Soccer Poised to Kick It Up Nationwide | Sports Destination Management

Soccer Poised to Kick It Up Nationwide

Mar 01, 2024 | By: Peter Francesconi

Soccer is, of course, the most popular sport in the world, with an estimated 250 million players in 200 different countries. In the U.S., soccer has been biding its time for decades, but the sport should get a massive boost in coming years, as the U.S., Canada and Mexico gear up to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup.

The most recent research available from the Physical Activity Council puts U.S. participation for indoor soccer at 5.5 million players at the end of 2022 and 13 million players for the outdoor sport. The figures mean soccer is the only team sport that saw increases in both overall participation and core (or frequent) player participation over the last three years, since the pandemic.

Interest and participation in soccer should continue to grow. These venues from across the country can already attest to the boom.

Arlington, Texas

Arlington, TX | Photo courtesy of Arlington CVB
Arlington, TX | Photo courtesy of Arlington CVB

Arlington boasts several facilities that contribute to a thriving soccer community and host major events. The Harold Patterson Sports Center features 15 soccer fields measuring 110 x 70 yards, primarily supporting local programming and hosting youth travel soccer tournaments. Choctaw Stadium is home to Arlington’s USL2 professional team, North Texas SC, and offers a single turf stadium field. And there’s AT&T Stadium (home to the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys), which annually hosts multiple international professional soccer matches and tournaments, further solidifying its status as one of the most iconic facilities worldwide.

Arlington has hosted numerous major soccer events over the past few years, including MLS Next Cup, CONCACAF Gold Cup, CONCACAF Nations League Finals, Real Madrid v. Barcelona, Copa America, MexTour and many youth soccer events. North Texas and Arlington will host nine FIFA World Cup matches at AT&T Stadium for the 2026 FIFA World Cup, the most awarded to any one city for the 2026 competition. Additionally, Arlington will host the CONCACAF Nations League Finals and Copa America in coming months.

The Arlington CVB can help with hotel accommodations, discounts to attractions, marketing support, transportation coordination, site tours, finding volunteers and help coordinating event planning/logistics.

“Arlington continues to be the home for some of the biggest soccer events in the world,” says Andrew Lawrence, assistant director of the Arlington Sports Commission. “Arlington has everything you need to make your event a major success, no matter the level of competition.”

Aurora, Illinois

Aurora, IL | Photos courtesy of Aurora Area CVB
Aurora, IL | Photos courtesy of Aurora Area CVB

One of the Midwest’s premier athletic venues is the 300-acre Stuart Sports Complex in Aurora, which features 32 full-size soccer fields and parking for 1,300 cars. “It’s consistently busy throughout the season, April to November,” says Sports Sales Manager Brad Banks of the Aurora Area CVB. Stuart has hosted soccer events of all sizes, from 10 teams to massive, 350-team tournaments, many of which book return trips to Stuart. Upcoming this summer is the Parallex Chicago Soccer Cup, with 80 teams.

The Go For It Sports Dome in Yorkville is an indoor facility that can accommodate two large soccer fields. The Wheatland Athletic Association Sports Center also has two indoor soccer fields, offering new turf and sand infill for tournaments and event use, viewing areas and plenty of parking. Sports Zone Park in Aurora also offers an indoor dome for soccer.

The CVB can help connect tournament owners/organizers with the facilities in the area to find the best venue for their event. The CVB also can organize sports tours, provide marketing assistance, help find volunteers and more. Off the field, there are restaurants to suit all tastes, shopping at Chicago Premium Outlets, the Raging Waves Waterpark and a number of baseball training facilities to get in some practice swings.

“Soccer has grown tremendously in this area,” Banks says, “and we expect it to continue to grow.”

Big Spring, Texas

Big Spring, TX | Photos courtesy of Big Spring Convention Bureau
Big Spring, TX | Photos courtesy of Big Spring Convention Bureau

In West Texas, the Roy Anderson Park Sports Complex in Big Spring has a long history of hosting soccer events. The ADA-accessible facility offers concessions, restrooms, bleachers and more, with multiple fields that can be configured for various sizes.

“We play a lot of youth soccer at Roy Anderson,” says James Womble of the Big Spring CVB. “Soccer has been skyrocketing, including here in Big Spring, where our high school made the decision to add a soccer program.” Other parks in Big Spring also can be configured for soccer, including Comanche Trail Park.

For event owners and organizers, the Big Spring CVB can provide help with marketing and advertising, including working to get events listed on community and event calendars. The CVB also helps connect event owners with food vendors and other concessions and can help in finding referees and volunteers. It also works with the Park & Rec Department to help give event owners the best possible service.

Big Spring sits in a rocky gorge at the “crossroads of West Texas,” about 40 miles east of Midland and 95 miles south of Lubbock, where I-20 meets U.S. Highway 87. Off the field, the area offers plenty of attractions, including the Hangar 25 Air Museum, the Heritage Museum, Comanche Trail Park, the Russ McEwen Family Aquatic Facility and the historic, beautifully restored 1930s-era Hotel Settles.

Champaign-Urbana, Illinois

Champaign-Urbana, IL | Photos courtesy of Experience Champaign-Urbana
Champaign-Urbana, IL | Photos courtesy of Experience Champaign-Urbana

The Champaign-Urbana area has numerous options for soccer tournaments and events, starting with the award-winning Rantoul Family Sports Complex, which has eight multi-use turf fields (with LED lighting) that can be used for soccer with regulation 11v11 and 7v7 movable goals. Rantoul also offers concessions, an accessible playground and splashpad, with parking for hundreds of cars.

The Rantoul complex annually hosts numerous soccer tournaments, including Illinois Futbol Club events every spring and fall that each bring more than 100 teams from throughout the Midwest. The CVB also is actively working on solidifying an elite soccer tournament that would run for four days and feature teams from across the country.

Dodds Park in Champaign features 12 dedicated grass soccer fields, plus concessions. Demirjian Park is the new University of Illinois soccer stadium with two dedicated soccer fields and stadium seating. University of Illinois Campus Recreation also has four turf multi-purpose fields. The area also has an indoor soccer facility, Soccer Planet.

Experience Champaign-Urbana can assist with marketing, finding hotels, activating additional recreational spaces for visitors and acting as liaison between event owners and the venue director. “We’re eager to continue expanding the offering of soccer tournaments,” says Mark Brown, director of Sports, Events & Film for Experience Champaign-Urbana. “Soccer is growing in popularity in the area, and we can help secure a top location and amenities.

Enid, Oklahoma

Enid, OK | Photos courtesy of Visit Enid
Enid, OK | Photos courtesy of Visit Enid

The Advance Soccer Complex, which opened this past fall, has six natural grass fields and one championship turf field which also has a press box, electronic scoreboard and seating for about 1,400. The fields can be configured for all age groups. The complex also has a clubhouse with four locker rooms, conference rooms seating 60 people, an indoor futsal field, a concession stand, public restrooms and more.

“Our community recognizes how popular soccer has become and, with help from a public-private partnership, built the premier Advance Soccer Complex, which also has room for expansion in the future,” says Visit Enid Director Rob Houston.

Other area facilities include the Enid Soccer Complex, used mainly for Enid youth leagues, with 15 fields. There is also D. Bruce Selby Stadium, which is at Enid High School and offers a lighted turf field and seating for 8,760 spectators. Among the larger events that Enid has hosted is the NJCAA Region II Soccer championships, the No Man’s Land Cup (with 40 teams) and the Northern Frontier League (with 40 teams).

Visit Enid assists with marketing events at Advance Soccer Complex through its website and social media, and also provides an Attendee Discount Card, in partnership with local businesses and restaurants.

Irmo-Chapin, South Carolina

Irmo Chapin, SC | Photo courtesy of Irmo Chapin Recreation Commission
Irmo Chapin, SC | Photo courtesy of Irmo Chapin Recreation Commission

“Soccer plays a big role in our community,” says Ashley Smith, market development director for the Irmo Chapin Recreation Commission. “We have a long-standing partnership with South Carolina Amateur Soccer Association (SCASA) and are thrilled to host the Nike Palmetto Cup each year, in addition to the many other athletic events that choose Saluda Shoals Park because of the quality of our facilities.”

The Nike Palmetto Cup is South Carolina’s largest annual high school soccer tournament, bringing 24 teams and more than 500 athletes to the area. Saluda Shoals Park offers six full-size natural grass fields, including two championship fields, which can be configured for play for all ages. Berms around the championship fields provide natural seating for spectators.

“The park staff does an amazing job of maintaining the fields,” says Sofia Hernandez of SCASA. “We cannot thank them enough for work they do for us. SCASA feels privileged to be able to play on some of the best fields in the state.”

“Experience Columbia SC Sports is a proud supporter of our efforts,” notes Smith. “They help with discounts, hotels, marketing and transportation.”

The Columbia, South Carolina area offers many amenities for families. In addition to the soccer fields, Saluda Shoals Park is a 480-acre riverfront park that features Leo’s Landing inclusive playground, a splash pad, and kayak and tube rentals. In addition, there’s Riverbanks Zoo and Gardens, one of the nation’s premier natural habitat zoos, Lake Murray, EdVenture Children’s Museum, SC State Museum and more.

Panama City Beach, Florida

Panama City Beach, FL | Photo courtesy of Visit Panama City Beach
Panama City Beach, FL | Photo courtesy of Visit Panama City Beach

The Publix Sports Park in Panama City Beach, which opened in 2019, has 13 full-size soccer fields (nine turf, four natural grass) with seating at each field, scoreboards, LED lights and sound system. The city also has six grass fields at Frank Brown Park.

Among the larger events that have been hosted in PCB is the SNAP Soccer Trident Cup, which brings in about 145 teams; the US Youth Soccer Club Nationals, with 164 teams; and the PCB Classic, with 128 teams. The city also hosts the Arnold High USA Challenge, with the 16 top-ranked high school teams in the U.S. This year, PCB will add a RAD soccer tournament and a Kings Hammer Bay United spring event.

“Soccer is definitely growing in our area,” says Chris O’Brien, the director of sports tourism for Visit Panama City Beach. “Our local parks & rec and club programs have produced a lot of outstanding players and we have had several Florida High School champions that practice and play at our park. We’re looking forward to some additional national events in the future.”

Off the field, PCB is built on fun and tourism, so there is a lot to do, including 27 miles of white-sand beach. The Pier Park shopping district is popular, and attractions include the Skywheel and Dave & Busters. The Grand Lagoon offers fishing trips and charters, and there are two beautiful State Parks on either end of PCB, St. Andrews and Camp Helen.

Peachtree City, Georgia

Peachtree City, GA | Photo courtesy of Peachtree City CVB
Peachtree City, GA | Photo courtesy of Peachtree City CVB

The MOBA Soccer Academy in Peachtree City offers two high-quality, FIFA-sized artificial turf fields and an indoor facility with locker rooms, conference rooms, a weightlifting room, a player’s lounge and a state-of-the-art press box. The main stadium seats up to 1,000 spectators, and MOBA can host multiple games simultaneously.

Busy year-round, MOBA Soccer Academy also hosts a major Summer Camp that draws boys’ and girls’ teams from across the Southeastern U.S. The facility also hosts college ID camps. The Peachtree City Convention & Visitors Bureau, which works hand-in-hand with MOBA, assists team planners with room blocks, area restaurant discounts, marketing, swag for winning teams and more.

“Soccer is big business in Peachtree City and about to be even bigger!” says Sarah Tarnowski of Peachtree City CVB. “U.S. Soccer just announced that they will be building their new headquarters and training facility in our county, just minutes from PTC. We aim to deliver the best experience from the first inquiry to the last whistle of each game.”  SDM

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