The Southeast region beckons with majestic mountains, scenic beaches, innovative cuisine, a growing craft beer scene and a culture all its own. Its rich history is juxtaposed as the birthplace of the Civil War and civil rights, with Southern hospitality permeating the quaint small towns and booming metropolises alike. The region’s easy accessibility and temperate climate further invite year-round travel with something for everyone to enjoy.
The Foley Sports Tourism facilities are designed with athletes and their fans in mind.
Lacrosse, soccer and more take center stage at the outdoor complex, consisting of 16 state-of-the-art multi-purpose fields. The championship field is equipped with TV-ready lighting and seating for up to 1,000.
Adjacent to the sports fields is the 90,000-square-foot Foley Event Center, a multiuse indoor facility ideal for basketball, volleyball, pickleball, cheerleading, dance and gymnastics.
Unique venues include the GlenLakes Golf Club, with 9- and 18-hole courses, and the Graham Creek Nature Preserve consisting of 500 acres of unspoiled wilderness perfect for team-building exercises.
More than 100 area restaurants satisfy every craving, while additional points of interest include the OWA Parks & Resort, Tanger Outlets and hotels designed for every taste and budget.
“Foley has the world-class facilities, Southern hospitality and experience that make it the ultimate year-round destination,” says Shellie Kichler, marketing and sales director for Foley Sports Tourism.
Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida
One of the largest meeting and convention facilities in the country, the Orange County Convention Center (OCCC) in Orlando, Florida is home to North America’s largest youth sporting events. During the 2021-22 fiscal year alone, the center hosted several massive sporting events with over 426,000 attendees and an estimated $565 million in economic impact.
With more than 950,000 square feet of exhibit space, the OCCC’s North-South Building offers exceptional flexibility. The AAU Junior National Volleyball Championships – the world’s largest volleyball event – broke records in 2021, welcoming 135,000 guests from more than 3,445 teams worldwide.
“We are thrilled to welcome the strong sporting market back to Orange County and the OCCC because our partners are such a big part of our success,” says OCCC Executive Director Mark Tester. “We are confident that our guests from across the nation will have a fantastic experience during their visit to the center.”
Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama
While Alabama’s Gulf Coast offers some of the best natural venues in the Southeast, Gulf Shores and Orange Beach stand out due to the coastal culture and quintessential Southern hospitality.
From pristinely maintained and regularly updated sports complexes to the coast, waterways and paved trails, Alabama’s 32-mile beach destination can host a wide variety of athletic and major leisure events. Gulf Shores has long been the host of the NCAA’s Women’s Beach Volleyball Championship, and its playing fields welcome everyone from travel teams to high school students.
Beyond events, participants and families can play – or simply relax – at the beach and on the water, shop and dine at The Wharf, bounce or climb at The Factory or zip down waterslides at Waterville USA.
“Tourism is the lifeblood of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach’s economy,” says Michelle Russ, vice president of sales, sports and events for Gulf Shores | Orange Beach Sports & Events. “The impact of sports and event tourism greatly contributes to growing our shoulder season business to help sustain the local economy beyond our peak season of summer.”
Known as the City of Colleges, Conway, Arkansas offers the charm of a small town with the amenities of a larger city.
Athletes in particular never run out of options. Centennial Soccer Park is a 51.5-acre complex with 10 full-sized fields and two U10 size fields, four of which are lighted.
The Conway Tennis Center, an eight-court facility offering lessons, leagues and open play for adults and juniors, was granted $1,000 from the United States Tennis Association (USTA) Generation Initiative to purchase racquets and balls for local students.
Rachel Shaw, executive director of the Conway Convention and Visitors Bureau, says the bustling downtown area with fashionable boutiques, diverse restaurants and trendy gift stores further contribute to the city’s vibrant economy.
“Being home to three colleges – Hendrix College, the University of Central Arkansas and Central Baptist College – continues to attract students, visitors and businesses to our lively community,” she says.
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Renowned for its 60 miles of white, sandy beaches, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina offers an endless array of opportunities for sports-related activities along its stunning coast.
In addition to surfing, fishing, running, volleyball and water sports, the area is a golfer’s paradise with more than 90 premier courses. Cyclists can explore four public parks, two designated pathways and two state parks.
The renovated Grand Park Athletic Complex features seven multi-purpose fields and two youth fields, all lighted, with synthetic turf to accommodate baseball, softball, lacrosse, soccer and football. The North Myrtle Beach Park and Sports Complex, which currently has eight multi-purpose fields and six baseball/softball fields, is adding six baseball/softball fields, five multi-purpose fields and a family entertainment center.
“With world-class facilities, great hotels, family-friendly attractions and picture-perfect weather, Myrtle Beach is the perfect sports tourism destination,” says Jonathan Paris, executive director of sports tourism for the Myrtle Beach Regional Sports Alliance.
When The World Games visits Birmingham, Alabama from July 7-17, 2022, spectators will glimpse sports they may never have experienced like korfball, as well as those they know and love such as gymnastics.
The 11-day event represents the pinnacle of competition for 3,600 elite athletes from over 100 countries. Two hundred gold medals will be awarded in more than 30 events at 14 venues, including marital arts and artistic, ball, precision, strength and trend sports.
In its 40th year, The World Games is taking place in the U.S. for the first time since its inaugural event in Santa Clara, California in 1981. Previous large-scale sporting events in Birmingham range from the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games soccer competition to the 2017 National Senior Games.
“With its Southern charm, rich history, world-class dining, shopping and family-friendly attractions, Birmingham is a city that athletes and spectators won’t soon forget,” says David Galbaugh, vice president of sports sales and marketing for the Greater Birmingham Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Jacksonville-Onslow County, North Carolina
The Jacksonville-Onslow Sports Commission (JOSC), home to Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in Onslow County, North Carolina, supports a range of sporting events with first-class venues, stunning scenery, an award-winning food scene and famed Southern hospitality.
Formed in 2019, the JOSC Race Series hosts 3,000 runners annually in its nine events. With a 5K option in every race, new runners are encouraged to build up to the 10K, 15K, half marathon, duathlon or triathlon.
Freedom Fight, sanctioned by USA Boxing, takes place in collaboration with the All-Marine Boxing Alumni Association reunion weekend each August. The four-day East Coast Invitational Team Camp, in its 21st year, showcases regional basketball talent while serving as a training camp for ACC, Big 10 and NBA basketball officials.
“Our community is such a great place to host an event,” says JOSC Executive Director Scott Smith. “It’s easy to get around, and we have the best volunteers in the world. We’re excited to coordinate and successfully execute your next event.”
Located within a day’s drive of nearly half of the U.S. population, Knoxville is a perfect destination to experience a flair of Southern hospitality alongside superior service from the team at Visit Knoxville Sports Commission.
The city is well-versed in hosting elite events such as the Korn Ferry Tour Visit Knoxville Open, the USA Cycling Pro Time Trial, Criterium and Pro Road National Championships, the 2019 and 2023 Bassmaster Classic and two of the three North American qualifying events for the 2022 CrossFit Games.
In addition to its natural charm, the city offers unique venues including the Knoxville Convention Center with more than 500,000 square feet of meeting space. In addition, 50 miles of trails and greenways comprising the Urban Wilderness is minutes from the heart of downtown.
“The combination of incredible venues with our unique downtown atmosphere makes Knoxville a great destination for sports organizers and families alike,” says Parker Medley, sports sales director, Visit Knoxville Sports Commission. “The city truly sells itself.” SDM