Soccer remains one of the most popular sports at multiple levels, including high school, where both boys’ and girls’ participation continues to trend upward. (In fact, according to the National Federation of State High School Association, it’s in the top five spot for both genders).
In the grander scheme, as the U.S. prepares for the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo and has been chosen to co-host the men’s 2026 World Cup along with Mexico and Canada, the push is on to boost the sport’s relevancy and future here at home. This is creating major opportunities for destinations looking to host soccer competitions for players of all ages and ability levels.
Conveniently located less than an hour’s drive from Chicago, the state’s second-largest city has become a soccer hotbed. Aurora is home to the Stuart Sports Complex, the largest outdoor sports venue in the Midwest and the fourth largest in the country. This premier facility, which excels in hosting local, regional and national tournaments, covers 317 acres and boasts 32 full-size, natural turf soccer fields. Among the many amenities are two concession locations, two modern restroom facilities as well as portable restrooms throughout the complex, plus 1,300 parking spots.
“In 2015, the Stuart Sports Complex doubled in size, becoming the facility that exists today,” says Pete Garlock, Director of Sales, Aurora Area CVB. “This year, Stuart Sports Complex will host more than 10 large soccer events and many more large-field tournaments. The complex can also handle lacrosse, rugby, flag football and Wiffle Ball events.”
More than 4,000 athletic contests are held at Stuart annually, collectively attracting more than 75,000 participants and 100,000-plus spectators. Key soccer events are the Kicker’s Puma Showcase and Evolution Chicago Cup (each with more than 150 teams); PepsiCo Showdown Soccer Series (100 games and more than 1,500 players); Alienza de Futbol (120 teams); and Galaxy Soccer-Great Lakes Soccer Challenge (235 teams). With a typical soccer tournament stretching over a weekend and consisting of 60 teams and 2,500 to 3,000 spectators, the estimated economic impact is approximately $250,000, notes Garlock. “Tournament directors are starting to find out about the size and scope of Stuart, and the convenience and accessibility of Aurora. There’s a lot happening here!”
Bullhead City, Arizona
Situated on Arizona’s west coast along the banks of the Colorado River, Bullhead City is centrally located between Las Vegas, Phoenix and Los Angeles and has become a magnet for soccer events. The city provides more than 50 acres of dedicated, lighted soccer fields, many of which can be found in the 300-acre Rotary Park Sports Complex. For indoor soccer aficionados, there is the 40,000-square-foot Anderson Auto Group Fieldhouse, an indoor stadium that can accommodate a variety of sports.
“Right now, we primarily host youth tournaments U8 to U19,” says Jeff Tipton, Bullhead City’s Human Services Director. In fact, Bullhead City works closely with its local AYSO Soccer Organization to host two large youth tournaments each spring: River Daze and Colorado River Invitational Tournament (CRIT). The events attract teams from Nevada, Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona and Utah. “Each tournament draws 120 to 150 teams and about 4,500 players and spectators. CRIT has an estimated financial impact of $3 million,” he adds. The AYSO Area Finals are hosted in Bullhead City each year, and every four years, the city welcomes the Western Regional Finals.
“We like youth tournaments and are also looking to add more adult events. We’re located next to Laughlin, Nevada, where there are lots of hotel rooms and casinos that have great appeal for adult players,” Tipton concludes.
Decatur Morgan County, Alabama
This destination provides winning facilities, experienced personnel and top-notch service, all of which have helped draw a variety of prestigious soccer events. Decatur’s premier sports venue is the Jack Allen Recreation Complex that features 10 international size turf fields and offers seating for up to 3,000 spectators. A new locker room facility was added in 2016 that provides four dressing rooms, storage space and an additional meeting area.
The JARC has hosted numerous soccer events such as adult and youth international games, Alabama State Cup Championships and Presidents Cup Region 3 Soccer Tournament (eight states), as well as the NAIA Women’s Soccer Championships. Open Cup Soccer has also hosted tournaments with 240 teams from eight countries. A number of college soccer teams also play at the facility, as do the local Decatur Soccer Association and local club team River City United.
“The Jack Allen Recreation Complex is a world-class soccer complex. The park includes 30 acres of laser-graded and fully lighted fields with certified sports turf. If you’re looking for a place for your tournament, we can help,” says Danielle Gibson, President/CEO, Decatur Morgan County Tourism.
Goldsboro Wayne County, North Carolina
Goldsboro is home to the Bryan Multi-Sports Complex, one of the most unique, premier multi-sports venues in the country. It’s the product of the first joint P4 partnership between a military base (Seymour Johnson Air Force Base) and its home community (the City of Goldsboro).
The complex opened in 2018, sits on 63 acres of the Seymour Johnson AFB, and provides eight fields: six irrigated Bermuda hybrid on irrigated soil, and two artificial turf fields installed on engineered soil. Also on offer are walking trails, a field house with concession facilities and meeting space, restrooms, more than 400 paved parking spaces, and an F-4E Phantom jet on static display welcoming visitors to the site. This spring, a custom splash pad, a playground and sheltered picnic areas will be added to the mix.
In the venue’s first operating year—April 2018 to April 2019—there were 153 event days with soccer accounting for about 50 percent. “The NC Youth Soccer Association hosts state cups here, and National Youth Soccer League hosts Girls’ and Boys’ College Showcases bringing in teams from across the U.S.,” says Ashlin Glatthar, Director of Travel & Tourism for Goldsboro-Wayne County. “We’re also the home venue for the semi-pro soccer team Strike Eagles, part of the United Premier Soccer League.” Local youth clubs and leagues also use the complex for practice, games and clinics.
“Soccer [provides] a strong cultural bond that brings people of all backgrounds and ages together,” Glatthar remarks. “We love that the venue has proven to do just that, where athletes can compete and practice under the contrails of our nation’s heroes.”
Nebraska’s state capital has proven to be a standout destination for a wide array of soccer events. “New sporting facilities highlighted by Barbara Hibner Soccer Stadium, Speedway Sporting Village and the Lincoln Sports Foundation, along with a rejuvenated entertainment district, make Lincoln the perfect location for your next soccer event,” notes Derek Bombeck, Sales Development Manager, Lincoln CVB.
The Barbara Hibner Soccer Stadium features a grass field, technologically advanced video and scoreboard, a press box with a dedicated area for TV and video cameras, grandstand and berm seating plus standing room areas, an outdoor elevated viewing deck, locker rooms, sports medicine areas and meeting rooms. Speedway Sports Complex provides nine outdoor sports fields, a 100,000-square-foot indoor turf field, an 80,000-square-foot indoor basketball/ volleyball facility, a training gym, and a trampoline park. The 100-acre Lincoln Sports Foundation has 15 professionally maintained grass fields (three with lights), plus concessions and restrooms. LSF’s indoor facility has one indoor turf field, 11 volleyball courts and four basketball courts.
“We host the University of Nebraska women’s soccer team at Hibner Soccer Stadium, and at the other two facilities [we primarily host] club and rec soccer tournaments. We are also home to the American Outlaws, the premier US Soccer support group,” says Bombeck. “Lincoln has a tremendous passion and tradition of hosting major national competitions all the way down to local youth sports. Our commitment and small-town feel are what make Lincoln an attractive destination, and we are always looking to add events to the calendar.”
Known for its premier facilities, 265 days of sunshine, affordable accommodations and first-class hospitality, Lubbock is an ideal host for soccer events. The locale’s main soccer venues are the Berl Huffman Athletic Complex, John Walker Soccer Complex and Lubbock Christian University’s Soccer Field.
“Currently, the Berl Huffman Athletic Complex is under renovation to the tune of $7 million with updates to its fields, parking, lighting and more,” says Katherine White, Media Relations & Communications Manager, Lubbock Economic Development Alliance & Visit Lubbock. “This facility will offer players synthetic turf, the ability to play up to eight games simultaneously, expanded restroom facilities, easy access via a new entrance and exit road, covered bleachers and pavilions and LED lighting.”
The renovations will be complete by this spring, and Lubbock plans to expand its soccer schedule with events of all kinds. “We are thrilled with the upgrades and this investment will offer tournaments a first-class facility rivaling anything in the state,” exclaims White.
Lubbock’s noteworthy soccer events include local school district tournaments, 3v3 Soccer, Texas Tech UIL tournaments, the West Texas Soccer Invitational and collegiate regional tournaments. White also points out that the 2020 LISD Teinert Construction Kick-off Classic tournament saw 2,363 attendees and generated $312,900 in economic impact, and the 2019 Frenship Cup Soccer Tournament had 729 attendees and resulted in $164,272 in economic impact.
Panama City Beach, Florida
Youth soccer tournaments, travel club teams from the across the Southeast, U.S. Youth Nationals, plus high school and middle school matches have helped turn this destination into a soccer Mecca. “We have a dozen soccer events already on the calendar for 2020,” says Chris O’Brien, Director of Sports Marketing & Special Events, Visit Panama City Beach. “We hosted 144 teams and 6,000 visitors from 30 states in the US Youth Soccer Boys Showcase this past December, resulting in 5,500 room nights and DMAI economic impact of $7.3 million direct spending. We also serve as a championship location for some local clubs and middle school and high school games.”
The premier venue for soccer action is the new 150-acre Panama City Beach Sports Complex, a $39 million facility that was under construction for 15 months and had its grand opening in October 2019. It offers 13 Qualite LED-lighted tournament-quality fields with scoreboards (nine Astroturf with Z-Cap cooling technology, and four natural grass), and includes a 1,000-seat championship field. Among the amenities are a scorers/press box, an umpire/referee locker room and lounge, an onsite trainer, a warm-up area, on-site
Wi-Fi, four concession outlets, restrooms and 1,000 parking spaces.
“Outside of July, all months are open for events,” says O’Brien. “The complex is bringing new business in winter and spring to the area. We’re looking to attract all levels of youth and amateur boys’ and girls’ events including potential Division II, Division III and NAIA games.”
Over the past year, this destination has welcomed nearly 200 soccer teams and more than 5,000 spectators, with tournaments drawing players primarily from the Mid-Atlantic region. Teams from as far north as New York and as far south as the Carolinas have also participated in the area’s soccer competitions.
“We are always open to the growth of additional soccer events at any time during the year, and with the ability to host both indoor and outdoor competitions, the options are endless,” says Cole Lacey, Sports Marketing Representative, Wicomico County Recreation Parks, Tourism & Civic Center.
The chief soccer venues are the Crown Sports Center, Mid Atlantic Youth Sportsplex (MAYS), Fruitland Falcons Sports Complex and Salisbury University. Crown Sports Center offers 10.5 acres of Bermuda grass outdoor fields and five indoor turf fields, along with concessions on location. MAYS provides five full-size Bermuda grass outdoor fields. Fruitland Falcons Athletic Complex has eight outdoor fields plus concession areas. And Salisbury University features one turf stadium field, an additional turf field and two grass fields, plus concessions and locker rooms.
Lacey notes that featured soccer events include the Maryland State Youth Soccer Association State Cup, EDP Soccer Delmarva Cup, NCAA Division III soccer games and youth programs. SDM
Redding Knows Soccer!
The 22-acre California Soccer Park is a family-oriented and safe atmosphere for play, located at the top of the Sacramento Valley. The all-weather soccer complex features four lighted, synthetic turf fields that provide year-round play (rain or shine). The park was designed to offer an exceptional sporting experience for players and spectators alike. The exceptional experience begins immediately. Upon entering the park, guests will find paved walkways, elevated seating around the fields, four NCAA sized lighted fields, a full-service snack bar, air-conditioned bathrooms and over 2,000 square feet of covered seating, equipped with ceiling fans and misters. From the comfort of the seating area, spectators can view games on all of the fields. Bringing younger members of the family? The Soccer Park has a large play structure complete with climbing walls, slides, ladders and play decks that is located adjacent to the snack bar seating area. Learn more at www.californiasoccerpark.com.