Let's get the clichés out of the way right up front. Top-notch. World-class. Mind-blowing. They all apply, but let's make it simple. Let's just call it the Greater Raleigh Way. It's about doing sports bigger, better and with a special Southern touch. It's the way sports should be done, and are done, when you stay and play in Raleigh, one of America's top sports destinations.
The Pro Experience
"Our primary markets are the collegiate, amateur and youth sporting events. We host those events close to 52 weekends a year," says Scott Dupree, vice president for sports marketing, Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau. "But with the Carolina Hurricanes hockey team, we're also a major league city. What it boils down to is that Greater Raleigh loves its sports-all sports-and that's what makes North Carolina's Capital City such a great destination."
This January, Raleigh showed exactly what all that sports passion could do when it hosted the 2011 National Hockey League (NHL) All-Star Weekend. The most recent in a long run of high-profile NHL events held in Raleigh, the All-Star Game was this city's chance to truly shine. And shine it did.
Michael Farber of Sports Illustrated had this to say: "While this will be recorded for posterity as an 11-10 victory for Team Lidstrom ... the clear winner was Raleigh."
Analyst Pierre McGuire of Canada's sports giant TSN, in his post-event broadcast, agreed: "It was a great collaborative effort between a lot of different people ... I've been going to All-Star Games since 1990, this was the best All-Star Weekend I've ever attended."
McGuire's analysis of Raleigh's team approach was right on. A local organizing committee of 28 community and sports leaders spent nine months tirelessly preparing for the weekend-long series of events. Their goal was to prove that a non-traditional (albeit successful) hockey market could produce an extraordinary NHL event. They did it in true Southern style, with a stable of strategies that would ensure every participant-owners, league officials, players, spectators, fans and even the media-had the best experience possible.
It started with 420 welcome banners all over town, life-size player images posted in the windows of stores and restaurants, and the two-day All-Star Wide Open, a street festival that drew 60,000 visitors. The committee threw a first-ever welcome reception the night the players arrived and extended their hospitality to the media as well, with unprecedented nightly media events and complementary airport transportation. Welcome gifts awaited media in their rooms, and the committee put together an extensive VIP gift program for players, sponsors, NHL officials and the NHL Board of Governors. An All-Star 5K for charity attracted more than 2,000 runners, and there was more ... much more.
In short, the Raleigh team ensured that everyone involved with the NHL All-Star Weekend arrived and left feeling like a VIP.
"We've developed a track record of success with the NHL," says Dupree. "Over the last nine years, we've hosted four of the NHL's major events, and by all accounts we've done it done it very well. But the All-Star Weekend was the largest and most successful event, by far, of any sports event-maybe any event of any kind-we've ever hosted in Raleigh."
A snapshot of the NHL All-Star weekend: 18,900 visitors came to Greater Raleigh, generating $11.4 million in direct visitor spending. The Meltwater Group, which tracked media coverage of the event, valued the event's international news coverage at $49 million. More than 500 reporters from around the world attended.
Making the Most of Momentum
Already a hub for a variety of sports, including soccer, softball, basketball, baseball, tennis and cheerleading, Greater Raleigh aims to give every participant the "major league" experience. It's not a simple task, but with a number of state-of-the-art venues (there are those clichés again), Greater Raleigh clearly has a head start:
RBC Center. Home to the NHL's Carolina Hurricanes and the N.C. State men's basketball team, the 19,700-seat RBC Center, located in west Raleigh, welcomes over 1.5 million guests and more than 150 events annually. The venue has hosted the NCAA basketball tournament, either men's or women's, in five of the last 10 years and will be the site of an NCAA Women's Regional in 2012.
WakeMed Soccer Park. A 150-acre venue in the nearby Town of Cary, WakeMed Soccer Park opened in spring 2002 and offers a 7,000-seat stadium and seven additional soccer fields. WakeMed Soccer Park, the home stadium of the Carolina RailHawks professional soccer team, has hosted numerous NCAA, ACC, youth and professional soccer events, including eight consecutive NCAA College Cups (the "Final Four" of college soccer).
USA Baseball National Training Complex. Baseball's National Governing Body, USA Baseball, operates this $11 million facility, which is located at The Town of Cary's Thomas Brooks Park. The complex is the home of amateur baseball in the United States and is also the site of the NCAA Baseball Division II National Championship.
Cary Tennis Park. North Carolina's premier tennis venue and one of the largest in the Southeast, the Cary Tennis Park features 30 courts. It is a frequent host of the ACC Tennis Championships.
Walnut Creek Softball Complex. One of the busiest - and best - softball complexes in the U.S., Walnut Creek Softball Complex features nine fields. Walnut Creek has hosted a variety of national events, including an NCAA D-III National Championship and the Senior Softball USA Eastern Nationals.
Raleigh debuted its new LEED silver-certified convention center in 2008, a venue that hosts many of the region's cheerleading tournaments, and has provided a draw for a number of growth sports as well, including volleyball. The new Triangle Aquatics Center has created some buzz of its own, bringing an impressive array of swimming events to Cary.
Lacrosse, one of Greater Raleigh's fastest growing sports, is booming, from the ACC Women's Lacrosse Championship to the U.S. Lacrosse Regional Qualifiers and the North Carolina High School lacrosse championships.
"Lacrosse is really taking off for us, and we're especially excited to have the state high school championships," says Dupree. "It's a priority for the city of Raleigh to host as many high school championships as possible. We want North Carolina's high school athletes to begin every season thinking, 'Our number one goal is to get to Raleigh, where we can win a championship.'"
Premier Host Partners
Greater Raleigh prides itself on teamwork, and no event is executed without the enthusiastic participation of many of the region's partners, including NC State University, the Carolina Hurricanes, the Capital Area Soccer League (CASL), the city of Raleigh, and St. Augustine's College, just to name a few.
The Town of Cary is another one of those key partners and a prime example of the Greater Raleigh sports standard. As an officially designated NCAA Championship City, Cary joined the company of big-city sports markets, including St. Louis, San Diego, San Antonio, Cleveland and Indianapolis, and has played host to numerous NCAA championship events in recent years.
And while Cary and Raleigh clearly have a central place in the NCAA, it's also the center of the soccer world. One event in particular sets Raleigh apart, the Capital Area Soccer League (CASL) visitRaleigh.com National Soccer Series, played over four weekends each November and December. The event brings over 1,000 teams from 45 states and generates a whopping 30,000 hotel room nights each year, with nearly $10 million in direct visitor spending.
"The National Soccer Series is the largest single youth sporting event ever held in the Triangle region of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill," says Dupree. "It takes over the town, and more than 500 college coaches come to recruit."
Sports Hub of the South
Raleigh already knows sports success, and knows it well. In the last five years, the Greater Raleigh CVB and its indispensible team of sports partners have made 325 sports bookings. In that same span, they have added more than 375,000 room nights and created $110 million in direct visitor spending. But don't be surprised if they don't sit back and relax. In Greater Raleigh, it's all about the game, and this is one city that's always ready to score.
A Sampling of Recent Sporting Events in Greater Raleigh
2011 U.S. Lacrosse Regional Qualifer
2011 NCAA Baseball Division II National Championship
2011 ACC Tennis Championships
2011 NHL All-Star Weekend
2010-11 N.C. High School Athletic Association State Championships (12 sports)
2010 NCAA Women's College Cup
2010 CASL visitRaleigh.com National Soccer Series
2009 NCAA Women's Gymnastics Regional
2008 NCAA Men's Basketball First & Second Rounds
2008 US Youth Soccer Southern Regionals
A Sampling of Upcoming Sporting Events in Greater Raleigh
2011 PONY Softball Nationals
2011 USA Swimming Southern Zones
2011 SAS Championship (PGA Champions Tour)
2011 Great American Cross Country Festival
2011 ACC Soccer Championships
2011 Pop Warner Mid-South Football & Cheerleading
2011 Nike Cross Country Southeast Regional
2012 U.S. and North American Table Tennis Olympic Trials
2012 USA Gymnastics Men's Region 8
2012 NCAA Women's Basketball Regional
2012 NCAA D-III Tennis National Championships