The mid-Atlantic region — America’s Mesopotamia, and host of each of the country’s many historic capitals (including Washington, D.C.) is a hotbed for a variety of recreational pursuits. In turn, a variety of communities and organizations are in hot pursuit of the many collegiate, high school, amateur and youth events that can bring in families, spectators and dollars.
A lot of events are “rocking and rolling” in the Chesapeake Bay State, according to Terry Hasseltine, executive director of Maryland Sports — everything from major competitions such as the CONCACAF Gold Cup at Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium to amateur events such as Ironman Maryland. But the real excitement in the region surrounds two collaboratives that are helping bring events to Maryland without pitting each individual CVB against all the others.
Ocean City, Wicomico County and Worcester County joined to form the Mid-Atlantic Amateur Sports Alliance initiative in 2014, a smaller version of TEAM Maryland, a statewide initiative “designed to collectively market Maryland to the entire sports industry by creating a synergistic approach to the way we market ALL of Maryland as a sports destination,” according to Maryland Sports’ website.
MASA’s slate of properties includes the U.S. Specialty Softball Association Girls’ World Series, multiple MAWA regional and national wrestling tournaments and AAU-sanctioned events and a number of BMX races held at Chesapeake BMX, USA BMX’s second-ranked track on the east coast. Calling TEAM Maryland “an unselfish venture,” Hasseltine adds, “From our perspective, when we can collectively put organizations together, it makes for a much better sales package. It’s a cool team concept, so we’re really excited about it.”
New Jersey is a state that knows how to market itself. Leveraging its exotic shoreline location near Cape May at New Jersey’s southern tip, the Wildwoods Convention Center attracts a wide range of youth sports events, “filling our hotel rooms in the dead of winter, starting with Christmas week, when we have the largest coed high school basketball tournament in the country, the Boardwalk Basketball Classic, and straight through March,” according to Ben Rose, director of marketing for the Greater Wildwoods Tourism Authority.
Various notable events include the National Youth Wrestling Championships (the so-called “War at the Jersey Shore”) and a variety of youth wrestling competitions, as well as multiple championships and tournaments for cheerleading and dance, indoor soccer, futsal and gymnastics — in all, 13 sporting events attracting more than 47,000 attendees took place from January to April 2015.
“It’s such a great, flexible facility in a great location, probably the only one on a beach overlooking the ocean,” says Rose. “We have really found a niche market in youth sports.”
The Cooper River in Camden County, across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, is the site of a number of regattas orchestrated by the South Jersey Tourism Corporation, which is in the process of making improvements to accommodate larger events.
“There are a lot of regattas held on the Schuylkill River on the Philadelphia side, and the county realized over time that the Schuylkill and Cooper are both basically Philadelphia venues, and there were events they were missing out on because of some of the Cooper’s limitations,” says Jake Buganski, the tourism group’s executive director. Accordingly, the river is being dredged, boat houses are undergoing renovations and landscape beautification is under way. “We’re looking to make it more accommodating to different types of events that might not have considered us.”
Just to the south, another local attraction benefits from its natural surroundings: Gloucester County DREAM Park Equestrian Center, which hosts equestrian events but also dog shows, Western shows and a variety of family and competitive agricultural events.
Sports are also key to the tourism success of the Keystone State. Returning to Presque Isle State Park, where it was held once before, “The Biggest Loser” RunWalk will take place Sunday, June 7. The event consists of a half marathon, 5K and one-mile kids’ fun run, and has selected Erie three times in all in part because of the quality of Presque Isle half marathon course, one of the flattest in the country.
“I couldn’t be happier that ‘The Biggest Loser’ RunWalk continues to choose Erie to be one of their Premier Destinations,” said Ron Sertz, executive director of the Erie Sports Commission. “Presque Isle State Park provides one of the fastest half marathon courses in the country. I would encourage anyone who is looking to get fit to visit Erie and participate in this great event.”
Happy Valley is hosting the Nittany Stage Race for the first time. Scheduled for Aug. 1-2, the three-event race is sanctioned by USA Cycling and the Pennsylvania Cycling Association and will feature, in addition to the main event, two spectator-friendly races and other family-friendly events including a block party.
Other major happenings include the 34th Annual Hockey Valley Invitational Tournament, which took place in March at Pegula Ice Rink. “State College is a great area that believes in their youths and strives to maintain family-friendly events and educational programs for all ages,” says Shirley Smith, director of sales for the Central Pennsylvania Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We are home to NCAA and Big 10 sports, but we are always here to work with local, regional and other national events.”
Fun is the operative word in Franklin County, Virginia, where the annual Pigg River Ramble takes place every May. A three-day paddling event that takes place on the county’s many rivers, the ramble is centered around the Saturday race but also features a Friday-night float known as the Blackwater Blackout and a Sunday-morning float called Breakfast on the Blackwater. Tarah Holland, the county’s tourism development manager, credits Franklin County Parks & Recreation with helping bringing paddlers and others to the area through a variety of outdoors events including fishing tournaments and paddle board races.
Southwest of Roanoke, the Huckleberry Trail is nearing completion, spurring a number of annual running events to be held in the greenway in 2015. The trail, which began conversion from a rail corridor in 1966, now connects the towns of Christiansburg and Blacksburg in the County of Montgomery, Virginia, with future expansion plans extending to the Jefferson National Forest in Blacksburg.
According to Lisa Bleakley, executive director of the Montgomery County Regional Tourism Office, Christiansburg in particular “is putting a lot of eggs in that sports marketing basket.” The Christiansburg Aquatic Center, which opened in July 2010, is the home of Virginia Tech Hokies swimming and hosts many premier swim meets such as the USA Swimming Speedo Eastern Zone Sectionals, while the Harkrader Sports Complex is the home of multiple Nations Baseball and USSSA tournaments.
“It’s a good time for this program, with a lot going on that has surfaced over the past five or six years,” says Bleakley. “And there are plans for even more: The town of Christiansburg just acquired roughly 60 acres and is getting ready to do a study on best use, but the town council is talking about a large sports complex. The council is very focused on sports marketing and what it does for the area — and what it can continue to do in the future.”
In the quest to bring in sports properties and economic development, Bridgeport, West Virginia, is working with what it has: Location. “George Washington didn’t sleep here, we don’t have a national park, we don’t have state park, we don’t have a museum, we don’t have Disney World,” says Michelle Duez, executive director of the Greater Bridgeport Convention & Visitors Bureau. “So we use sports marketing, and collegiate marketing in particular.”
To that end, Bridgeport, a community active in holding youth sports competitions, is reaching out to the opponents of local schools West Virginia University, Alderson-Broaddus College, Davis & Elkins College and Fairmont State University.
“We’re actively courting Big 12 and Mountain East conference teams to to stay here when they play each other; utilize our hotel properties and eat here,” says Duez. “Our airport has the biggest runway in the state, so we can accommodate big charter planes.” The pitch? Convenience. The nearest alternative, Pittsburgh, is across a state line, which creates logistical hassles. Plus, “we’re a one-gate airport, so you’re off your plane and in your hotel in 20 minutes,” Duez says. “Where else can you do that?”