Sports tourism in Annapolis, Maryland, dates back to the pre-Revolutionary War era — even though nobody called it “sports tourism” back then.
From 1769 to 1775, the Maryland Jockey Club hosted the Annapolis Subscription Plate, which is considered the second-oldest horseracing trophy in the country. Rumor has it that George Washington and other U.S. politicians dropped some coin at the club, which still exists today as the corporate name of a company that operates multiple horseracing tracks in the state.
More than 225 years later, the state capital of Maryland, which has become woven into the fabric of the Baltimore-Washington, D.C., metropolitan area by American political and cultural history, is less than a six-hour drive for 40 million people. That kind of proximity makes Annapolis not only a destination point but a haven for ballplayers, sailor, runners, cyclists and a wide variety of other athletes.
Big Decisions Made Here
“Annapolis has this romantic mystery and history about it,” says Jo Ellyn McNees, vice president of sales for the Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Conference & Visitors Bureau. “There were big decisions made here. James Monroe and George Washington walked through the Maryland State House as it still stands today and talked about launching a new nation. Even back in the 1700s, this city was a hub. This is where you come to have your events.”
With a diverse lineup of athletic events in 2014 ranging from soccer and lacrosse to sailing and cycling, Annapolis also is the star of the new film, “Better Living Through Chemistry,” a dark comedy starring Sam Rockwell, Ray Liotta and Jane Fonda that hit theaters in March. In fact, Annapolis now has a long list of movie credits to its name, including the 1945 Frank Sinatra-Gene Kelly musical, “Anchors Aweigh,” 1992’s “Patriot Games” and 2005’s “Wedding Crashers.” Scenes from the “NCIS” television show and Netflix’s “House of Cards” also have been filmed at, respectively, the U.S. Naval Academy and the State House.
“It’s not a main selling point, but it’s certainly in my toolbox,” McNees says about the city’s Hollywood connection.
Also in her toolbox:
• The Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, which McNees calls an “underrated asset,” located a short distance from many of Anne Arundel County’s 17 synthetic turf fields and dozens of multipurpose fields. BWI, as it is known in the trade, has its own cluster of airport hotels for the ease of those flying in and out.
• The Maryland Sportsplex, featuring four volleyball courts, two futsal courts and an indoor turf field.
• Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, the 34,000-seat home of Navy Football and Major League Lacrosse’s Chesapeake Bayhawks, which also accommodates a variety of other sporting events and activities.
• Competition swimming pools and Olympic-size ice rinks.
• 11,000 hotel rooms.
Annapolis attracts multiple soccer, baseball and lacrosse events, bringing in thousands of athletes and their families. Additionally, the Naval Academy offers 19 men’s sports, 10 women’s sports and four co-ed sports. In December, Annapolis will host the Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium for the second of five consecutive years. The nationally televised game pairs teams from the Atlantic Coast Conference and Conference USA; the first five editions of the Military Bowl were played at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C.
McNees says the ultimate goal is to go after some of the sports other cities aren’t avidly chasing, such as Ultimate Frisbee, paintball and Quidditch (a real-life human adaptation of the wizard world sport featured in the Harry Potter books and films). “We have all the mainstream sports, but our strategy is to look at more upcoming sports that are getting bigger.”
On Water and On Land
Once upon a time, Annapolis was a bustling port town — a descriptor that still applies today. In fact, much of the city’s sports culture is built around sailing and the presence of the Chesapeake Bay, the largest estuary in the United States. In 2006, the city also was the only U.S. stop on the around-the-world Volvo Ocean Race.
Wednesday night sailboat races take place every week from late April through late August in the Annapolis Harbor, and several regattas and sailing competitions are scheduled throughout the summer and fall. Many of those races are qualifying competitions, which allow sailors to compete in larger and even more prestigious events later in the year.
In early August, the 41st St. Mary’s College Governor’s Cup Yacht Race will feature more than 100 yachts setting sail from the Annapolis Harbor as part of the oldest and longest overnight race on the Chesapeake Bay. The 70-mile course also provides prime spectating opportunities.
Other spectating fun can be had at Chesapeake BMX, a nonprofit track operated on a volunteer basis in Severn, which is part of Anne Arundel County. The facility began marketing to riders and their families from outside the area about four years ago, McNees says, and Chesapeake BMX’s presence and status is increasing. This summer, in fact, it will host riders from around the country in the BMX East Coast National Championships.
Another cycling event slated for this summer is Race Across America, which will involve more than 300 elite bicyclists from all over the world journeying 3,000-plus miles through 12 states. Individual and relay races will begin June 10 and June 14, respectively, and conclude several days later at Annapolis’ City Dock. Billed as “The World’s Toughest Bicycle Race,” Race Across America is now in its 33rd year and requires riders to travel at least 300 miles a day on fewer than four hours of sleep.
Two additional races will take advantage of the region’s beautiful scenery and unique geography:
• The Annapolis 10 Mile Run, presented by the Annapolis Striders running club, has been ranked by Runner’s World magazine as one of the top 10 ten-mile races in the country and begins at the Naval Academy’s Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium before taking participants through the city’s historic areas and over the Severn River. This year’s event is scheduled for August 24.
• The inaugural 10K Across the Bay, happening November 9 (when temperatures should be between 30 and 50 degrees), is expected to draw more than 20,000 runners from the United States and internationally to compete in a 6.2-mile race that will include an exhilarating trek across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. Organized by a local group that partnered with organizers of the Boston Marathon, the race will have a special field for elite runners and will mark the first formal on-foot crossing of the dual-span bridge in eight years. McNees says the event has secured the bridge for the next five years and is expecting big things from Across the Bay 10K.
Off the water or away from the field, athletes and families can find much to do in Annapolis and Anne Arundel County. In addition to the Naval Academy and State House, the area is home to a thriving art scene, festivals, historical attractions and restaurants in a wide variety of price points. Options for lodging include historic inns, bed and breakfasts, full-service hotels and everything in between.
From Sports to S.P.O.R.T.S.
McNees and her colleagues at the Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Conference & Visitors Bureau also hope for big things to come from S.P.O.R.T.S.—The Relationship Conference, sponsored by Sports Events Media Group and hosted for the first time in Annapolis from Sept. 8-11. This high-profile networking opportunity for professional planners of amateur sporting events and competitions will shine a bright and much-deserved spotlight on both the city and the county (home to nearly 10 percent of Maryland’s total population of 5.9 million people).
“This is really important to us, because we get to show off our assets to people who are planning events or expanding events,” McNees says. “Any time we can get sports planners and event rights holders into our area, it’s a great win.”