Just like creating a winning performance on the field or the court, a lot of things need to come together to create a winning sports destination.
One characteristic is that the destination needs to clearly love its sports. Related to that, it has to have excellent sports venues and facilities. The area also needs to be easy to reach. Finally, it needs to have a sports marketing group with a proven track record, one that is dedicated to doing everything it can to make events successful—for event owners and rights holders, for participants, and for fans.
By that definition, then, Greater Raleigh, N.C., is a clear winner.
Not only is Raleigh one of the fastest growing cities in the country, but also it continues to add to the long list of first-class sports events of all sizes that it has hosted. In response to the continued and growing interest in sports events coming to Raleigh and Wake County, this past summer the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau announced the formation of a new division, the Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance (www.raleighsports.org).
“The GRSA will market Raleigh and Wake County for the purpose of attracting sporting events, tournaments, championships and sports-related meetings to the area,” says Scott Dupree, vice president of the GRCVB, whose title now is Executive Director of the Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance. The GRSA also provides support and host services to existing events in order to help those events grow, continue to be successful and ultimately remain in Wake County.
In addition to its full-time, five-member staff, the GRSA has a 21-member Advisory Board, made up of sports, government, tourism and hospitality officials who play key roles in the sports event industry in Greater Raleigh.
“We figured now was the perfect time to bring many of our key partners together under one umbrella in the form of an alliance,” Dupree says. “This will help to generate an even greater sense of teamwork, as we move forward and make decisions that help chart the future of the sports event industry in Greater Raleigh. This will also strengthen our relationships and improve the lines of communication between all members of the alliance.”
Excellent Track Record
Forming the GRSA is, in many respects, a natural extension of the increased interest the area has been receiving when it comes to hosting sports events. “Greater Raleigh is one of the leading sports destinations in the U.S., and we continue to compete nationally for premier events,” Dupree notes.
The list of major events hosted in the Raleigh area is impressive, and continues to grow. It includes the NHL Stanley Cup Finals (twice), NHL All-Star Weekend, US Youth Soccer Southern Regionals, NCAA Men’s and Women’s Basketball, USA Gymnastics Men’s Region 8, a Champions Tour (PGA) event, ACC Men’s and Women’s Soccer Championships, and the CASL visitRaleigh.com National Soccer Series (which brings in 1,000 teams annually), to name just a few.
In 2013, the area will play host to the ACC Tennis Championships, NCAA Baseball Division II World Series, NCAA Women’s College Cup, and more. The Ironman 70.3 Raleigh event this June, which will bring in 2,500 participants from 43 states, was among the fastest sellouts the 70.3 series has ever had. The U.S. Lacrosse Southeast Regional is scheduled for 2014, and the State Games of North Carolina (with 13,000 athletes) is slated for 2015.
“We do a lot of NCAA and Atlantic Coast Conference championships, in addition to many high school, youth and amateur events,” Dupree says. “We try to establish personal relationships with the decision-makers in organizations. Once you have the opportunity to host those events and you host them well, and professionally, it builds trust. We’re very fortunate to have tremendous local organizations and facilities that host these events. Our staff, and our hosting organizations and volunteers, always go above and beyond to enhance every event.”
While capable of hosting a wide variety of events, Dupree says, Greater Raleigh has “a great track record for hosting large events” in soccer, softball, baseball, basketball, tennis and cheerleading in particular. “We have superb venues for these and other sports,” he notes. “We also have lots of local interest in those sports, and that can help us with host organizations and volunteers.” Volleyball continues to grow, as does lacrosse, which Dupree says is the fastest-growing sport in North Carolina right now.
Among the major venues in and around Raleigh is the PNC Arena, which has hosted NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, two Stanley Cup Finals, the NHL All-Star Weekend and the NHL Entry Draft. The 19,700-seat venue also is the home of the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes and N.C. State basketball. Located next door is the 57,500-seat Carter-Finley Stadium, which recently completed a $97 million expansion and renovation and is home of N.C. State football, as well as N.C. High School Athletic Association state championship games.
In nearby Cary, N.C., is the exquisite 150-acre WakeMed Soccer Park, which includes a stadium and seven additional fields. A recent renovation bumped up stadium seating capacity from 7,000 to 10,000, added two more locker rooms, four more suites, and multifunction meeting space. Operated and managed by the Town of Cary, WakeMed Soccer Park has hosted eight NCAA women’s and men’s College Cup events and many ACC men’s and women’s championships since it opened in 2002. The home of the professional Carolina RailHawks of the North American Soccer league, the park has also served as a training facility for the U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team prior to playing the World Cup in 2002 and 2006.
Also in Cary is the USA Baseball National Training Complex, the home of amateur baseball in the U.S., which hosts all types of youth and amateur baseball events from March through October. (In May, for the fifth consecutive year, it will again host the NCAA Baseball Division II World Series.) Maintained to Major League Baseball standards, the complex includes Coleman Stadium, with permanent seats for nearly 1,800, and three other full-size fields, two permanent batting cages, press box, and more. “It’s an immaculate facility, and a real showplace for the sport,” says Dupree.
State of the Art
One of the premier tennis venues in the country can also be found in Cary—the Cary Tennis Park. Named an “Outstanding Facility” Award Winner by the U.S. Tennis Association and the “2006 Municipal Tennis Facility of the Year” by Racquet Sports Industry magazine, Cary Tennis Park has 29 courts (including a stadium court) and four 36-foot youth tennis courts, along with locker rooms. Among other events, it has hosted the ACC Tennis Championships and the USTA Tennis National Campus Championships on multiple occasions.
The Walnut Creek Softball Complex in Raleigh features nine fields and includes dugouts, seating and a press box/concession building. The complex has hosted a variety of regional and national events, including the NCAA Division III Softball National Championships. It currently is the site of the annual Senior Softball USA Eastern Nationals, and much more.
Also capable of hosting a wide range of events is the state-of-the-art Raleigh Convention Center, offering a total of about 500,000 square feet of space, including a 150,000-square-foot exhibit area. “We’ve hosted volleyball, cheerleading, wrestling, gymnastics, chess and more in the Convention Center,” says Dupree. It also served as the site of the NHL All-Star Weekend’s Fan Fair, and this spring will host the Deep South Classic, a girl’s basketball showcase tournament with 256 teams. “We’re trying to do as much as we can to promote the Convention Center as a first-class multisport facility, and we’re off to a great start.”
Raleigh is one of the easiest places to get to for athletes and their families. Located halfway between Florida and New York City, the area is easily accessible by air, car, train or bus. Plus, there are more than 140 hotels in the area that offer all sorts of lodging options. “We have a wealth of hotels that are very sports-friendly,” Dupree adds.
“With world-class venues, a proven track record for hosting events, great year-round weather, a convenient location, the natural beauty of the area, and of course, our Southern hospitality,” Dupree says, “we’ve carved out a niche as one of America’s best sports destinations.”
For more information, visit www.raleighsports.org.