The Elizabethtown Sports Park has written some blue-ribbon success stories in the Bluegrass State over the course of its first full year in business. Closing out 2013, the Elizabethtown, Kentucky, facility racked up impressive credentials, hosting baseball, softball, soccer, football, lacrosse, field hockey and more.
Not bad for an attraction that, up until mid-2012, had yet to open its doors.
“We have been pleasantly surprised,” says Janna Clark, manager of the sports park. “We had a half-season to get us rolling, and now we have done our first full year. It gives us an idea of life will be like here.”
And life is looking pretty good. E-town, as it’s known in the trade, isn’t just talking about success, either; it has the research to back it up.
“When we first started out, we thought a great season would be maybe $7 million in direct spending,” says Clark.
An independent economic impact study proved E-town had underestimated – by a lot. The park has recorded $11.9 and $14.1 million in direct spending. The survey, conducted by Sportsimpacts.com, a sports consulting firm that specializes in sports marketing research and economic impact studies for sporting events, revealed fascinating insights into the facility. In addition to the sports figures (24 baseball/softball events, 18 soccer events, two football events, one lacrosse event, one cross-country event and 218 local league games), the numbers included sales of 97,066 soft drinks, 24,6332 hot dogs and sausages, 23,688 ice creams and 9,432 boxes of popcorn. Oh, and 4,833 Snickers bars and 1,358 pickles.
It takes a lot of teams to consume that much, and Clark says the sports park’s visitors have been coming in from even the most unexpected areas.
“The reach of the park has really surprised me,” she notes. “We’ve had teams here from Hawaii. Hawaii!”
A Destination With More
It’s not so surprising, considering what E-town has to offer. Elizabethtown, Kentucky, is situated at the crossroads of I-65 and the Bluegrass Parkway, making it a convenient place to hold a sporting event. The Sports Park is located near 21 hotels, six shopping centers and over 90 restaurants in family-friendly Elizabethtown.
“Families are traveling together, shopping together and eating together,” Clark adds. “That makes the experience that much more exciting. There’s a lot in this industry that travels by word of mouth. We see people coming to play soccer here because a cousin played baseball here. I love talking to people and finding out how they heard about us and what brought them here.”
There are also plenty of things an economic impact study can’t measure, but which nonetheless have a positive influence on the community.
“Our churches have seen an influx of kids in uniforms,” says Clark. “I just love turning around in the pews and seeing an entire team behind me.”
A Park That Does More
As the sports park has grown in business, it has added seasonal and year-round support staff (a total of 96 employees keep the facilities competition-ready) and has increased the offerings to visitors. The park now has a partnership with a local hospital so that visiting teams can arrange to have certified athletic trainers on the premises during athletic events. According to Clark, about 90% of event owners opt for this.
“The trainers help us out with everything from making calls on weather and field playability – and with 158 acres of open space, there are those challenges with the weather – to putting on Band-Aids and taping up injuries. We like that and the teams do too – the families know they’re able to get help if there’s an emergency.”
Working through a full year of competition has allowed the facility to make additional tweaks and improvements on an ongoing basis to continue to serve the clientele. And as the influx of sports teams has grown, E-town has worked to help them get around more efficiently.
“We’ve numbered our stoplights and put up additional signage,” says Clark. “We’ve put in a new road because of the park. We have had a lot of highway construction going on so we’ve adjusted how we give directions, and we’ve given out maps so people can get around.”
But with the challenges and the occasional growing pain comes the ability for the community to prosper as well.
“We’re sitting down with hotel owners and discussing how to make their businesses more successful based on the sports park,” says Clark. “We have a lot of conversations with developers and I’m told we’ll see even more of those. I spend a fair amount of time talking about things happening in and around and because of the park – sometimes, it’s a conversation about someone’s idea for a new local business, and sometimes someone is building their own park and they want to talk.”
A Town Ready to Welcome Visitors
Sports travel planners are looking to Elizabethtown Sports Park as a destination for their teams – and finding it an enjoyable place to spend a few days.
“We have a good number of people who want to enjoy our small town,” says Clark. And as the home of Abraham Lincoln’s stepmother, the town is a magnet for Civil War buffs. It also boasts a thriving art and culture center, museums and more.
“People want to go downtown and walk around. We are activity-heavy. There are street vendors, concerts and all kinds of activities. People find this place very charming.”
Those who want to venture further afield can enjoy everything else Kentucky can offer.
“We are 45 minutes south of Louisville and everything there,” says Clark, “including Churchill Downs, the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory, the Muhammad Ali Center, bourbon tours, horse farms, shopping, everything. We’re also only two hours north of Nashville and everything there.”
A Future That Looks Bright
With a year and a half under its belt, E-Town Sports Park is looking toward the future – and the future is bright. The park is already booked for 2014, and Clark and her staff are working on events from 2015 through 2017.
“We will definitely see an increase over what we had in 2013,” she says, “probably about 10 to 15 percent growth. We are exactly where we want to be. We want to be able to ramp it up, but we want to be able to handle it, and to bring the community along with us as we grow. Our goal is to have successful annual events, to work with partners who are holding events on an annual basis and every year, to mix in some new events.”
Still in its fledgling stages, the sports park has an impressive calendar of events (see shaded box for some notable examples) including baseball, fast-pitch softball, football, soccer and lacrosse. It is enjoying a strong reputation and emerging as a sports leader in the Southeast. But more than that, says Clark, it is providing a home not just for games but for memories.
“The next big win for us is being involved in the moments with the athletes and their families,” she says, smiling. “I love walking through when there’s a big event going on, and you can get it all at once: the crack of the bat, the squeals from the playground, the little kid with the ice cream dripping down his arm. It gives me such a sense of accomplishment and tells me there’s so much hope for the future.”
For more information on Elizabethtown Sports Park, visit www.touretown.com or call 800-437-0092.
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