In baseball, you hit a home run. In soccer, it’s a hat-trick. In football, you score a touchdown.
Whatever sports cliché you may want to use, Elizabethtown, Kentucky, officials really hit the bull’s-eye when they created a state-of-the-art, 157-acre sports complex.
The Elizabethtown Sports Park opened in July last year and, right out of the gate, it was a hit with sports event planners and rights holders. “Even before the sports park was finished, we had been booked completely for the second half of 2012,” says Janna Clark, the sports and sales director for the Elizabethtown Tourism and Convention Bureau. “And now, we’ve pretty much filled up the 2013 schedule and are well into 2014.”
In just the first five months of operation, the numbers are impressive. Clark says there were 555 teams that registered to play in events at the park, from 13 states, bringing in nearly 9,500 participants. Total out-of-town visitors who attended an event at the park topped 29,000. For those five months, the economic impact for the area was more than $4.5 million.
“I love the feedback we get,” Clark says. “It’s so gratifying to hear a mom say, ‘We don’t want to go home. You make it so easy for us to enjoy watching our children play sports here.’ “People tell us they’ve never seen anything like our sports park, or they want information about what events we’re holding next year because they want to encourage their coach to come back here. Things like that keep me inspired, and show that we’re going down the right path.” In fact, the new sports park recently was named “Facility of the Year” for 2012 by the Kentucky Recreation and Parks Society.
After event planners and owners get a taste of the sports park and the hospitality and assistance that the Elizabethtown Tourism team brings, they make plans for return visits. “Return bookings have been very strong,” Clark adds. “Once people experience our sports park, it really sells itself.”
“As an event planner, Elizabethtown Sports Park has everything we needed to host a great youth soccer event—wi-fi throughout the park, plenty of parking, rest rooms, concessions and some of the best fields in the region,” says Michael Libber, president of Elite Tournaments in Mount Airy, Maryland. “Plus, the support our event received from the sports park and the community as a whole helped make our event a huge success. Not only are we bringing our event in September back for a second year, but we’re adding another event in April and we know that will be just as successful.”
“We had a great experience hosting our Heartland Fall Classic,” adds Jim Haddaway, co-founder and CEO of Athlitx LLC. “The staff was very accommodating—we consider them our partners in running fantastic, fulfilling events for youth baseball. We received many comments about the excellent facilities and inquiries as to when we will be hosting an event there again. In fact, in 2013 we’re hosting five separate events at the sports park.”
Drawing a Crowd
The sports park came about when officials in Elizabethtown, a city of about 29,000 residents 50 miles south of Louisville, were looking for ways to boost tourism. They hit on the idea of a sports park to both take advantage of the growing sports tourism market and to have a facility that could also be used by the community. Construction started in June 2010, and the Elizabethtown Sports Park held its grand opening on July 21, 2012, with a huge community-wide celebration that drew 5,000 people.
The facility and its amenities are impressive:
* 12 soccer/lacrosse/field hockey fields, including two synthetic turf championship sports fields.
* 12 baseball/softball/fast-pitch diamonds, arranged in three “quads.”
* Lighting on all full-size fields.
* Three large pavilions for ceremonies and events, including meeting space and vendor areas.
* An ADA-accessible baseball diamond made of a rubberized material for physically disabled athletes.
* Eight restroom locations, including six with “family” restrooms.
* Six full-service concession stands.
* Convenient parking for cars and buses.
* Wi-fi throughout the park.
The layout not only makes it convenient for organizers and visitors, but the size and design (including a sophisticated drainage system on all fields) ensures that events stay on schedule, and players stay safe. The baseball diamonds have real warning tracks and feature brick dugouts outfitted with everything a team needs. Wireless scoreboards on all 12 diamonds and two championship fields give key event details.
There are air-conditioned meeting spaces for tournament officials and coaches; officials also have their own locker rooms and there’s space to set up a media center. The sports park also has plenty of covered pavilion vendor space, so organizers can easily set up a vendor or sponsorship village, and booths have access to water and electrical power.
For 2013, at least 50 events have been scheduled so far, Clark says. (The schedule is at www.elizabethtownsportspark.com.) She estimates more than 2,500 sports teams will compete at the park, and the region is anticipating about 60,000 out-of-town visitors. Sports already scheduled include youth baseball, youth fast-pitch softball, lacrosse, college women’s fast-pitch softball, youth and adult soccer, cross-country and football.
“We carefully track each event to determine the actual visitor numbers and visitor spending,” Clark adds. “For 2013, we expect the total economic impact on the community to easily exceed $10 million.”
Elizabethtown, says Clark, is a “very family-friendly, very value-friendly,” community. That accommodating nature also extends to the Elizabethtown Sports Park, which is uniquely set up so families are comfortable, no matter what age the participants and spectators.
Four playgrounds are situated in key areas throughout the 157-acre park, so parents can easily watch one child competing while keeping an eye on siblings enjoying themselves in a safe playground environment. The six family restrooms, which include plenty of changing space, are a rare luxury in a sports complex. Full-service concession stands are conveniently located and eliminate the need to go off-site for meals. There’s also a three-mile walking/jogging trail—a mostly paved loop that nearly encircles the park and is suitable for bicycles, strollers and wheelchairs.
“Families, athletes and spectators can spend the entire day in the park and feel comfortable,” Clark says. And when events are over for the day, Elizabethtown has more than 1,500 hotel rooms to suit all tastes and budgets, and over 100 restaurants of all types. City officials expect the new sports park will help to attract even more development to accommodate guests.
“We’re now working on and helping to market all the other things that come with having such a great sports venue,” Clark says. “We want participants, families and spectators to feel comfortable all the time, whether they’re at an event in the sports park or in the community dining, or sightseeing and visiting the many attractions in this region.”
Surrounded by beautiful scenery and serene horse farms, there is plenty to do in Hardin County, which has a rich and unique history. Abraham Lincoln spent the first seven years of his life in the Elizabethtown area, and visitors can experience the Lincoln connection through historical sites and museums. The area is rich in Civil War history, too, and there are many historical houses, buildings and public spaces. Another unique attraction is the “Bourbon Trail,” which includes tours of popular distilleries. There also are more than 18 miles of recreational trails, golf, tennis, and more. (Visit www.touretown.com for many more attractions.)
Elizabethtown also is convenient to get to, centrally located and within a day’s drive of nearly half the U.S. population. It’s less than a 40-minute drive to the Louisville International Airport, and the city sits at the intersection of three major highways: I-65, the Bluegrass Parkway and the Western Kentucky Parkway.
The community of Elizabethtown really knocked it out of the park when they built a state-of-the-art sports facility. And now, for athletes, event organizers, spectators and sponsors, it’s a whole new ball game for sports tourism.
Find out more about the Elizabethtown Sports Park at www.elizabethtownsportspark.com or by calling 800-437-0092.