New Decade, New Destinations | Sports Destination Management

New Decade, New Destinations

Dec 20, 2019 | By: Mary Helen Sprecher

The holidays are behind us and the new year (a whole new decade, in fact) is underway. Gyms are crowded, shopping malls are empty and it’s time for you to make good on your resolution to find a new home for your event. SDM is ready to make it easy, with a great line-up of some new and emerging markets for you to consider.

Moving to a new location can infuse your event with unexpected energy, bring a new registration demographic and help you widen your event’s scope. It also creates new contacts, colleagues and relationships within the industry, always an enriching experience.

The carefully curated list below provides markets in all segments of the country. Prepare to be pleasantly surprised by what they have to offer.

Arizona: Surprise
Arizona: Surprise
Surprise, Arizona is a sports lover’s dream, offering an abundance of sunshine, gorgeous mountain views, pristine sporting facilities and close proximity to a wide variety of amenities as part of the Phoenix Metro region.

Surprise offers 15 Major League Baseball fields, 25 championship tennis courts and 16 pickleball courts. Plus, it’s home to Major League Baseball spring training for the Kansas City Royals and Texas Rangers. College athletics are also big in Surprise. Located in the heart of the city on the Civic Center campus, Ottawa University Arizona offers a full complement of collegiate athletics programs. Because of the location, the city and university have been able to collaborate on new facilities to support the needs of tournament directors, as well as the university’s athletic programs and city residents.

These new shared campus facilities will help create opportunities to attract year-round activity. Multi-sport tournaments can be held at the new football/lacrosse stadium (turf), as well as at any of the three new indoor basketball/volleyball courts with brand new locker room facilities. Surprise continues to work with the university and other key partners to develop the Sporting Complex with tournament needs in mind.

Just this past year, as the Sporting Complex added these essential new facilities, it was proud to host tournaments with new and continuing partners such as the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA), Major League Baseball (MLB), National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA), Prep Baseball Report (PBR), Perfect Game Baseball, United States Tennis Association (USTA), Wilson Premier Baseball and many others.

California: Redding
California: Redding
Located in the heart of Northern California, the picturesque city of Redding is an outdoor sports recreation haven. Labeled “the sunniest city in California” with 300 days of sunshine per year, Redding offers versatile sports venues for any event in any season.

In the past year, Redding has been voted the No. 6 Outdoor Adventure Sports Spot by SportsEvents Magazine for its world-class fishing and trout-filled waters, extensive trail system for hiking and biking, and the 11 nearby national and state parks offer endless room to roam without the crowds. Whiskeytown Lake and Shasta Lake are pristine and inviting for swimming, sailing or any kind of paddling, which is why TIME Magazine labeled Redding the “unofficial capital of kayaking.”

Stepping aside from the natural attractions, the Redding Soccer Park and the Big League Dreams Sports Complex offer 11 combined lighted and all-weather synthetic turf fields for year-round activity. Adding to that, a 20,000-square-foot indoor field house at Big League Dreams hosts indoor soccer, hockey or basketball leagues and tournaments, which is one of the main reasons why Redding was voted California’s top destination for youth and amateur sports by SportsEvents Magazine.

More information is available at

Florida: St. Pete/Clearwater
Florida: St. Pete/Clearwater
Located in Florida’s scenic Tampa Bay area, St. Pete/Clearwater is home to world-class beaches and dynamic communities packed with culture and adventure. The most popular destination on the Gulf of Mexico boasts first-rate venues offering unique experiences to all competitors – from weekend tournaments to major international events – with 35 miles of white-sand beaches as a backdrop.

Representing the organization’s recommitment to bringing top-tier events and tournaments to the destination, the department rebranded to St. Pete/Clearwater Sports & Events, expanding the team to better serve partners with varied experiences and expertise. The highly qualified Sports & Events team collectively brings more than 60 years of major sports management and marketing experience, including Olympic games, FIFA World Cup and State Games.

The continued dedication to partnering with municipalities and governing bodies is represented in the team’s unmatched tenacity to work together with potential events and tournaments. The growth of the destination is evident; from record-breaking tourism numbers and new hotel developments to new and renovated facilities, there’s no better time to be hosting an event in St. Pete/Clearwater.

Florida: Lake City and Columbia County
Florida: Lake City and Columbia County
Located in the heart of beautiful, natural North Florida, Lake City and Columbia County are the Gateway to the Sunshine State. Less than a day’s drive from the Southeast’s largest cities, Columbia County is conveniently located at the junction of interstates 10 and 75.

This pristine part of Florida is a natural theme park for outdoor enthusiasts, festival goers, music lovers or anyone looking to get away and spend some time in nature. Columbia County has it all: crystal clear springs, rocking music festivals, history, culture, paddling and biking. Everyone is sure to find that unique getaway right in Florida’s Gateway.

Visitors can play ball at the recently renovated 146-acre Southside Sports Complex. With nearly $3 million worth of renovations completed in 2018, Southside can accommodate all types of sporting events, ranging from small fundraising tournaments to 100+ team regional and national showcases.

The Columbia County Sports Commission is in the preliminary planning stages of a new 500+ acre sporting facility that would include nearly a dozen multi-purpose fields, walking/running trails, playgrounds and more.

Big things are coming to this growing Florida community. Contact them to see how they can make any event shine bright in the Florida sun.

Illinois: Aurora
Illinois: Aurora
Since 2015, the Aurora Area has been THE destination for many baseball, lacrosse, soccer, softball and Ultimate tournaments.

Recent tournaments held in the area include the PepsiCo Showdown Soccer Series (100 games and more than 1,500 players), United States Specialty Sports Association (USSSA) Fastpitch Girls 18U & 14U National Championships (60 teams), Neuqua Valley Knockout (largest high-school Ultimate event in the country, with 100 teams), Great Lakes Ultimate Events BICI Tournament (67 teams), Aurora Kickers Puma Illinois College Showcase (127 teams), USA Ultimate Masters Championship (75 teams), Heavyweights Without Limits Ultimate Tournament (66 teams), True Wisconsin Lacrosse, Windy City LAX Bash (100 teams), US LAX Summer Shootout (110 teams), Evolution Soccer Chicago Development Showcase (150 teams), Alianza de Futbol (120 teams), Galaxy Soccer – Great Lakes Soccer Challenge (235 teams), Professional Bowlers Association, Great Midwest Athletic Conference/Great Lakes Valley Conference Mizuno Volleyball Tourney, NCAA Division I Men’s & Women Golf Championships, National Latino Amateur Boxing Association National Championships and the Clasico Leyendas All-Star Soccer.

In 2019, Aurora was host to the Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association (IWLCA) Midwest Cup (72 teams) as well as several other new sports events that include cross country, flag football, table tennis and kickball.

Illinois: Chicago Northwest
Illinois: Chicago Northwest
Meet Chicago Northwest is ready to give event owners an advantEdge. The destination is four hours from anywhere in the continental U.S., on the edge of O’Hare International Airport and minutes from Chicago.

Chicago Northwest is a full-service destination marketing organization providing event planning ideas to make any sporting event, meeting, conference or convention successful, productive and easy. Its services are completely free.

Over 60 hotels with 10,000-plus guest rooms offer a range to fit every sporting event’s budget. The destination also flexes its muscles with hundreds of family restaurants from local favorites to top Chicago names.

Downtime during sporting events allows visitors to browse the many shopping outlets from Woodfield Mall to IKEA. It’s also possible to entertain the group after hours with GameWorks, Topgolf, Medieval Times, LEGOLAND Discovery Center, Boomers Baseball, Laugh Out Loud, PAC-MAN Entertainment or Punch Bowl Social. Plus, parking is FREE in Chicago Northwest.

Facilities include the spectacular Schaumburg Convention Center with 100,000 square feet of column-free space and attached Renaissance Schaumburg Convention Center Hotel, Olympic Park (baseball and soccer fields), Busse Woods Forest Preserve (land and water sports), Harper College, Odeum Expo Center, Play ‘N’ Thrive (multitude of sports) and Arlington Heights (water and field sports). showcases all the area’s facilities.

Illinois: Lake County
Illinois: Lake County
Lake County, Illinois is an active community only 30 miles north of downtown Chicago. With an abundance of sports facilities and venues available for hosting tournaments and events, Lake County also has endless options for things to see and do when the games are over, making it the perfect location.

Lake County is bordered by Lake Michigan and is only minutes from southeastern Wisconsin. It is conveniently accessible from the area’s major airports — Chicago O’Hare and Milwaukee’s General Mitchell. Getting there by car or bus is easy, too, with Interstate 294 being the county’s largest thoroughfare, or take a quick Metra train ride from downtown Chicago.

However athletes arrive in Lake County, they will find one of the Midwest’s premier sports and recreational destinations with modern indoor and outdoor facilities to host all events — from basketball, soccer, swimming, volleyball, hockey, gymnastics, cheerleading, dance, ice skating, bowling, table tennis and rock climbing to field sports, golfing, horseback riding, boating, fishing, hiking and biking.

Planners can count on the dedicated customer service and friendly staff at Visit Lake County, who want to help make all aspects of any sports event or tournament a success.

Maryland: Harford County
Maryland: Harford County
Looking for a place to play, host an event, or even just unwind and be a spectator? Harford County, Maryland is that place. Located at the top of the Chesapeake Bay, conveniently located near Baltimore and Philadelphia, Harford County will help create cherished memories.

Youth baseball is played at The Ripken Experience Aberdeen – the hometown of Cal Ripken, Jr., while lacrosse and soccer contests are held at Cedar Lane Regional Sports Park. The complexes are located just off I-95 and minutes from the waterfront city of Havre de Grace.

Greg Pizzuto, Executive Director of Visit Harford, says tournament organizers look for venues that are not only physically suitable for their sport, but also in or near vibrant communities and convenient for travel. “Our location within the I-95 corridor, our efficient and well-kept sporting venues and our lodging and dining establishments all contribute to an outstanding experience for tournament attendees. And don’t forget the world-renowned crabs from the Chesapeake Bay!”

Visit Harford must be doing something right, as these three sports bring in nearly 63,000 participants each year – spectators, players and coaches. And with almost 3,000 hotel rooms in the county, there are plenty of options for places to stay.

“The numbers support the claims that we have always known to be true — Harford County is truly among the sought-after destinations for sports tourism,” says Pizzuto.

Maryland: Wicomico County
Maryland: Wicomico County
Whether it’s basketball, wrestling, cheer and dance – Wicomico County, Maryland is the place for indoor sports.

Located between the Atlantic Ocean and the Chesapeake Bay, Wicomico County is an ideal place for families to enjoy while in town for tournaments and sporting events.

Wicomico County is not just a beautiful Mid-Atlantic location – it’s a convenient one. Wicomico County is less than a three-and-a-half-hour drive for 25 percent of the U.S. population and within two-and-a-half hours of Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia.

The recently renovated Wicomico Civic Center offers a 30,000-square-foot arena, 10,000-square-foot secondary arena, meeting rooms, locker rooms, concession stands, free parking and other amenities.

The venue fills with high school basketball fans each December for the Governors Challenge high school basketball tournament – now the largest holiday basketball tournament in the nation.

The venue has also been a longstanding host of a 15-mat wrestling event that brings in more than 1,200 wrestlers each year. It also hosts large volleyball events, and cheer and dance events fit nicely into the venue.

Additional indoor venues include the University of Maryland – Eastern Shore, Salisbury University and Crown Sports Center.

To learn more about Wicomico County’s facilities, visit

Missouri: Cape Girardeau
Missouri: Cape Girardeau
Increase your tournament’s revenue by hosting it in America’s heartland. Here’s how:
1. Choose one of Cape Girardeau’s professional-grade facilities with the help of a city official. From the indoor state-of-the-art SportsPlex to a variety of outdoor fields, they offer a mix of environments that cater to nearly every popular sport – all within 10 minutes of a major highway and other amenities.

2. Boost participant numbers with resources from Cape’s Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. They’ll help you showcase all the area has to offer, drumming up interest for your event. With over 1,000 hotel rooms, almost 150 eateries and engaging activities year-round, Cape is a great getaway during a tournament’s commotion. Plus, Cape is centrally located and easy to reach from any direction.

3. Enjoy substantial savings while watching profits soar. Scheduling a tournament in Cape Girardeau strongly reduces overhead expenses. Thanks to its cost-effective infrastructure, tournament earnings yield greater profits when compared to other cities.

In Cape Girardeau, athletes showcase their skills, families enjoy affordable bonding opportunities and tournaments are revenue-generating machines. Discover how Cape Girardeau adds value to your sports competition without the cost:

Missouri: Maryland Heights
Missouri: Maryland Heights
Maryland Heights is St. Louis’ backyard, centrally located along I-270 and I-70 and just 10 minutes from St. Louis Lambert International Airport. With almost 4,000 hotel rooms, event planners can always find something to meet their team’s needs.

Facilities include Creve Coeur Park & Lake, which offers a six-mile path around the 320-acre lake that is perfect for hosting marathons, triathlons and more. Maryland Heights is also home to three state-of-the art multi-purpose outdoor athletic facilities with a total of 38 full-size lighted fields (27 turf and 11 grass) perfect for soccer, lacrosse and field hockey. Opening in fall of 2019 is the St. Louis Community Ice Center, a premier indoor ice complex that will feature four rinks for all ice sports.

Over 75 restaurants located in Maryland Heights offer dining options for the entire team, allowing everyone to eat, drink, play and watch sports. Dave & Buster’s is 55,000 square feet of indoor games that are fun for all ages and happy to accommodate any team. Athletes can tee off at Crystal Springs Quarry Golf Course, cool off after the game at AquaPort Waterpark or swing from the trees at GO Ape Treetop Adventure Course. More information is available at

North Carolina: Winston-Salem
North Carolina: Winston-Salem
When it comes to sports, Winston-Salem’s got serious game. Athletes of all ages know they can count on top-level venues ideally suited for youth, amateur or professional events and competitions, inside and out. Pristine college facilities, state-of-the-art indoor track, spacious arena, downtown convention center, well-maintained multi-purpose fields – they’re all a part of the game plan in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

One of the premier indoor track and field facilities in the Southeast, JDL Fast Track houses a 200-meter oval track with a Mondotrack FTX surface, the same surface used at the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games. This 105,000-square-foot facility is no stranger to prestige. JDL Fast Track hosted the 2019 USATF Masters Indoor Track & Field Championships.

Just minutes from downtown Winston-Salem, BB&T Sports Park is one of the premier multi-purpose facilities in the state and offers 13 full-size fields including four full-size turf fields. Elevated viewing areas, a stadium field with seating for 1,400 and field house complete the complex. The park has hosted national soccer, lacrosse and ultimate championships. In addition to its world-class athletic facilities, Winston-Salem has more than 5,000 hotels rooms, giving event organizers, coaches, parents and athletes a variety of lodging options.

North Dakota: Bismarck Mandan
North Dakota: Bismarck-Mandan
Bismarck-Mandan is where the city meets the great outdoors. Where an endless sky arches over two cities along the banks of the Missouri River in central North Dakota. No boundaries means the best of both worlds – all the metropolitan amenities needed for a sports event, along with wide-open spaces and a friendly hometown atmosphere. Bismarck-Mandan has everything event owners need:
• Named one of the country’s top 50 sports towns by Sports Illustrated
• A multi-use sports and event center with 200,000 total square feet. Perfect for hockey, basketball, rodeo, volleyball, wrestling, gymnastics – almost any sport
• Three aquatic complexes
• 57 baseball/softball fields within 15 minutes of each other
• 25 basketball courts, 40 soccer fields, 38 tennis courts
• Ice rinks for hockey, figure skating and curling
• Community Bowl for football, soccer and track & field events
• Seven golf courses, 3,500 acres of parks and 100 miles of walking trails

Sports are the staff’s top priority. This area also offers something not always found in larger cities: personalized service. In Bismarck-Mandan, no tournament is “just another sports event.” They are the staff’s top priority and the professionals will help with everything from choosing the perfect venue to travel and lodging arrangements and all the details that will make events both successful and memorable.

Oklahoma: Edmond
Oklahoma: Edmond
Edmond invites athletes to utilize state-of-the-art sports facilities and enjoy the city’s charm. Visitors can choose from various lodging options, enjoy a multi-use trail system, a recreational lake, entertainment venues and a bustling retail and local food scene.

Edmond is set for improvements and new sports developments. The Edmond Tennis Center, opening in spring of 2020, will establish itself as a premier facility for the region with 24 outdoor courts and six indoor. Built with abundant locker room space and fitness rooms, the facility can handle events of all sizes. The comfort of spectators is a priority with meeting rooms, observation deck and a pro shop.

Edmond’s University of Central Oklahoma is home to the Paralympic Training Site including the U.S. Men and Women’s Sitting Volleyball Team and training for archery, powerlifting, volleyball and track and field. UCO is also host of the Endeavor Games, an adaptive sports competition for professional and leisure participants held each year in early June.

Golfers can enjoy two public courses, Golf Club of Edmond and Kickingbird Golf Club. Edmond is also home to Oak Tree National and Oak Tree Country Club with 54 holes of championship golf.

Edmond is ever improving existing sports facilities and has plans for even more development over the next few years. Contact Visit Edmond at or 405-341-4344 to begin planning in Edmond.

Pennsylvania: Delaware County (Delco)
Pennsylvania: Delaware County (Delco)
Action and thrills are just par for the course during local sporting events, but in Delco, some adventures are even better without the crowds. Visitors can get rowdy with the most dedicated soccer fans one minute and then kayak down the peaceful Brandywine River the next.

In Delco, warm nights are made for Major League Soccer under the lights of Talen Energy Stadium. In winter, glide across the same four ice rinks where professional hockey players and Olympic figure skating coaches host programs every day.

Golf is every man’s sport at The Golf Course at Glen Mills, where enjoying a round on gorgeous greens is as affordable as it is fun. And if you’re looking for a little more space to roam, how does 2,600 acres sound? Ridley Creek State Park is just one of many incredible outdoor playgrounds to run, bike or cross-country ski down paved and unpaved trails, or grab a rod and cast away into its fully trout-stocked waters.

There’s also a labyrinth of trails, a rich diversity of wildlife and opportunities to go canoeing or kayaking. With so much to offer for sports fans and nature lovers, Delco is hard to beat. The ball’s in your court. What are you waiting for?

Pennsylvania: Hershey and Harrisburg
Pennsylvania: Hershey and Harrisburg
Sports and events tourism has been thriving in Hershey and Harrisburg for a long time, but the launch of a dedicated Sports & Events Authority (operated as a division of Visit Hershey & Harrisburg) in 2016 has allowed the new team to allocate more resources to business development and to offer more support to the events in the market. Gregg Cook heads the Hershey Harrisburg Sports & Events Authority (HHSE) as Executive Director, leading a team that includes business development and marketing & communications staff.

The region boasts flexible facilities and a sweet destination in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Events with a youth market love the benefits of having access to attractions like Hersheypark® and Hershey’s Chocolate World Attraction. The Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex & Expo Center in Harrisburg has more than one million square feet of event space under one roof.

Organizers for sports like basketball, volleyball, lacrosse and figure skating have long been familiar with the region’s offerings. Now, esports is coming on strong with Harrisburg University’s (HU) industry-leading esports program. HU hosts the largest collegiate esports tournament in the nation, and its team won the inaugural ESPN Collegiate Esports Overwatch Championship in 2019.

To host an event in Hershey and Harrisburg, contact HHSE Business Development Manager Dean Polk at 717-231-2989.

Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania
Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania is in the sweet spot for sports. It is within an easy drive of New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Newark and Washington, DC. Its location allows event owners to draw participants from these major population centers, while enjoying affordable pricing and unsurpassed customer service.

Lackawanna County offers over 90 basketball courts, 42 baseball fields, 41 softball fields and 43 soccer fields. Its sites range from professional venues such as PNC Field, home of the SWB RailRiders, the Triple-A affiliate of the New York Yankees, to university facilities, private venues and high school campuses.

Using its venue tier-system, Lackawanna County’s expert staff can help event owners pinpoint locations that suit their event and customize a schedule that adheres to all their needs. Ensuring annual success for every event is essential.

Families will be clamoring to come back every year as they enjoy not only the affordability of the area’s beautiful hotels, but the attractions they can enjoy in Lackawanna County, including Montage Mountain Ski Resort & Waterpark, The Electric City Aquarium, Steamtown National Historic Site, Lahey Family Fun Park and so much more. Let the staff show you what they can do. Contact Alexa at 570-468-8625 or visit the website at

Pennsylvania: Wilkes-Barre Township, Luzerne County
Pennsylvania: Wilkes-Barre Township, Luzerne County
Mohegan Sun Arena is a world-class venue located in the heart of Northeast Pennsylvania. Conveniently located off Interstate 81 and just minutes from the Pennsylvania Turnpike, the Arena is the perfect setting for tournaments, camps and exhibitions, with 7,000-plus seats, in-house security, high-speed Internet, catering and concessions.

The Arena has hosted events including the Pennsylvania Junior Wrestling Tournament twice in the last 10 years. Other events that can be hosted are volleyball, hockey, tennis, lacrosse, basketball, cheer and gymnastics. In addition to the 17,000-square-foot performance space on the Event Level, there are 11 meeting rooms/locker rooms and an additional 5,000 square feet of meeting space. On the Concourse Level, there is an additional 7,000 square feet of space, plenty of restrooms and concession stands.

Lodging is plentiful around the Arena, with over 4,000 hotel rooms within 20 minutes. More than 30 restaurants surround the Arena area as well as major shopping areas. The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport is 15 minutes from the Arena and offers service by several major airlines. Attendees at events held at the Arena have consistently remarked about the hospitality of the staff and the staff of Visit Luzerne County. More information is available from and

Virginia: Loudoun County
Virginia: Loudoun County
Nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, in an area best known for wineries, horses and charming historic towns, Loudoun County, Virginia is now home to one of the largest international ice complexes on the East Coast. Just 25 miles west of Washington, DC, the county is a burgeoning sports destination with state-of-the-art fields and facilities, an affluent and growing residential base and more than 5,700 rooms in hotels, resorts and B&Bs.

In 2019, Loudoun welcomed ION International Training Center, a 90,000-square-foot, $25 million arena in county seat Leesburg, a mere 20 minutes from Dulles International Airport. The vision of Romanian Olympic figure skater Luiz Taifas, the complex features two NHL-sized rinks, a full-service gym, pro-shop, medical room and a 5,500-seat arena with a multi-functional floor that can be converted into concert or event space. Eight miles east, meanwhile, is Ashburn Ice House, with its two NHL-sized rinks – site of the 2016 US Hockey High School Nationals.

Loudoun is not only a skating destination, though. The Washington Redskins train at Ashburn facility Redskins Park, while DC United’s second division soccer team plays at a new 5,000-seat stadium in Leesburg. Spring and summer see collegiate baseball, softball and equestrian events.

Loudoun may market itself as DC’s Wine Country, but it’s fast becoming sports country, too. SDM

About the Author