Built for Speed | Sports Destination Management

Built for Speed

Track and Field Destinations in the Race to Host Indoor and Outdoor Competition
May 01, 2024 | By: Michael Popke

Track and field  has a major moment every four years and thanks to the Summer Olympics, 2024 will be one of them. But the sport has long been popular among high school athletes.

During the 2022-23 school year, for example, nearly 605,000 boys participated in outdoor track and field programs, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations; only 11-player football had more. For girls, outdoor track and field topped the participation list, with more than 486,300 athletes, besting volleyball by more than 16,000.

Plenty of destinations, many with new or recently renovated facilities, consider track and field a sports tourism priority. Representatives of those destinations say the sport provides a natural outlet for active children.

“Simply put, kids like to run,” says Jason Suitt, director of sports development for Visit Baton Rouge in Louisiana, home to indoor and outdoor track and field facilities. “I have an 11-year old and a 4-year-old at my house, and the one thing they both like to do is run — around the house, around the yard, down the cul-de-sac, in parks. It is instinctive to them and something most people can do. Some might be better than others, but everybody has the instinct to run. Not everybody can hit a baseball or a golf ball, or shoot a basketball, but everybody can run, which leads it to being more accessible for participation at a young age.”

“The barrier to entry is low, considering there’s no expensive equipment or dedicated space required to run,” adds J.B. Carney, senior director of the Eugene, Cascades & Coast Sports Commission in Oregon. “In Eugene middle schools, the only sport sponsored by the school district is track and field, which helps prepare athletes for success in high school.”

Eugene, Oregon

Eugene, OR | Photo courtesy of AHM BRANDS / EugeneCascadesCoast.org
Eugene, OR | Photo courtesy of AHM BRANDS / EugeneCascadesCoast.org

The fact that middle school track and field is thriving in Eugene should not be a surprise. Track and field events bring tens of millions of dollars in economic impact to that destination each year, and June will mark the eighth time the city officially known as TrackTown USA has hosted the U.S. Olympic Track & Field Team Trials.

That spectacle, along with 2024 Oregon School Activity Association’s State High School Championships and the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships, will take place at the reimagined Hayward Field at the University of Oregon. Now more than 100 years old and still fresh off a $270 million renovation in 2020, the venue now boasts unobstructed views and front-row seats at track level. Other upgrades include a new nine-lane, 400-meter track and new seating for 12,650, which can be expanded to 25,000.

The facility also hosts the annual Prefontaine Classic (the only U.S. meet on the World Athletics’ Diamond League professional circuit), and it also has welcomed 11 USA Track & Field Outdoor Championships, the 2023 USATF National Junior Olympic Track and Field Championships and the 2022 World Athletics Championships (for the first time ever in the United States). And in 2026, TrackTown USA will host the World Athletics U20 Championships.

“Our strategies this year … include advocating for building an indoor multi-use track and events facility to bring overnight visitors in winter; hosting roundtables with local track and field stakeholders to help align and rally the community to support track events through attending, volunteering and enhancing the experience of athletes and fans while in market; creating a coalition of event operators to jointly promote events through the use of street pole banners and printed collateral like posters and table tents for restaurants and hotels; and developing strategic media communication plans,” Carney says.

Cabarrus County, North Carolina

Cabarrus County, NC
Cabarrus County, NC

One of the destinations with a new facility is in south-central North Carolina. In October, the Jay M. Robinson High School MONDO Track & Field Facility in Concord opened with an eight-lane, 400-meter track that features a MONDO Super X 720 surface, which is recommended by World Athletics and the Paralympics. The facility includes two chutes for straightaway sprints in both directions, pole vault runways and a pit, a pair of long jump and triple jump runways, separate zones for throwing events and a steeplechase course with water jump.

“The new surface at Jay M. Robinson has taken us to a new level and elevated us into the track and field world,” says John Poole, senior vice president of sales and services for Explore Cabarrus County, noting that the combination of an AAU event, the USA South Athletic Conference Championship and the North Carolina High School Athletic Association’s Regional Championship, all slated for April and May, are expected to generate an economic impact of more than $2 million.

The new facility can hold up to 3,500 spectators, and it was designed to accommodate all levels of competition, according to Poole, who adds that the stadium is close to hotels, restaurants, shopping and other amenities.

Gainesville, Florida

Gainesville, FL | Photo courtesy of Alachua County Sports and Events Center at Celebration Pointe
Gainesville, FL | Photo courtesy of Alachua County Sports and Events Center at Celebration Pointe

Like the Jay M. Robinson High School MONDO Track & Field Facility, the Alachua County Sports and Events Center at Celebration Pointe in Gainesville, Florida, also is less than a year old. Billed as North Florida’s premier sports and events destination, the facility offers an indoor 200-meter portable six-lane banked track with a MONDO surface, an eight-lane 60-meter sprint area, a raised pole vault area, two raised long jump and triple jump areas, a high jump area, a throwing area and a five-lane 60-meter warmup area.

In its short lifespan, the facility has hosted such major events as the 2024 NJCAA Men’s & Women’s Indoor Track & Field Championships, the 2024 Atlantic Sun Indoor Track & Field Championship and the 2024 Peach Belt Conference Men’s and Women’s Indoor Track & Field Championships. More high-profile indoor events are slated for 2025.

“For the indoor track and field season, you cannot beat the weather in Florida during February and March,” says Joleen Cacciatore Miller, executive director of the Gainesville Sports Commission. “Mild temperatures and no snow.”

Outdoors, the University of Florida’s James G. Pressly Stadium and Percy Beard Track recently underwent a $4.1 million renovation in preparation for hosting the 2024 Southeastern Conference Outdoor Track and Field Championships in May.

According to the university, the project includes the addition of a timing/officials building on the south end of the stands adjacent to the finish line and a permanent shade structure over the starting block, plus upgrades to restrooms and concessions, as well as waterproofing of the grandstand structure.

Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Baton Rouge, Louisiana | Photo courtesy of Visit Baton Rouge
Baton Rouge, Louisiana | Photo courtesy of Visit Baton Rouge

Two major universities provide track and field facilities in Louisiana’s capital city. Louisiana State University has the Carl Maddox Fieldhouse for indoor events and the Bernie Moore Track Stadium for outdoor events, while Southern University has A.W. Mumford Stadium.

The track at Southern received a new surface in 2022, Suitt says, and the stadium will host the Southwestern Athletic Conference Men’s and Women’s Outdoor Track and Field Championships in May. LSU’s outdoor track was updated more than a decade ago with a new surface and upgrades to throwing areas, according to the university’s website. For decades, LSU has hosted the Louisiana High School Athletic Association’s indoor and outdoor state championships.

Track and field as a sport is part of the city’s DNA, according to Jason Suitt. “Baton Rouge is a sports town, no matter what sport,” he says. “The people here are welcoming to our guests and eager to share our unique South Louisiana culture.”

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Myrtle Beach, SC | Photo courtesy of Visit Myrtle Beach
Myrtle Beach, SC | Photo courtesy of Visit Myrtle Beach

The outdoor track and field facility located in this East Coast resort destination underwent a $6 million renovation in 2017 to make it one of the finest in the Southeast, according to Jonathan Paris, executive director of sports tourism for the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce and Convention & Visitor Bureau.

Jointly owned by the city and Horry County Schools, the facility boasts an eight-lane track that received a new Beynon surface and the addition of a second straightaway, new bleachers, a new videoboard and more. Additionally, a new support building and locker room facility is expected to be built his summer.

“The upgrade created the opportunity for the City of Myrtle Beach to invest more into the sport of track and field,” Paris says. “With a dedicated focus on creating new track events, the city now owns and operates several track and field events under the City of Myrtle Beach ‘Spring Break Meets’ banner.”

Those meets (the Myrtle Beach Collegiate Challenge and the Alan Connie Shamrock Invitational) are held each March during the traditional college spring break time and collectively bring more than 2,000 track and field athletes from 13 states to the city.

In early April, the city also oversees the annual Beach Run Invitational, a high school invite that Paris says attracts teams from throughout the Southeast. This year, the city added the Myrtle Beach Freshman and Sophomore Relays, giving younger athletes the opportunity to compete in a high school-level track meet.

What’s more, Myrtle Beach will host its first NCAA championship in May when the 2024 NCAA Division III Outdoor Track and Field Championships come to Doug Shaw Memorial Stadium.

Virginia Beach, Virginia

Virginia Beach, VA | Photo courtesy of Virginia Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau
Virginia Beach, VA | Photo courtesy of Virginia Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau

Head northeast six hours to another beach destination, Virginia Beach, and you’ll run into the 117,000-square-foot multi-purpose Virginia Beach Sports Center, which opened in 2020 and includes a 200-meter indoor banked track, as well as dual jumping pits and dual pole vault pits. The track area (which shares building space with 12 basketball courts) can accommodate 5,000 spectators.

“Indoor track season — December through March — is a great time of year for us, because it’s outside of the traditional tourism season for a beach destination,” says Dani Timm, director of sports tourism for the Virginia Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It’s generally a slower time, but events occurring at the sports center increase activity at hotels, restaurants and attractions on the weekends. Local high schools and colleges use the center during the week for practice. We’ve had great success in keeping the Virginia Beach Sports Center active, and we have people reaching out all the time requesting access to the track.”

Indeed, the facility was built specifically to boost sports tourism beyond the summer season, Timm adds, and in March alone it hosted the NCAA Division III Indoor Track and Field Championships, the adidas Indoor Track Nationals and the AAU Indoor National Championships.

Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Winston-Salem, NC | Photos courtesy of Visit Winston-Salem
Winston-Salem, NC | Photo courtesy of Visit Winston-Salem

Since the indoor JDL Fast Track opened in 2012 in Winston-Salem, the facility has hosted seven national championships for such organizations as the NCAA, USA Track & Field and the NJCAA. It has been home to the North Carolina High School Athletic Association Indoor Track  and Field Championships since 2013, and has emerged as “an important driver of sport tourism during the winter shoulder months,” says Bonny Bernat, senior sports development manager for Visit Winston-Salem. “Although they have wrapped up the 2023-2024 indoor season, they are well on their way to planning the 2024-25 schedule and are expecting to host anywhere from 50 to 60 meets, which is more than any year since opening.”

The privately operated JDL Fast Track is anchored by a 200-meter oval and also includes two pole vault runways, two long/triple jump runways, a high jump area and throwing circles. Kentner Stadium at Wake Forest University, meanwhile, offers outdoor track and field opportunities, and it will host the 2025 Atlantic Coast Conference Outdoor Track & Field Championships.

“Because of the exceptional facilities at both JDL Fast Track and Wake Forest University, along with our strong partnerships with both entities, track and field events are a very important part of our sport tourism strategy,” Bernat says. SDM

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