Soaring High | Sports Destination Management

Soaring High

These Destinations Serve Up Prime Court and Sand Venues
Nov 01, 2023 | By: Michael Popke

Volleyball consistently ranks among the most popular sports for high school girls (just behind outdoor track and field in terms of participants) and a gold medal for the United States at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo certainly didnít dampen enthusiasm. Whatís more, the University of Nebraska recently attracted 92,000 fans to Memorial Stadium in August for a regular season college volleyball match, and womenís professional volleyball leagues are popping up, too.

“A large part of this growth can be attributed to the continued growth of women’s volleyball at the collegiate level,” says Jonathan Paris, executive director of sports tourism for the Myrtle Beach Regional Sports Alliance. “The NCAA women’s volleyball championships regularly sell out, and as shown this year with Nebraska … it’s easy to see why this sport remains so popular at the youth level.”

“The explosion of popularity in girls’ volleyball over the years has led to an increase in the number of tournaments and an increase in the number of teams and college coaches attending those tournaments,” adds JJ Greer, director of sports and events for Memphis Tourism. “Additionally, volleyball is a relatively affluent sport and its community has the means and desire to be able to travel great distances to compete in the best tournaments at the best facilities.”

While volleyball participation among boys is nowhere near that of girls, destinations increasingly host boys’ tournaments and events. Donna Dotti, director of sales for Placer Valley Tourism in Rocklin, California, refers to the area’s “ever-growing boys’ volleyball season” and says the Roebbelen Center in Roseville will host the Northern California Volleyball Association’s No Dinx Boys’ Far Westerns Junior National Qualifier in November, attracting teams not only from California but also Oregon, Utah, Arizona and even Hawaii.

Beach volleyball is gaining footing, too, while also fueling demand for more club volleyball programs. “As volleyball, especially beach volleyball, has grown on the collegiate level, youth club volleyball has exploded,” says Michelle Russ, vice president of sales, sports and events at Gulf Shores | Orange Beach Sports & Events. “Beach volleyball programs are spreading far and wide, because you don’t need a beach to build a sand court, making travel play increasingly popular.”

“The sport continues to innovate, with advancements in equipment, training techniques and coaching strategies,” sums up Joey Jewell, executive director of the Corpus Christi Sports Commission. “These innovations keep the sport fresh and appealing to both players and spectators. Volleyball’s combination of competitiveness, accessibility and the sense of community it fosters has contributed to its enduring popularity as a travel-team sport.”

Here’s a rundown of what eight destinations, from California to the Carolinas, serve up when it comes to volleyball programming opportunities

Placer Valley, California

Placer Valley, CA | Photo by Lisa Zeng
Placer Valley, CA | Photo by Lisa Zeng

The Roebbelen Center is the primary volleyball venue in the region, although the Capital Sports Center in McClellan is also dedicated to hosting NVCA tournaments. The Roebbelen Center boasts 24 volleyball courts with mesh divider curtains, a 35-foot-high ceiling clearance and 14-row tip-and-roll telescopic bleachers.

“Before the Roebbelen Center, there were no large-scale volleyball tournaments in Placer Valley, except for school games hosted by local high schools and colleges,” Donna Dotti says. “The variety of events we host [there] has provided a major economic impact.”

The 2024 girls’ volleyball tournament season will begin in earnest in January, with a strong lineup of USA Volleyball and Junior Volleyball Association events on the calendar.

Round Rock, Texas

Round Rock, TX | Photo courtesy of Go Round Rock
Round Rock, TX | Photo courtesy of Go Round Rock

Another destination that emphasizes volleyball is Round Rock, located near the heart of the state.

“Over the years, Round Rock has gained a reputation as a premier volleyball destination,” says Nancy Yawn, director of the Round Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau. “This can be attributed to our top-notch volleyball facility, diverse accommodations and family-friendly atmosphere. As we gain recognition, we have received more tournament inquiries from event coordinators and seen increased team attendance.”

Indeed, the Round Rock Sports Center offers 12 volleyball courts, divider nets, a high-definition video wall and seating for up to 1,400 spectators. In 2023, the facility hosted the North American Gay Volleyball Association’s Austin Summerfest, the Meridian School’s Labor Day Classic Volleyball Tournament and the Capital Area Private and Parochial Schools Volleyball Tournament.

Fort Bend Epicenter

Fort Bend Epicenter, TX | Photo courtesy of Fort Bend Epicenter
Fort Bend Epicenter, TX | Photo courtesy of Fort Bend Epicenter

Head deeper into Texas to Rosenberg (west of Houston), and you’ll find the Fort Bend Epicenter, located in the literal epicenter of Fort Bend County. The recently opened facility, a $120 million, bond-funded public-private partnership between Fort Bend County and a development firm, houses 12 volleyball courts, as well as an arena that seats up to 10,000 people for special events.

One of the first organizations to sign on as a partner was the Houston Volleyball Association. Not only does the facility serve as HVA’s year-round practice and training facility, it also will host an HVA-sponsored tournament in January that is expected to draw more than 80 teams.

“We anticipate our venue being a go-to for volleyball tournaments,” says Toby Wyman, the facility’s general manager. “The Epicenter is focused on bringing top-notch sports and entertainment events to Fort Bend County,” Wyman adds. “Our partnership with HVA will positively impact the community locally, while their tournaments will bring teams from across the region to compete at our new facility.”

Corpus Christi, Texas

Corpus Christi, TX | Photo courtesy of Visit Corpus Christi
Corpus Christi, TX | Photo courtesy of Visit Corpus Christi

Further south is Corpus Christi, which launched its sports commission last year and leverages the city’s clout both in water and on land. Volleyball is one of the sports Corpus Christi is focusing on first, specifically at McGee Beach. Located downtown and overlooking Corpus Christi Bay, the site boasts manicured sand that plays host to beach volleyball (as well as soccer and rugby) games.

The seawall steps double as spectator seating, and the venue recently hosted the Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Islander Classic, presented by Conni & Jay Wise, as well as the Southland Conference Beach Volleyball Championship. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi’s beach volleyball team is making tracks on the national level, according to Joey Jewell, while also emphasizing development of the sport at the local level.

Indoors, the American Bank Center is a convention-center complex with about 100,000 square feet of space for ball and mat sports, including volleyball, plus a 10,500-seat arena. “Both venues are vital in what we do,” Jewell says, noting that the City of Corpus Christi recently approved $3 million over the next three years for infrastructure improvements at McGee Beach.

“As the ‘Gulf Coast Capital for Sports’ and the coastal destination of Texas, it’s imperative that we capitalize on our beach venues and provide the opportunities to make them as event friendly as possible. The American Bank Center is our main sports facility and provides us immense opportunity during the shoulder seasons. We feel really good about our chances to start bringing in tournaments and events.”

Gulf Shores, Alabama

Gulf Shores, AL | Photo courtesy of Gulf Shores | Orange Beach Sports & Events
Gulf Shores, AL | Photo courtesy of Gulf Shores | Orange Beach Sports & Events

Another destination that makes beach volleyball a priority is Gulf Shores, Alabama, where Gulf Place Public Beach allows event owners to “get creative with the footprint,” according to Michelle Russ, who adds that beach volleyball events also can be held at Gulf State Park and the Orange Beach Sportsplex.

Gulf Shores has served as the home of the NCAA Beach Volleyball Championship since its inception in 2016 and will remain so through at least 2024. The city also was the site of the American Volleyball Coaches Association’s national women’s championship for several years. Additionally, the Gulf Coast Region of USA Volleyball hosts one of the largest junior beach volleyball qualifiers in the nation and runs many other regional and national tournaments throughout the year. The Gulf Shores beach volleyball calendar also includes events for boys’ and adults.

“We have the gift of experience on our side,” Russ says.

Memphis, Tennessee

Memphis, TN | Memphis Sports and Events Center, Photo by DCA
Memphis, TN | Memphis Sports and Events Center, Photo by DCA

Memphis is home to multiple venues that can host high-profile volleyball competitions. The 227,000-square-foot Memphis Sports and Events Center at Liberty Park, for example, opened in January 2023 and boasts 32 volleyball courts and fixed spectator seating for 2,500 people. The facility, which will host both the K2/Memphis Juniors Volleyball Association Delta Icebreaker and the Memphis Challenge in January, is located in Liberty Park, the city’s historical fairgrounds area that is undergoing a transition to a sports and events hub, JJ Greer says.

The Renasant Convention Center in Downtown Memphis, meanwhile, recently underwent a  $200 million renovation and now features the region’s largest (118,000 square feet) flexible column-free exhibit hall. All told, the riverfront venue encompasses 300,000 square feet and holds up to 20 volleyball courts. It will welcome the 82-team Mizuno Memphis Blues Bash in April. Meanwhile, the P7 Sports Academy in the Memphis suburb of Cordova serves up nine volleyball courts and can accommodate regional and national youth sport programs; the Memphis Juniors Bluff City Festival will be held there in February.

“Memphis is referred to as a ‘river city on the rise,’” Greer says. “Memphis has invested more than $20 billion into the city over the past several years, including a fully transformed convention center, recently unveiled upgrades at Memphis International Airport, a booming hotel inventory and the growth of indoor sports facilities.”

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

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

This past summer, the John T. Rhodes Myrtle Beach Sports Center underwent several updates, according to Jonathan Paris. They included new LED lighting and a complete refinishing of the wood floors. The facility is capable of housing up to 16 volleyball courts and consistently hosts volleyball tournaments with more than 100 teams, with several area recreation centers and high schools that can accommodate overflow play, he adds.

What’s more, the Myrtle Beach Convention Center, located across the parking lot from the Sports Center, houses up to 15 courts for larger tournaments. Additionally, there are several outdoor beach volleyball courts at Burroughs and Chapin Pavilion Place, located on the shore of the Atlantic Ocean.

“Each year, Myrtle Beach hosts several volleyball tournaments,” Paris said. “Our largest, by far,  is the Winter Bump Volleyball Classic, held over MLK weekend at the John T. Rhodes Myrtle Beach Sports Center, the Myrtle Beach Convention Center and several overflow gyms.”

Rocky Mount, North Carolina

Rocky Mount Event Center, NC | Photo by Gerry Brabham
Rocky Mount Event Center, NC | Photo by Gerry Brabham

Downtown Rocky Mount, located in eastern North Carolina, is home to the Rocky Mount Event Center, a fieldhouse with 16 volleyball courts and a second-level mezzanine space for spectators and coaches. It attracts several tournaments each year with between 40 and 120 teams, according to Ashley Pittman, the facility’s marketing manager.

The busy tournament season begins the first week of January with the 2024 Carolina Kick-Off Volleyball Tournament hosted by Carolina Union Volleyball Club and will continue with volleyball (and basketball) tournaments every weekend through June, Pittman says, adding that volleyball is the most frequent sport the Rocky Mount Event Center hosts.

Between January and April 2023, the facility hosted 10 volleyball tournaments featuring teams from North and South Carolina, as well as Virginia and West Virginia, bringing more than $14 million in economic impact to the area, she added.

“Volleyball has grown consistently over the years, from both the size of the tournaments as well as the number of athletes participating,” says David Joyner, general manager of the Rocky Mount Event Center. “The economic impact that volleyball generates in our community is measurably in a league of its own. Playing in club volleyball teams is a tradition in many families and communities across the country, and the fun experiences that the athletes enjoy, as well as the close camaraderie that is fostered, is at the heart of why I think you will see travel volleyball continue to grow and be a long-lasting power as it relates to the sports tourism sector.” SDM

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