Despite the pandemic, soccer participation actually grew throughout 2020, as nearly 12.5 million players ages 6 and up took to the fields to play outdoors, an increase of 4.5 percent over 2019, and 5.4 million played indoors, up 2 percent, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association.
Contributing to this growth, of course, are excellent soccer facilities across the country, ideal for youth, adult and professional tournaments and events.
“With our location in the affordable south and southwest Chicago suburbs, Chicago Southland is a great location for regional soccer tournaments,” says Andy Ritter of the Chicago Southland CVB. Besides Illinois, the area is a five-hour drive from seven other states (Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin), with accessibility from six interstate highways and two international airports, Midway and O’Hare.
But convenience isn’t the only attribute. Soccer venues abound in Chicago Southland, including the SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview, home to the Chicago Red Stars of the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) and the Chicago House Athletic Club of the National Independent Soccer Association. The venue features a 469,000-square-foot MLS-specific stadium with regulation-size field, along with four regulation-size natural grass and turf practice fields, plus a 90,000-square-foot sports dome with an indoor soccer field and multiple concession stands and locker rooms.
Six adult grass fields (which can be partitioned for 12 youth fields) are available in Chicago Gaelic Park in Oak Forest, with seating for 2,000 spectators, as well as four locker rooms. The Village of Orland Park offers 24 outdoor grass fields (including eight in Centennial Park and seven in Cachey Park) and an indoor turf field. Mokena Community Park District has seven outdoor grass fields, and there are many other fields, including multiple indoor turf facilities located throughout Southland’s towns, often with spectator seating and concessions.
The CVB staff offers a number of services and incentives to help event owners and teams coming into the area, including site selection/inspection tours, hotel blocking, event services, marketing and PR, grants and more.
El Paso, Texas
Premier soccer venues in El Paso include the Westside Sports Complex and the new Eastside Sports Complex. The 57-acre Westside complex in west El Paso has 13 natural turf fields with permanent concessions, restroom facilities and free parking for more than 1,000 cars. The newly constructed Eastside complex spans 80 acres and is another prime spot for tournaments, with eight lighted fields, including a championship field that features covered bleachers with 500 seats. Eastside offers more than 800 parking spots and covered picnic areas.
Sun Bowl Stadium, known for nationally televised college football as the home field for the University of Texas, is also the host of soccer events. Another major venue is Southwest University Park, a 7,500-fixed-seat stadium that also is home to the El Paso Locomotive FC soccer team. The Socorro Independent School District Student Activities Complex is a state-of-the-art facility with seating for 11,000 and a granular infill synthetic turf field. And the Dream Arena is a 79,000-square-foot indoor/outdoor venue that can accommodate soccer and other sports.
“No matter your budget or the size of your group, you’ll find the perfect place to host your next event in El Paso,” says Emi Diaz of Visit El Paso. “To help, we host FAM trips throughout the year.” Off the field, athletes and their families will find a lot to do, including the El Paso Zoo, major waterparks, museums, shopping and outdoor adventures.
Each November, the Coastal Academy Cup comes to Foley Sports Tourism (FST) Fields in Foley, typically drawing more than 150 youth club soccer teams. Recognized as one of SDM’s Champions of Economic Impact, the 2021 event had 204 teams and nearly 8,000 spectators.
Another annual soccer event at FST Fields is the Publix SuperCup in September, which recently drew more than 227 teams and 7,300 spectators over two weekends. And the 2021 Sun Belt Conference Women’s Soccer Championship, an NCAA event, put the city in the national spotlight with ESPN+ coverage of all games. This spring, the Perdido Soccer Shootout returns to FST Fields, and is expected to draw more than 300 youth club soccer teams over two weekends.
FST Fields, which can accommodate events at any level, from youth through professional, are home to 15 challenge fields and one full championship stadium. All fields feature Musco sports lighting, Tifton 419 Bermuda grass, and the high-tech EarthNetworks lightning detection system. The championship stadium also has a press box, bleacher seating for more than 1,000 fans, team locker rooms, a Daktronics scoreboard, and high-speed internet capable of streaming any event. The FST staff works with event organizers to provide everything they need so tournaments run smoothly.
“Foley Sports Tourism is definitely a destination for great soccer competition,” says Marketing and Sales Director Shellie Kichler. “We understand both the sport and what it takes to make an event successful, and are ready to work closely with planners at every step of the process. We want to create experiences for our visitors that make them want to return to compete year after year.”
Goldsboro, North Carolina
The main facility for soccer in Goldsboro is the Bryan Multi-Sports Complex, which has a total of eight fields. Six are irrigated hybrid Bermuda grass and two are artificial turf, with engineered soil. The fields are all 75 yards by 120 yards, but can be sized to suit any type of tournament or event. The venue also has more than 500 paved parking spots, concessions and meeting space, a state-of-the-art Field House, splash pad and sheltered picnic areas. “The Bryan Complex was ranked one of the best soccer facilities in the U.S. by Connect Sports in 2018,” says Joanna Ferrin of Visit Goldsboro.
In recent years the Bryan Multi-Sports Complex has played host to the NC Kepner Cup, with 36 teams, 648 players and nearly 1,500 spectators; the NCFC Girls College Showcase, which brought in 76 teams and 1,368 players over three days, with 3,600 spectators; and the Carolina Champions League, with 32 teams, 448 players and 1,600 fans. Goldsboro also is home to the Strike Eagles, a semi-pro soccer team.
Among the support the CVB can provide are marketing and advertising help, hotel room blocks, coupons and discounts to local businesses, a digital and printed tournament guide, swag bags and more.
“Goldsboro-Wayne County tries to roll out the red carpet for every tournament that comes to the area,” Ferrin says. “We will work with event owners and organizers on whatever you need.”
Huntington, West Virginia
“Soccer has continued to grow exponentially throughout the Tri-State, and we don’t see that stopping anytime soon, especially with Marshall University winning the NCAA Men’s Soccer National Championship in 2020!” says Anna Adkins of Visit Huntington. “We have great relationships with our soccer partners and work hard to make hosting an event in Huntington as stress-free as possible so you can focus on what’s important — the game.”
Among venues available for tournaments and events are the Barboursville Soccer Complex, with 14 total fields (11 grass and three turf) and the YMCA Kennedy Center with eight grass fields. Marshall University is home to the Hoops Family Field at Veterans Memorial Soccer Complex, a collegiate level turf field.
In recent years, the region has hosted the U.S. Youth Soccer East Region Championships along with the U.S. Youth Soccer Region 1 Presidents Cup. In 2016, Huntington hosted the NCAA Conference USA Men’s Soccer Championship at Marshall University. In partnership with Barboursville and Charleston, West Virginia, the area will host the U.S. Youth Soccer East Region Championships and Presidents Cup in 2022.
“The CVB will help in any way we can,” adds Adkins. “We offer assistance in acquiring room blocks, marketing assistance, social media promotion and event support. We are the boots on the ground to help bridge the gap between event planners and the community.”
If you’re looking at Southern California, you have to look at Irvine’s Great Park Sports Complex and Soccer Stadium, which have been attracting tournaments and events that draw players of all ages. The Sports Complex includes space for up to 24 soccer fields. Six lighted grass fields, each 120 yards by 75 yards, include benches for coaches and players, a spectator viewing area and 20-foot safety nets behind each goal. There’s also a natural grass flex field, which can hold four natural grass full-size soccer fields, and an additional six synthetic turf fields. Then there’s the Championship Soccer Stadium, which features 5,000 seats, locker rooms and training facilities, a box office, concession areas and an upper-level viewing deck.
Great Park and the Championship Soccer Stadium are home to the Orange County Soccer Club, which was the 2021 USL champion. The venue played host in 2021 to Canada Soccer’s Women’s National Team, and it has also hosted key events, such as the OC Kickoff Classic and the NAIA Men’s Soccer National Championships.
“The Championship Soccer Stadium at Great Park hosts local to national practices, games and tournaments for all ages, from youth to professional,” says Dave Lucey, director of sports sales for Destination Irvine. “Soccer is huge in Irvine because of the Championship Stadium and fields throughout the city.”
Panama City Beach, Florida
Among facilities for soccer available in Panama City Beach is the 100-acre, three-year-old Panama City Beach Sports Complex, which offers 13 fields (nine are AstroTurf) that can be configured to suit all types of tournaments and ages. The fields have LED lighting, and there’s a championship field, too, with 100 spectator seats plus a press box. Another venue is Frank Brown Park, with three full-size grass fields; the park is adjacent to a 22-acre festival site.
Recent events have included SNAP Soccer, with two events annually (including events coming in 2022) that attract up to 110 teams and bring in 4,000 spectators. A recent US Youth Soccer showcase featured 144 teams with 6,000 visitors, and a 3v3 Warrior Soccer event drew 1,500 spectators.
“It’s great to see our fields full of soccer families enjoying the layout and setup for large-scale tournaments,” says Chris O’Brien of Visit Panama City Beach. “We’re looking to add more events for the region and Southeast in the future. We can assist with hotel contacts and leads, press releases, media coverage and grant opportunities.” Off the field, PCB is built for tourism, with restaurants, fun activities, 100 beach access points and much more.
Raleigh, North Carolina
“From youth showcases to college championships and international exhibition games, the Raleigh area has the infrastructure to host the highest levels of soccer competition,” says Jason Philbeck, associate director of the Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance. “This past year was no exception, with the 2020 and 2021 NCAA Men’s and Women’s College Cups returning to Cary’s WakeMed Soccer Park and NCFC Youth’s annual visitRaleigh.com Showcase Series closing out the year with nearly 1,400 teams participating in a safe and fun environment.”
The WakeMed Soccer Park includes a 10,000-seat stadium, plus seven additional soccer fields (two lighted match-only fields). It’s also home to the ACC Soccer Championships.
Then there’s the WRAL Soccer Park in Raleigh, one of the premier facilities of its size in the country, with 22 fields (eight lighted turf fields and 14 grass fields), including a stadium field with seating for 2,500. It’s home to the North Carolina FC Youth and is the headquarters for the visitRaleigh.com Showcase Series each fall. Owned and operated by NCFC Youth, the venue has all of the amenities needed to host tournaments and championships. The complex includes parking for 1,500 vehicles and a fieldhouse and secondary building, which offer plenty of space for the various needs of event staff and volunteers. SDM