The Southeast has a culture all its own, with its rich history influencing the regionís distinctive arts, entertainment and cuisine. Its ideal climate further adds to the allure for sports events planners, for whom the accessibility, championship-level venues and unique activities and attractions translate into successful and memorable experiences for competitors, spectators and tourists.
Hickory, North Carolina
Hickory, North Carolina is a hub of family-friendly sports tourism.
The 84,000-square-foot Hickory Metro Convention Center is undergoing a 50 percent expansion that will add four basketball courts, eight volleyball courts and up to 12 pickleball courts by 2024. Highland Recreation Center/Stanford Park offers three baseball/softball fields, two basketball courts, four indoor pickleball courts and a skate park.
Two of the nine soccer fields at Henry Fork River Park are turfed, with the first of two additional turf fields scheduled to open this fall. Kiwanis Park has four baseball/softball fields, while Lake Hickory is ideal for water sports and fishing.
Whether hosting a small tournament or one of many large-scale competitions in basketball, gymnastics, grappling or soccer, it is done with pride.
“Introducing families to our corner of North Carolina provides them with not only the beauty and peacefulness that Hickory provides, but the welcoming nature of our community,” says Sarah Jones, director of sales and marketing at the Hickory Metro Convention Center & Visitors Bureau.
Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama
Athletes can do it all in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama.
The Gulf Shores Sportsplex, which includes a 4,000-seat stadium, a new 12-court lighted pickleball facility and baseball/softball fields, holds major events such as the AHSAA State Track Championships and NAIA Softball Opening Rounds.
The Orange Beach Sportsplex, which has hosted numerous SEC and NAIA soccer tournaments, features a 1,500-seat stadium, a three-court sand volleyball area and baseball, softball and soccer fields. Connected to the Sportsplex is the Gulf State Park trailhead leading to a 28-mile paved trail system spanning both coastal cities. The beaches and waterways are other popular off-field diversions.
“Families can go budget-friendly by taking in many free or inexpensive things to do, from playing on the beach to hiking in Gulf State Park, or splurge on activities like charter fishing, shopping and sunset sails,” says Michelle Russ, vice president of sales, sports and events for Gulf Shores | Orange Beach Sports & Events. “The options are wide open.”
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
With top-notch facilities, outstanding accommodations and an endless array of activities, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina is the ideal destination for sports groups.
Brooks Stadium, home of the Coastal Carolina University Chanticleers football team, was recently renovated with increased seating for 21,000 fans. The Ripken Experience offers nine replica fields of historic major league ballparks.
Grand Park Athletic Complex has nine lighted turf fields, while the 100,000-square-foot John T. Rhodes Myrtle Beach Sports Center accommodates 16 volleyball/eight basketball courts.
According to Jonathan Paris, executive director of sports tourism for the Myrtle Beach Area CVB, the range of top-notch facilities rivals any alternative venue nationwide for basketball, baseball, track and field, volleyball and softball, as well as non-traditional events such as cornhole, cheer, dance, wrestling, gymnastics and the World’s Strongest Man competition.
“With our combination of world-class venues, over 60 miles of sandy beaches, 2,000 restaurants and endless lodging options, planning your next sporting event in Myrtle Beach is a slam dunk,” Paris says.
Rutherford County, Tennessee
Whatever the sport, event owners are sure to find a winning combination of service, knowledge and amenities in Rutherford County, Tennessee.
A frequent host of the TSSAA Championships, Spring Fling, Tennessee Soccer State Championships and the Elite Clubs National League, the Richard Siegel Soccer Complex opened a 110,000-square-foot, multi-use indoor turf facility in February 2023 to complement its lighted championship stadium field, seven lighted turf fields, 10 lighted regulation-size grass fields and two non-lighted regulation-size grass fields.
The Elite Turf Nationals and Invitational State Tournament have taken place at Cedar Stone Park, which offers four synthetic turf baseball fields, six pickleball courts and six tennis courts. Tennessee State University fields teams in baseball, softball, football, basketball, soccer, tennis, golf, volleyball, cross country and track & field.
Other local amenities include five golf courses, trails, parks, 400 restaurants, breweries, wineries, distilleries and shopping.
“Because of our central location, no team has to travel too great a distance,” says Barbara Wolke, senior vice president of the Rutherford County CVB, “and the CVB works closely with hotels and venues to make sure teams’ needs are met throughout their stay.”
Sports facilities in Foley, Alabama are designed with athletes and fans in mind.
The Foley Sports Tourism Complex features 15 outdoor fields and a championship stadium with TV-ready lighting and seating for 1,000 attendees, making it the perfect venue for lacrosse, soccer, football and more. The indoor events center, spanning 90,000 square feet, is ideal for basketball, volleyball, cheerleading and gymnastics.
Foley has previously hosted Snap Soccer’s Coastal Soccer Invitational, Coastal Academy Cup and Big Wave Classic, the Delta McKenzie ASA Classic and the Sun Belt Conference Championships for men’s and women’s cross country and women’s soccer and volleyball.
Between competitions, popular attractions include OWA Parks & Resort and the Tanger Outlets.
“Our facilities provide the complete sporting event experience with shopping, rides, dining and entertainment at your fingertips,” says Shellie Kichler, marketing and sales director at Foley Sports Tourism. “We’re your one-stop shop and the ultimate sports destination.”
Bowling Green, Kentucky
Bowling Green, Kentucky is as sports- minded as its name implies.
The recipient of numerous James Farrell ASA Awards of Excellence, the region has hosted multiple ASA National Championships and USSSA Softball State Championships at Michael O. Buchanon Park. In addition to eight fields, the venue features a multi-use complex housing six indoor and six outdoor tennis courts plus an adjacent gymnasium with four basketball/volleyball courts.
Bowling Green Country Club, one of six golf courses, is home of the annual Kentucky High School Athletic Association boys and girls state tournaments. Last year, the Club at Olde Stone was the site of the USGA 73rd U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship.
“One visit will explain why Bowling Green is ‘geared for fun,’” says Darius Clement, sports sales director of the Bowling Green Area CVB. “It’s a vibrant city with a small-town feel that has earned a reputation as a hub for enjoyable experiences.”
Paradise Coast Sports Complex in Naples, Florida
Open since December 2020, Paradise Coast Sports Complex is a world-class youth and amateur facility in Naples, Florida offering professional-level fields, special event and entertainment options and high-quality concessions.
The complex currently offers five full-size synthetic turf fields, including a 3,500-seat multi-purpose stadium. This year alone, events include the Football University (FBU) Top Gun Showcase and National Championship, Southwest Florida Shootout, Trilogy Lacrosse, American Youth Football National Championships and Soccer Youth Golden Cup.
The Factory outdoor fitness pavilion, Great Lawn and The Cove social hot spot are all conveniently onsite. Off premises, tourists flock to Collier County for its scenic beaches, boating, fishing, eco-tourism and downtown shopping. In addition, plans are underway to add six sand volleyball courts and grow the complex to 21 full-size rectangular fields and baseball/softball diamonds.
“Book your next event with us today and experience sports and entertainment in paradise,” says J.P. Terrasi, marketing coordinator for Paradise Coast Sports Complex.
Alachua County is where champions come to train and play.
Compete at the brand new 130,000- square-foot Alachua County Sports and Events Center at Celebration Pointe offering 10 basketball courts, 18 volleyball courts, 21 pickleball courts, a 200-meter portable banked track, dedicated cheer space and batting cages.
Sports can also play outdoors at Champions Park, a 16-field youth baseball/fastpitch softball complex which is hosting several 100+ team tournaments this summer. Down the street, Jonesville Park is home to multiple tournaments including Sunshine State Games Ultimate.
Whatever the facility, indoor or outdoor, Alachua County has it covered.
“The entire Gainesville Sports Commission staff is committed to making your event experience exceptional,” says Joleen Cacciatore Miller, executive director of the Gainesville Sports Commission. “We take pride in providing you and your attendees with the perfect facility and combination of rich sports performance history and small-town charm.” SDM