8 May, 2014By: Peter Francesconi
Soccer Continues its Run as One of the Most Popular Sports for Youngsters and Adults
There is no doubt soccer is growing, or that it has a strong and wide audience. But even moving beyond its explosive popularity – from youth sport to Olympic sport and everything in between, there’s plenty of proof. Look no further than pop culture. The term, “soccer mom,” has become pervasive in the U.S. There is even data to indicate the FIFA video game was the second most popular video game in the country, behind only “Madden.”
Of course, many people in the U.S. today probably will point to the mid-1990s as the time they first became aware of soccer. It was, after all, in 1994 that the U.S. hosted the FIFA World Cup competition, and fans flocked to stadiums around the country to watch the international matches. All in all, more than 3.5 million spectators were present, which broke the World Cup attendance record up to that time by a staggering margin of one million people.
It was at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics that the U.S. women’s national team captured the fascination of the country when it won the gold medal in a thrilling 2-1 victory over China. Also that year, Major League Soccer (MLS) began play in the U.S., further boosting the sport’s visibility. The soccer boom among Americans, particularly among youth players, was well on its way.
The trend shows no sign of slowing, either. About 13 million Americans of all ages play the sport, making soccer the third-most played team sport in the U.S., behind basketball and baseball/softball, according to data from the SFIA and the U.S. Census Bureau.
Soccer is governed and organized in the United States on several levels. There are three main youth soccer organizations in the U.S., all of which work through local groups in every corner of the country. The U.S. Youth Soccer Association has more than three million players between ages five and 19, the American Youth Soccer Organization has over 600,000 players from ages four to 19, and the United Soccer Leagues (USL) have nearly 1,000 teams and tens of thousands of players ages 13 to 20.
Combined with school soccer tournaments and events, all this means there are plenty of soccer events in this country looking for a home. Fortunately, a number of cities stand ready with some outstanding facilities.
Butler County, Ohio
In Butler County, just north of Cincinnati, there are three main soccer complexes: Joyce Park in Hamilton, Smith Park in Middletown, and the new Voice of America Sports Complex in West Chester.
The Voice of America complex offers 22 fields, including nine central full-size fields, which can be rearranged as needed. Both Joyce Park and Smith Park offer space for about 18 to 20 fields, depending on the layout needed. All the fields are grass, and all three venues are easy to get to and close to hotels, restaurants and other amenities, says Jason Williams of the Butler County CVB.
One of the soccer events coming back to Butler County is the 3v3 Live East Regionals, which draws about 300 teams. The area also has hosted the huge Mid-America Soccer Classic, and at the end of February, Butler County was the host of boys’ and girls’ collegiate soccer showcases.
“Butler County is a hotbed for soccer,” Williams adds. “We have many soccer clubs in the area, and we lean heavily on them. When we bring in soccer events, these clubs support us, and we can easily find volunteers to help out.”
Clinton County, Ohio
Clinton County sits in the “golden triangle” of southwest Ohio, in the middle of Cincinnati, Columbus and Dayton, providing convenient access and affordable options. For soccer, “The most important venue is at Wilmington College, which has four regulation soccer fields,” says Debbie Stamper of the Clinton County CVB.
At the Wilmington College Athletics Center, all the fields are lighted, and one of them is artificial grass, another features lush grass, and two have natural grass.
Among all the different schools and venues in the county, there are 18 soccer fields, five with lights and five with public address systems. Clinton County has hosted a number of collegiate soccer tournaments, but, Stamper adds, “We’re definitely seeing more soccer events and more demand for it as the sport continues to grow. Soccer is definitely something we’d like to see more of in our area.”
The CVB, which assists coaches and event organizers in planning tournaments, maintains strong and active partnerships with local facility locations to help to ensure successful events and uncomplicated logistics. Plus, the CVB can help from start to finish—scheduling site visits, planning travel routes, securing lodging and providing welcome packets for attendees.
The population of Dalton, Georgia, (about 33,000) may be small, but the community is big on sports. Dalton is northwest of Atlanta, not far from Chattanooga, Tennessee, and has several things going for it, says Brett Huske, the director of tourism for the Dalton Area CVB, including the 3 Cs: cost, convenience and community.
“Our pricing is extremely affordable,” he says. “Hotel rooms and restaurants are very cost-effective for visitors. Plus, we’re right on the I-75 corridor, which is a great link to anywhere in the Southeast. And our community is extremely supportive; people here really rally around events, which is one of the most exciting things I’ve experienced.”
Dalton offers at least five venues suitable for hosting soccer events, and all are within a mile or two of each other. James Brown Park offers four soccer fields, an outdoor soccer cage, an enclosed artificial turf playing surface, and two artificial turf fields at the Ronald R. Nix Complex. In addition, there are concessions, program and meeting rooms, restrooms, and more. The Broddus/Durken Soccer Complex has two artificial turf fields along with concessions and restrooms. Lakeshore Park and Tennis Complex has one artificial turf soccer field, picnic shelters, restrooms and more, while JoAnn Lewis Park has one field and the Mack Gaston Community Center also offers space for soccer.
Huske continues to grow the field sports part of the business. One key asset is Dalton State College, which “came back online in 2013 with sports and soccer,” he says. “We plan on working more closely with Dalton State and the Park and Rec when it comes to field sports.”
Soccer is huge in Lincoln—from the 20 fields available at the Abbott Sports Complex, to the multiple fields at two YMCA parks, to the four fields at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, to other fields at parks and schools in the area.
“We have a large soccer infrastructure here,” says Derek Bombeck, sales development manager at the Lincoln CVB, “so we can easily support events coming to Lincoln with fans, volunteers, even tourney officials and administrators, if needed.”
The centerpiece is the huge Abbott Sports Complex. The 20 fields include eight of championship size, and there’s also a lighted Championship Field that can fit 2,500 spectators, but seating can be expanded to accommodate about 4,000 fans. All the fields are of natural grass, and the facility not only offers concessions and permanent restrooms, but each field has two sets of bleachers and team benches. Abbott also has an indoor turf field, with seating for about 250 spectators.
Wright Park offers nine grass soccer fields (one with turf goal boxes, along with permanent concession stands and restroom facilities, and bleacher seating, while Spirit Park has four grass fields with turf goal boxes and permanent concessions and restrooms. The University of Nebraska–Lincoln has three outdoor natural grass fields (one with lights) and an indoor turf field, too, along with permanent seating for 3,500, concessions and restrooms.
Morgan Hill, California
About 25 minutes from downtown San Jose is the 38-acre Morgan Hill Outdoor Sports Center, which has 11 full-size grass fields and one half-field… “but we can configure it into anything we need,” says Jeff Dixon, president of the Morgan Hill Youth Sports Alliance, which manages the facility. There are also two lighted turf fields.
“We’re a one-stop, full-service entity,” Dixon says. “We do much more than just rent fields; we provide all the infrastructure needed for a successful tournament—from hotel reservations, connections in the community, entertainment, tournament directors if needed, even golf carts to get around the complex.” The venue offers food service, custom photography, space for vendors, a pro shop and more.
In June, the facility will host the Region 4 Presidents Cup for U.S. Youth Soccer, which will bring in 120 teams. “We’ve accommodated as many as 250 teams in the past, depending on the field configuration,” Dixon says, adding that hundreds of youngsters who played soccer on the fields at Morgan Hill as kids in the past 20 years have gone on to become professionals in soccer.
Morgantown, West Virginia
Voted one of the “Best Sporting Cities” by The Sporting News, Greater Morgantown is a vibrant university city that offers great culture, outdoor activities and scenic beauty—and it’s considered one of the safest destinations for youth sporting events.
“We’re still continuing to grow as a soccer city,” says Cindy Coffindaffer, the director of marketing for the Greater Morgantown CVB. “But it’s all very positive for the future for us. We have a lot of soccer clubs and youth soccer organizations in the area, and those parents have been extremely helpful and resourceful, so there is a large volunteer pool there.”
The main venue for soccer in Morgantown is the Laurel Point Soccer Complex, which as four fields (60 x 100 feet), one 12-and-under field (50 x 80 feet) and two 8-and-under fields (25 x 50 feet). Nearby is Mylan Park, which has a lighted turf field. Cheat Lake Middle School also offers a number of fields of various sizes, and the two high schools have multi-purpose turf fields, along with lights, scoreboards and seating for up to 4,000.
“Because we’re a university town, we have a lot of amenities in the area that make Morgantown appealing to families when they travel,” Coffindaffer says. “But take away that university aspect, and we’re still a small, family-friendly community. I like to say it’s the best of two worlds—the appeal of a major university, but also with that small-town feel.”
“We’re really excited in Sarasota about three large, unique facilities that can house a variety of field sports—IMG Academies, Premier Sports Campus, and the Sarasota Polo Grounds,” says Nicole Rissler, the director of sports for the Sarasota County Sports Commission.
“Each of them has their own unique attributes,” she continues. “IMG Academies has a new stadium, Premier Sports offers 22 fields, and the Polo Grounds has so much flexibility, it puts us at a great advantage when it comes to hosting soccer events and other field sports.”
The complex at IMG Academies has 16 multi-purpose fields and has hosted the USL Super-Y and Super-20 North American Soccer Finals, among other events. Premier Sports Campus, with its 22 grass fields (eight are lighted) is home to a U.S. Soccer Winter Showcase and the Nike International Friendlies Soccer Tournament, and also hosts a major Labor Day soccer tournament that brings in about 200 teams. The 130-acre Sarasota Polo Grounds has massive field space, and hosts a Puma Cup Soccer Tournament, among other events.
“There aren’t many destinations that can put 50-plus soccer fields into play, all within a 25-mile radius,” says Rissler. “That’s a big advantage for us.”