Soccer Going Full Speed Ahead in the U.S.
31 Oct, 2010By: Juli Anne Patty
This year, soccer made a huge goal. The sport that captured the imaginations and passions of America's youth three decades ago, becoming the country's most popular recreational sport, is finally catching up in the hearts and minds of America's sports fans. This summer, for the first time ever, Major League Soccer surpassed both the NBA and NHL in per-game attendance, with an average 18,452 fans showing to cheer on the 2010 season. It seems that soccer, in every sense of the word, has arrived, and America's communities are ready to play. With world-class facilities in cities across America, soccer is definitely here to stay.
The Rise of Soccer's Star
US Youth Soccer, the largest member of the United States Soccer Federation, the governing body for soccer in the United States, counts 600,000 volunteers and administrators, over 300,000 dedicated coaches, and more than 3,000,000 players between the ages of five and 18 among its ranks. With 55 member state associations, US Youth Soccer proves that the sport is no longer a regional phenomenon.
America's communities offer their own evidence of the sport's dominance by investing in facilities to accommodate the ever-growing demand for field time. Both indoor and outdoor facilities abound across the States, making it possible to play the sport all year long. And that's a good thing because if there's one thing America's youth-and a growing number of America's grown-ups, too-can't get enough of, it's soccer.
American football is still the biggest game in town in Lincoln, Neb., famous for its multiple-national-championship University of Nebraska Cornhuskers, but the city is a soccer stronghold as well. And one of the central spots for Lincoln soccer is the Ethel S. Abbot Sports Complex, a sport facility that easily lives up to Lincoln's reputation for sports dominance.
"I've played soccer all my life, and these are just some of the best fields I've ever played on," says Ken Dobbs, sales development manager, Lincoln Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Abbot Sports Complex offers twenty natural grass fields with bleacher seating for60-100; 12 of the fields are international size (four lighted) and eight are youth and micro soccer size. Home of the Nebraska Soccer Academy, which provides competitive and developmental programs for all ages, levels and abilities, Abbot Sports Complex offers athletes of any age to chance to feel like a pro with its impressive championship field, which has a 2,500 seating capacity.
Lincoln's other soccer facility star is Spirit Park, owned and operated by the Lincoln YMCA, which also started the Capital Soccer Association, Lincoln's premier soccer club, offering competitive select, club and recreational programs for children ages four to 19. Spirit Park offers four outdoor, natural turf fields and hosts a variety of YMCA and Capital Soccer tournaments throughout the year.
It's clear that Lincoln has great facilities, but that's not the only reason sports teams flock to the Cornhusker State.
"There are quite a few reasons people bring their events to Lincoln," says Dobbs. "We hang out hat on our central location; it's easy for people to drive in, and we're not as expensive as the coastal cities. Travel expenses in and to Lincoln are very low compared to other cities in the Midwest, from gas to restaurants and retail."
The future of sports in Elizabethtown, Ky., is bright indeed. The town has invested in a new 158-acre state-of-the-art sports complex, the Elizabethtown Sports Park.
"We broke ground in June," says Janna Clark, sports and sales director, Elizabethtown Convention and Visitors Bureau. "We're estimating a grand opening in summer 2012. Right now, the park is a massive site with lots of earthwork going on. Building and establishing turf takes significant time, and we want to be sure that it's tournament-ready when we open. The synthetic field may be ready in spring 2012, and in the meantime, we have a Facebook page, and we're keeping people up to speed with site visits."
Park highlights include 12 baseball/softball fields, nine full-size soccer/multi-purpose fields, and two full-sized football/soccer championship fields, including one synthetic surface field. The facility will serve local sports leagues, as well as play host to regional and national sporting events. The park will also feature large pavilions, a three-mile multi-modal path around the perimeter of the park, play and picnic areas, and state-of-the-art facilities for officials and tournament directors.
Sports field designing firm Dalhoff, Thomas and Dawes (DTD) is serving as a member of the park's design team. Memphis-based DTD designed the award-winning Snowden Grove Park in Southhaven, Miss., which has become the standard for amateur baseball complexes in the country, and FNC Park in Oxford, Miss., which hosts numerous regional and national soccer events.
Cost estimate for the construction of the park is $24-$28 million, with funding provided by a2 percent local tourism tax, a restaurant tax established in 2008 to fund projects that support enhancing tourism to Elizabethtown.
Butler County, Ohio
If you're looking for a sports destination that combines excellent facilities with a variety of fun family attractions and affordability, Butler County in southwest Ohio might be the ideal location.
Butler County is home to a wide selection of soccer facilities, including Joyce Park in Hamilton, which can accommodate a variety of different size soccer fields; Smith Park in Middletown, which features soccer fields as well as playgrounds, picnic tables, grills, baseball diamonds, picnic shelters, a multi-use trail, a fishing pond with floating dock, and a skate park; and the recently renovated Fairfield Optimist Park, which recently hosted the 3v3 Live Summer Nationals, a tournament that drew 260 teams from several states.
"Soccer is one of our big sports," explains Stephanie Gigliotti, sales manager, sports and events, Butler County Visitors Bureau. "One of our biggest events is the Mid American Soccer Classic, which hosts a boys' weekend and a girls' weekend each year. We've been working with that tournament for the last three years, and it has averaged about 200 teams per weekend, even in the recent economic downturn."
With a variety of cultural and recreational events,including the nation's only wakeboarding park as well as more than 2,000 hotel rooms, Butler County is also well-positioned for sports event success. Located only 20 miles north of Cincinnati, Butler County is easily accessible from I-75, I-71, and I-275, and is only a day's drive from 65 percent of the U.S. population.
Soccer is big in Peoria. Literally. The city's FC Peoria at the Green Hummer Soccer Complex boasts 24 fields, including two indoor fields and 22 outdoor fields. One of the largest privately owned soccer facilities in the Midwest, FC Peoria at the Green Hummer Soccer Complex is a soccer-exclusive facility located on over 68 acres. With ample space, along with expertise and experience, FC Peoria at the Green Hummer Soccer Complex is a facility able to take on soccer tournaments of any size with ease.
But Green Hummer Park isn't the only game in Peoria. East Peoria Youth Soccer, coordinated by the Fon du Lac Park District,offers an in-house soccer league for boys and girls ages four through eighth grade. The soccer program is conducted in both the fall and spring. League games are played outside at East Side Centre, one of the Midwest's premier athletic facilities, hosting tournaments on the national, regional and local levels in softball, baseball, volleyball, soccer and track.
In the colder months, the league also makes use of Peoria's indoor soccer facilities at the Morton Recreation Center in Morton and Armstrong School in East Peoria. Peoria has a third indoor soccer facility at the Avanti's Dome, an airtight dome with a turf field, which has been recently completely remodeled.
"We host a lot of soccer tournaments, but a couple of the largest ones are hosted by the FC Peoria at the Green Hummer Complex," says Chevie Ruder, sports sales manager, Peoria Convention and Visitors Bureau. "The Mid-America Cup College Showcase, in its 17th year in 2010, happens each April and the Mid-America Shootout, each October, is celebrating its 14th year. The events bring 85 to 100 teams each and are incredible soccer events for us each year."
Peoria prides itself on offering big city amenities, along with first-class facilities for just about any sport you can imagine, but a unique experience for every athlete as well.
"In Peoria, athletes get to feel like they're the big kids in town, no matter what their age," says Ruder. "Here, they're big players in state-of-the-art facilities, and all of that with a beautiful skyline that people are always surprised to see when they come down I-74. You might not realize it, but Peoria's really not a cornfield!"
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
"Oklahoma City has a unique arrangement," says Holly Shelton, manager of sports business development, Oklahoma City Convention and Visitors Bureau. "We have a public-private relationship with facilities; the city owns the land, while the private clubs do all of the operation and maintenance."
It's an effective arrangement, too, judging by the city's two major complexes. North OKC Soccer Club operates an 18-field facility that hosts a number of major tournaments, including the Red Earth Invitational, a regional event that drew 160 teams from seven states in 2010.
Oklahoma City's South Lake Soccer Facility features 15-18 fields, depending on field size needed size and configuration. The facility welcomed the US Youth Soccer Southern Regional Championship in 2007, playing host to 3,500 players and more than 8,000 attendees total.
And in Oklahoma City, facilities are just the beginning. With more than 14,000 soccer players in the Oklahoma City metro area, according to the Frontier Country Soccer Association, the soccer savvy people of Oklahoma City are sure to welcome soccer events like pros.
Raleigh, North Carolina
Regional and national soccer events are par for the course in Raleigh, N.C., where the soccer facilities are first-rate, and so is the sports event expertise.
Raleigh is home of the WRAL soccer center, a 25-field facility that has hosted a number of preeminent soccer events, including the 2009 US Youth Soccer President's Cup and the 2008 US Youth Southern Regional Championships, a week long event that brought 184 teams to the city from 11 states, creating an economic impact of abut 12,000 room nights.
Raleigh's other major soccer facility is Wake Med Soccer Park, a 150-acre multi-use complex. The park hosts professional soccer matches, college and high school tournaments and features a lighted stadium field, two lighted practice fields & five additional fields.
"We're fortunate to have great partners in Raleigh, including the Capital Area Soccer League (CASL), one of the nation's largest private youth soccer leagues, which owns and operates the WRAL Soccer Center, and the town of Cary, which owns and operates Wake Med Soccer Center," says Jason Philbeck, sports marketing manager, Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau.
CASL hosts one of the area's most monumental soccer events, the CASL VisitRaleigh.com National Soccer Series.
"The Series is in November and December and includes two showcase events and two shootouts," says Philbeck. "It's four weekends of youth soccer on a national scale, bringing in 1,100 teams and generating 30,000 total room nights and an impact of approximately $7 to 8 million total. It really shows how our area is the youth soccer capital of the U.S."
The Saga of American Soccer
America has had a long, steady romance with soccer, and even today sports experts debate whether or not the sport has finally hit the big time among athletic fans. But it's time to drop the debate. Take one look at the abundance of exceptional facilities all across the country, and soccer's dominance becomes very clear. Soccer has earned its place in America's heart, and now there's only one thing left to do: play.