What makes a sensational soccer facility? Ask the experts. One of several soccer sanctioning organizations, the United States Specialty Sports Association (USSSA) sanctions more than 100 events each year all across the U.S.
Craig Scriven, vice president, soccer, USSSA, explains what makes a soccer venue stand out. "When looking to bring a tournament event to a facility, the first item we look for is quality of fields. This is essential to our tournament directors because it helps them recruit teams that are looking for a good experience. Service is another key factor; we want to have on-site help with the facility from concessions, field maintenance, opening and closing of the complex and a daily clean-up."
Scriven's standards are an excellent starting point for facility selection. Here's a look at some of the fine facilities across America that more than measure up.
When the World Cup made its American debut in 1994, Kissimmee, Florida built a state-of-the-art soccer facility, Austin Tindall Regional Park, as practice headquarters for the Moroccan soccer team. Austin-Tindall Regional Park is a 115-acre facility with five regulation and three youth soccer fields and ample room to grow, a possibility that facility manager Kevin Ostrowski considers likely.
"Diversity is one of the greatest assets of this facility. We host not only soccer, but also flag football, rugby, lacrosse and even archery, so we keep these fields very busy," says Ostrowski. But maintaining the highest quality field possible is Ostrowski's ultimate concern, a dedication seen most when the park is empty.
Ostrowski and his staff plan rest and recovery time into the schedule so that they can fertilize, re-sod and generally baby Austin-Tindall's turf, a pristine field of Tifway 419 Bermuda, the same grass found on the field at Osceola County Stadium, spring training home of the Houston Astros.
Austin-Tindall hosts five soccer events each year in partnership with Disney's Wide World of Sports, also in Osceola County. The events draw over 2,000 teams and generate a $17 million in economic impact.
Soccer Six Florida's adult tournaments are another big Austin-Tindall event, with the Blizzard Blast each January and the Solar Shootout in May generating approximately a quarter million dollars each.
South Sioux City, Nebraska
South Sioux City sits in the crook of the Missouri River, a natural feature that the city has used to its utmost advantage, particularly in the planning of its parks. One of the most picturesque soccer facilities in the country, the Jeff C. Dible Soccer Complex offers 15 regulation soccer fields, all with majestic views of the Missouri River.
"It really is an amazing soccer complex," says Brent Clark, director, South Sioux City Convention and Visitors Bureau. "We have 78 gorgeous acres of soccer fields, 130 acres total in the park, all with breathtaking scenery. You don't see that very often."
Dible's 15 fields, which also can accommodate rugby and lacrosse, can also host even more play for youth and micro soccer as well as a variety of soccer variants, such as six- and seven-a-side soccer.
The South Sioux City High School Minidome offers a unique facility for indoor games, with room for a full-size soccer field and seating for around 1,750.
Facilities are on the forefront of Siouxland's planning, but service is still the key to the success of this heartland destination. With 2,500 hotel rooms, more than 300 different restaurants and 47,000-plus square feet of versatile conference center space for receptions, expos and awards events, South Sioux City has its sights on scoring and aims to help every sports event that comes to town do the same.
Morgan Hill, California
The Morgan Hill Outdoor Sports Center is located a short distance south from San Jose, California. With 9-plus full-size grass soccer fields, two lighted stadium turf fields, BBQ concession, video arcade and WiFi service, the Center is a soccer, football, lacrosse and rugby facility with an enthusiastic following.
Truly a destination, the Center offers the Morgan Hill Aquatics Center next door, 500 hotel rooms across the street and over 23 award-winning wineries, quality restaurants and vibrant family entertainment nearby. In an hour or less, visitors can be at the famed Gilroy Outlets, in the Santa Cruz Mountains, on the beach or riding a San Francisco streetcar.
But what sports event owners should really know about is the professional service they can expect at the Center. "We're a full-service operation. If you need VIP parking, tournament headquarters, golf carts, overnight storage, pretty much anything, we'll arrange it," says Dave Payne, Morgan Hill Youth Sports Alliance (MHYSA) vice president and general manager of the Center.
Though the Center is already booked much of the year with tournaments, officials are hoping to bring in even more. "Our goal is to book 45-50 tournaments per year," said Jeff Dixon, MHYSA president. "We want the Center to be a premier national sports facility."
The operator of the Center, MHYSA, is a nonprofit organization for sports participation for the kids in the community. "Our members include local soccer, football and baseball leagues," says Dixon. "The proceeds from Center operations provide financial aid for kids in these leagues."
Four and a half hours north of Morgan Hill is another championship soccer facility, the Redding Soccer Park in Redding, California. Co-host of the CYSA Association and President's Cup, the Redding Soccer Park is home to four all-weather, synthetic turf NCAA regulation-sized, lighted fields. With over a half-mile of concrete walkways, gated entry and ample parking for the largest events, the 22-acre complex has more than the average set of amenities, including a full-service restaurant, pro shop, meeting space, over 2,000 square feet of covered, misted seating and a playground with climbing walls.
"We're getting more and more interest in the Complex," says Laurie Baker, director, industry relations and sales, Redding Convention and Visitors Bureau. "When people play in a tournament in Redding, they want to come back."
Redding is committed to making the most of the tournament for every member of the family. A mobile coffee cart ensures that parents never have to forgo their joe for the morning's first game. Spectators can enjoy the game from raised walkways around each field or the covered seating at the concessions area, and the on-site kitchen offers teams the option of ordering team lunches ahead of time.
Redding Soccer Park will host teams from southern Oregon this May when they come to battle northern California's soccer clubs in the annual Border Bash. The Park is also a host to six CYSA tournaments, as well as the Association Cup, the President's Cup and coaching courses and clinics.
Binghamton, New York
In the colder climates, smart cities equip themselves with indoor soccer facilities, and Binghamton, New York —home to the Greater Binghamton Sports Complex, the country's longest indoor facility—is the perfect example.
"The Binghamton Sports Complex can fit a full size soccer field or four youth soccer fields, and they've also recently added four turf outdoor fields," says Judi Hess, tourism and special events manager, Binghamton Convention and Visitors Bureau. "They do a variety of outstanding tournaments there all the time, including soccer, lacrosse, even softball, and they play all winter long. They offer a lot of unique opportunities, too. This February, for example, Mia Hamm came to do a soccer clinic."
Naturally, Binghamton has more than indoor soccer. Binghamton University offers two lighted artificial turf fields with stadium seating, as well as six grass fields. Host of the 2008 Empire State Games' soccer and lacrosse events, Binghamton University is well-versed in managing successful large-scale events.
A community with strong working relationships, Greater Binghamton offers a total of 26 soccer fields at its parks and school facilities. With a central northeast location, just three hours from New York City, Philadelphia and several other major metro areas, Binghamton is a sought-after sports location. The area's more than 2,500 hotel rooms ensure that no matter what the size, Binghamton is positioned to help any sports event score.
Lincoln, Nebraska's Ethel S. Abbott Sports Complex is 215 acres of soccer sensation, with a 2,500-seat championship soccer field and twelve full-size outdoor fields (four lighted) with eight smaller fields for youth competition.
"Abbott Sports Complex hosts the soccer portion of the Cornhusker Games every year, an event that uses the entire complex," says Ken Dobbs, sales development manager. "Also the soccer host for the 2010 Special Olympics National Games, Abbott is really experienced and versatile. The staff out there is hands-on, and they do a really good job with every event."
Abbott is on the northeast side of Lincoln, just a few minutes from downtown, offering the best of all worlds. The facility has ample parking and minimal traffic, and guests can get downtown quickly to their hotels and the area's many attractions and restaurants.
Look for more high profile events to find their way to Lincoln, too, as the city is hard at work on a brand new 16,000-seat arena, projected to open in early 2013.
Colorado Springs, Colorado
If sports pedigree is high on your event destination priority list, then Colorado Springs deserves some serious consideration. Home to the United States Olympic Committee (USOC), the U.S. Olympic Training Center and over 45 National Governing Bodies (NGBs) and other national sports organizations, Colorado Springs is the definition of a sports-minded destination, and soccer is no exception.
"We have a lot of soccer fields, 97 in total," says Cheryl McCullough, sales manager for sports, Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau.
El Pomar Youth Sports Complex offers nine of those fields in one facility: eight full-size natural grass soccer fields as well as a championship turf field. Built through a public/private/non-profit partnership administrated by the city of Colorado Springs, El Pomar welcomes over 105,000 young players and 250,000 total guests each year.
"El Pomar is just one of our many excellent soccer facilities," says McCullough. "Memorial Park is another desirable facility, and it offers 15 soccer fields. Given our number of fields, we can pretty much accommodate anything."
This Colorado city is also a traveler-friendly town. Sitting in the shadow of Pikes Peak, Colorado Springs is known for its scenic beauty, but unlike many towns with a strong tourist draw, this popular destination also offers affordability.
Wilmington, North Carolina
It's no secret that some of sports' most successful events are ones that take place in destinations with tantalizing tourism appeal. That's probably why Wilmington, North Carolina is a small town with a big sports rep. But there's another reason: this coastal community has figured out the secret to doing big events right, with their signature Southern touch.
In its 18th year this May, Wilmington's Seaside Soccer Classic brings around 300 teams, ages 9 to 18, from the Southeast and beyond for a weekend of intense competition.
"With soccer, we have several different events, but this is the big one," says Antonio Saviano, director of tournaments, Cape Fear Soccer Association. "This event fills many of the area's 7,500 hotel rooms, and we use about eight different facilities to accommodate all of the matches."
The Cape Fear Soccer Association regularly uses many of the area's 45 soccer fields, from the seven-field Cape Fear Regional Soccer Park to a range of high school and middle school facilities.
Legion Stadium, a 6,000-seat complex and home of the Wilmington Hammerheads, North Carolina's United Soccer League (USL) Pro team, rounds out this beach town's soccer offerings, making Cape Fear a destination that has soccer covered, from amateur to pro.