads) and the event is one of the most heavily scrutinized by those who want to see the college stars of tomorrow.

And as much as the athletes are anticipating getting back on the court, AAU is even more excited.

“After a scaled-back event in 2020, we’re finally back,” said Jennings “Rusty” Buchanan, President/CEO of the AAU. “We are pleased to be able to yet again offer the opportunity to let kids do what they really want to do and that’s play. The 2021 AAU Junior National Volleyball Championships at the Orange County Convention Center will welcome records numbers not only to our event but also to the Central Florida area. We look forward to this event every year as hands-down our largest event of the year, and we could not pull this off without the partnerships with the Orange County Convention Center and Visit Orlando, the premier vacation destination in the world  - and what better place to bring our athletes and families to give them the opportunity of a lifetime than here in Orlando.”

For the tournament, divisions are set in waves; the 10-14 and under girls played first (June 18-21), along with the 18U Open and Premier divisions. The second wave (June 22-25) is currently playing and features the 15U, 17U and Boys divisions, while the 16U and 18U Aspire and Classic will wrap up the tournament in Wave Three (June 26-29).

To increase the tournament’s exposure, all games will be streamed live on AAU Volleyball’s livestream partner, BallerTV, which specializes in events for youth athletes.

The event has not escaped recognition over the years, and has been recognized as a three-time winner of Champions of Economic Impact in Sports Tourism Award (the most recently in 2019). ). The 2019 event featured approximately 2,805 girls’ and boys’ teams across 38 divisions of competition. It used 117,000 room nights and had a $91,000,000 economic impact.

The AAU Girls Junior National Volleyball Championships 16U division also still holds the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest volleyball event, a feat AAU Volleyball first set in 2012.

And just consider this: 2021 is set to blow everything out of the water, numbers-wise.

And when COVID hit and events were cancelled in 2020, AAU and Orlando still managed to come through and host the event. And while its 2020 numbers were necessarily lower because of health regulations, the tournament's return was significant in multiple ways.

At the time, SwimSwam noted,” The event is still expected to have a $15 million economic impact on the region. (In fact, SwimSwam added, with 326 boys' and girls' teams, it was by far the largest in-person event to be held since March).

It was also a win for the facility and received tremendous support from the local area. The tournament was the first major event for the convention center since the coronavirus pandemic shut down Orlando tourism. Orange County Convention Center executive director Mark Tester told The Orlando Sentinel there was “a pent-up demand” for activities in Orlando and the sports world.

But despite its success, the event has never lost sight of its social responsibility. As part of the AAU Cares initiative, AAU is partnering again with the Side-Out Foundation as an official Dig Pink Campaign location to raise money for breast cancer research. All participants were encouraged to wear pink for AAU’s Dig Pink Days, June 19, 23 and 27.

Overall, the AAU Junior National Volleyball Championships is the marquee annual event for the fastest-growing sport in the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU). Over the years, this event has featured international teams from Australia, Brazil, Croatia, Canada, China, Colombia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Haiti, Honduras, Israel, Germany, Mexico, Peru, Puerto Rico, Slovenia, Spain and Virgin Islands.

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