In areas of the country marked by vast open spaces, sports tourism thrives in cities and suburbs, promoted in many cases by regional CVBs who are aware the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. From Texas and Oklahoma to the Southwest and Pacific Coast, there’s a great deal of activity.
Everything’s Bigger in Texas
Round Rock’s reputation as Sports Capital of Texas was earned on the strength of its outdoor venues, but the January 2014 opening of the $14.9 million, 82,800-square-foot Round Rock Sports Center changed all that. The facility has already hosted numerous events, including the Lone Star Warm Up Volleyball Tournament, the Elite 11 - TJ Ford Invitational Tournament, the Premier Basketball - Battle of the Puebla, the Austin Lady Magic Basketball Tournament, and Texas USA Wrestling’s Heart of Texas National Qualifier and Novice State. Just recently, Round Rock won the bid to host the 2016 National Collegiate Table Tennis Championship.
"Round Rock is proud to have hosted hundreds of indoor and outdoor sporting events during the past year alone, and we have continued to build on the Sports Capital of Texas brand with the opening of the Round Rock Sports Center,” says Nancy Yawn, director of the Round Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau. “This state-of-the-art complex opened up an entire new world of regional and national tournaments we can host, including basketball, volleyball, cheer, fencing, table tennis and more."
It’s something old, something new in Pearland, Texas, where the summer’s big event is in its 18th year: The 2015 Adidas Texas Volleyball Invitational, which as of June had signed up 88 teams. More than 1,700 high school athletes and their families travel to the event, which is held at various Pearland ISD campuses and is now among the largest volleyball tournaments in the country.
New to Pearland is the Hickory Slough Sportsplex, phase one of which includes six sports fields, three of which are fully lighted, a concessions stand, a large shade canopy and restrooms. It’s located within easy reach of area hotels and amenities, says Kim Sinistore, executive director of the Pearland Convention & Visitors Bureau.
“This complex is going to provide additional field space suitable for multiple sports such as soccer and lacrosse, and it’s going to open up the possibility of tournaments to come here, bringing more sports tourism and economic development into the area,” says Sinistore.
Midland brings in an astounding amount of sports tourism for a city its size (population 123,000), and its ability to host events is increasing each year. Two years ago, Midland opened the Bush Tennis Center (18 full-size courts, a stadium, eight quick-start courts and an education building, among other amenities), and earlier this year added the Pavilion portion of what is now called the Midland County Horseshoe Arena & Pavilion, a concert and convention venue that includes an adjoining Amphitheatre with floor and lawn seating for 4,500. The fall 2015 debut of the FMH Foundation Natatorium, an expansion of the existing COM Mabee Aquatics Center, is the capper, adding a 50-meter-by-25-yard, Olympic-size pool and a 25-yard-long multipurpose pool for rehabilitation and exercise.
“COM has hosted numerous local, state and national events, including the U.S. Swimming Junior National Championships, U.S. Diving National Championships and an Olympic Team Diving Exhibition,” says Stephanie Martin, sports sales manager for the Midland Convention & Visitors Bureau.
An American Softball Association Gold national territorial qualifier was one of the more prestigious events to come to Lawton Fort Sill, Oklahoma, this summer, and the Lawton Rangers rodeo, which annually brings 25,000 people to Lawton, was the biggest. But the activity with the greatest growth these days is archery, says Jacob Russell, tourism director for the Lawton Fort Sill Chamber of Commerce. "It’s getting huge," Russell says. "It's a big draw across the state. Elementary school kids and up are competing in archery, and there’s a huge statewide tournament in Tulsa that draws 500 to 600 kids."
Glendale, Arizona, and University of Phoenix Stadium got the 2015 Super Bowl and annually hosts the Fiesta Bowl, but it would be a mistake to think that the city and stadium face a down year. Both the city and venue spent the early summer in preparation for a 2015 Gold Cup doubleheader this July, the 2016 College Football Playoff Championship in January 2016 and the Monster Jam® and Monster Energy AMA Supercross in late January and early February. These first-time or semi-regular events (the stadium hosted a similar group-stage doubleheader during the 2009 Gold Cup) will bookend the 2015-16 season of the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals.
“We are thrilled to welcome this stellar lineup of new events to Glendale,” says Lorraine Pino, manager of the Glendale Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Glendale’s sports and entertainment district, which is home to the University of Phoenix Stadium, is the perfect location for action-packed sporting events. The stadium provides world-class features and is the ideal venue for a top-notch fan experience.”
The Gold Cup notwithstanding, Glendale isn’t the only soccer hub as Scottsdale is ready to host as well. Scottsdale Sports Complex, a 10-field soccer venue completed in 2006, has hosted training camps for the U.S. women’s national team and has had numerous leading players train and compete there in recent years, including Sydney Leroux and Julie Johnston of the U.S. and Arianna Romero of the Mexican women’s national team.
“In the run-up to the Women’s World Cup, the area was buzzing because of the local connection,” says Denise Clayton, recreation coordinator for Scottsdale. The area’s soccer connection was strengthened considerably this April when the Arizona United Soccer Club, the state’s only professional soccer team playing in USL PRO, left Peoria for Scottsdale Stadium, also the spring training home of the World Champion San Francisco Giants. The stadium also hosts MLB Arizona Fall League competition and numerous events, festivals, concerts and parties.
The Coast Is Clear
Wenatchee, Washington, also does a brisk business in sports, with events this year including the 131-team Triple Crown Baseball Season Opener, the 11th annual Wenatchee Marathon and, in October, the Northwest Pacific Regional U.S. Figure Skating Championships at the Town Toyota Center. Wenatchee just marked 25 years as host of the Special Olympics Washington Winter Games. “The event annually attracts well over 1,000 athletes, and this year the silver anniversary opening ceremonies were as inspiring as they were incredible,” says Matt Kearny, sports director for the Wenatchee Valley Chamber of Commerce.
All that activity has Wenatchee working to continually improve its facilities. A renovation of the valley’s largest outdoor venue, the Apple Bowl, is bringing a new Fieldturf surface, allowing a major increase in usage throughout the year, as well as new lights, refurbished seating and expanded and refurbished locker rooms. The baseball stadium next door, Recreation Park, is getting a new infield, clubhouse and indoor batting facility. “We’re excited not only about the increased ability to host a wide variety of events,” Kearny says, “but also about giving our local residents facilities and venues to enjoy as spectators or participants.”
Tri-Valley, California, east of Oakland, still makes its biggest mark in small events such as Ultimate team trials and table tennis, but it’s also looking to expand its horizons.
“ Visit Tri-Valley is out there aggressively going after sports business, trying to be a name in the marketplace,” says Todd Dibs, sports development manager for the Tri-Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau. Among these are a recent bid on USA Synchronized Swimming’s Junior Olympics and the 2015 Little League Intermediate World Series, which is being held in Livermore in August.
The region has seen the opening of a five-court basketball facility, National Basketball Courts (in Livermore), is adding two synthetic turf soccer pitches and is awaiting the 2017 opening of Emerald Glen Recreation and Aquatic Complex in 2017. Ground was broken on the $33 million boardwalk-style, indoor/outdoor waterpark and entertainment complex in March.
“Our occupancy and average daily rate have had double-digit increases, percentage-wise, the past two years, and our bid fee budget has tripled from last year,” Dibs says. “Our communities separately aren’t that big, but together they make a pretty big package.”