The Southeastern U.S. is one of the most populous, and fastest growing, areas of the country. Its economy has seen a large expansion in recent decades, as manufacturing, high technology and financial businesses all have grown. And, of course, so has the service economy, especially with a surge in tourism, particularly along the coasts.
With a climate in most areas suitable for year-round activities outdoors, the Southeast also has grown in what it can offer as a sports destination. Every sport and sports event can find numerous welcoming locations. In fact, when it comes to the sports travel market, it’s all about “Southern hospitality.”
Touring the Southeast
The sports tour of the Southeast starts in “Tournament Town”—Greensboro, North Carolina, capable of supporting virtually any sport and any size event. Last August, the city opened the state-of-the-art, 78,000-square-foot Greensboro Aquatic Center, with three pools and seats for 2,500. “It’s a beautiful facility,” says Amy Scott, the marketing director of the Greensboro Area CVB.
The city not only has available the venues at UNC-Greensboro, it has excellent facilities of its own, including Bryan Park Soccer Complex, with 17 fields; Proehlific Park, with baseball/softball and multi-use fields; and the Icehouse, for hockey, figure and speed skating, and broomball. There also are 16 public golf courses and the 13-court J Spencer Love Tennis Center.
Opening in July 2012 is the impressive Elizabethtown (Kentucky) Sports Park. The 157-acre park has 12 diamonds, nine full-size, lighted natural turf fields, two synthetic fields, four playgrounds, six full-service concession areas, family restrooms, locker rooms and much more.
“We’ve done a really good job of promoting the park itself and the unique elements we have,” says Janna Clark, the sports and sales director for the Elizabethtown Tourism and Convention Bureau. “Now, we’re focusing on everything else that creates a winning sports destination. We have a full-time professional staff with great experience, a CVB willing to do whatever we can to make events successful, a housing service that specializes in handling teams, and much more.”
Conway, Arkansas, has about 59,000 residents and, despite the fact that it’s one of the fastest growing cities in Arkansas, maintains a welcoming small-town charm. The “City of Colleges” has three institutions of higher learning, each of which has sports facilities able to handle outside events. Also, in the last few years, the city itself has built several new sports venues, including two large baseball/softball complexes.
“Our city facilities have been booked pretty steadily in recent months, particularly for softball and baseball events,” says Rachel Earls, director of destination marketing for the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce. Conway Station Park is a new nine-field baseball park and City of Colleges Park is a five-field softball complex. In addition, Centennial Soccer Park has 12 full-sized soccer fields. There’s also the Conway Sports Center, which houses the Faulkner County Rodeo Arena.
Covering All the Bases
There’s certainly no lack of topnotch venues in the Monroe-West Monroe, Louisiana, area. “We want to bring people here to experience our terrific facilities and great atmosphere,” says Scott Bruscato, director of sales and sports marketing for Monroe-West Monroe CVB. “And of course, there’s the hospitality.”
The Biedenharn Sports Complex has 15 lighted fields of various lengths for all age divisions. The University of Louisiana at Monroe (ULM) University Fields recently underwent a $1 million renovation and includes four fields, restrooms, three smaller practice areas, covered dugouts and electronic scoreboards. Warhawk Field offers a 2,000-seat stadium; the ULM Activity Center has plenty of basketball, volleyball, racquetball and badminton courts; and for swimming events, there’s ULM’s Oxford Natatorium.
The Monroe area has about 2,200 hotels rooms and invites visitors with 70 locally owned restaurants. “In this region, it’s also about the food,” says Bruscato. “It’s such a large part of our culture. We’re very proud of that.”
Great food is a theme that threads through the state. Louisiana’s Northshore, on the north side of Lake Pontchartrain, for example, is “a great destination for families, with great attractions, a relaxed atmosphere and fantastic dining,” says LaDana Williams, marketing director of the St. Tammany Parish Tourist & Convention Commission.
But Louisiana’s Northshore also is a great destination for sports. Much of the action takes place at the Pelican Park Center, which has 10 lighted baseball/softball fields and 11 lighted soccer fields. The Northshore Harbor Center is a 45,000-square-foot facility that is home to hundreds of events annually. The area also has hosted national triathlons, using the award-winning Tammany Trace Trail. For equestrian events, there’s GALA–Gallop Around Louisiana, a first-class facility with 320 permanent stalls.
West of New Orleans is Acadia Parish and the town of Crowley, Louisiana, in the heart of Cajun Prairie Country. “More rice is grown here than anywhere in the world,” says Gwen Hanks, executive director of the Acadia Parish Convention and Visitors Commission.
One legacy from its rice history is Miller Stadium. Built in 1948, it served as the home of the Crowley Millers (a name derived from rice milling), who played semi-pro baseball. The stadium is now a state historic site, and combined with a large complex nearby, serves youngsters and adults and has hosted various district, state and regional tournaments. “We have 10 baseball and softball fields, all with lights,” says Tim Robicheaux, Crowley director of recreation. “During soccer season, all the fields are used for soccer.”
“We’re just a big sports town,” says David Galbaugh, director of sports sales & marketing for the Greater Birmingham CVB. “Our resume really speaks to what the town can do and how our community really embraces sports.”
The Alabama city has hosted everything from NCAA March Madness to NASCAR to the Bassmasters Classic to Davis Cup tennis to PGA Tour golf—and everything in between. One of the newest facilities is the Birmingham CrossPlex, a 750,000-square-foot multipurpose indoor venue that includes a six-lane hydraulic track (one of only eight in the world) and a 50-meter indoor Olympic pool. It can house nine volleyball courts and can be configured for wrestling, cheer, gymnastics and more accommodating 4,000 fans.
Along the Alabama coast, in the Gulf Shores/Orange Beach area, sports enthusiasts are lured by amazing weather, hospitality and athletic facilities—and, yes, by the amazing beach, too. “When athletes aren’t on the field, they’ll be able to enjoy our 32 miles of white-sand beaches, authentic local cuisine, and much more,” says Kim Chapman of Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism.
The Gulf Shores Sportsplex includes multiple fields, a track, and a multi-use fieldhouse. Gulf Shores also has the David L. Bodenhamer Center with a multipurpose gymnasium and indoor pool, and there are other facilities offering more fields, a 6,500-square-foot skate park, and 12 tennis courts. The Orange Beach Sportsplex has multiple fields and more. The 30,000-square-foot Recreation Center features a gym that seats 480, and the outdoor Aquatic Center has a Junior Olympic pool. The area also has nine golf courses and three large marinas.
It must say something when major sports organizations pick your area for their headquarters. Daytona, Florida, is home to the LPGA, NASCAR, and USTA Florida, but the area is much more than golf, car racing and tennis; it’s known worldwide for its variety of sporting activities. There are many great venues available, including the Volusia County Ocean Center, a multi-use facility that hosts all types of events, from rodeos and BMX to volleyball, gymnastics and cheerleading.
“Within Volusia County, we have great facilities for soccer, lacrosse, softball and baseball,” says Tara Hamburger of the Daytona Beach Area CVB. Facilities are available at Embry-Riddle University, too, and of course, there are plenty of areas for sand sports. For sports in Daytona, says Hamburger, “It’s kind of an endless list.”