Greensboro, North Carolina, is called “Tournament Town” for many reasons.
The Atlantic Coast Conference is headquartered here, and the Greensboro Coliseum has hosted the ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament 26 times and the ACC Women’s Basketball Tournament 16 times. The arena also was home to the 2015 NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Regional Championship in March, and will host preliminary rounds of the 2017 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament. And let’s not forget that the facility was the site of a breathtaking Final Four in 1974, when North Carolina State upset UCLA in the semifinals.
During the past year, however, Greensboro tourism officials have been able to make the city — and specifically the expansive Greensboro Coliseum Complex, which also includes a Special Events Center and the Greensboro Aquatic Center — an even more tempting destination for championship-level competitions in everything from volleyball and gymnastics to figure skating and wrestling.
The culmination of all that Greensboro tourism officials have been striving for will occur next July, when the 2016 USA Masters Games come to the city. This new multi-sport event is expected to draw thousands of athletes 25 years of age and older, who will compete in more than 20 sports at the Greensboro Coliseum Complex and a variety of other venues in Greater Greensboro. The coliseum will serve as the 10-day event’s central hub and village.
“These Games are a huge deal,” Kim Strable, president of the Greensboro Sports Commission, said when the locale for the USA Masters Games was announced earlier this year. “They will help us build or enhance our relationships with at least 20 major sports governing bodies, including many Olympic sports. Each of those governing bodies has additional Masters events that could come to Greensboro, or in the case of a number of them, youth and elite championship events, as well. This is the kind of event that many of the biggest sports-tourism-oriented cities in America would just love to have.”
Dee Mittman, a sports sales manager for the Greensboro Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, says the city began working to secure the USA Masters Games back in 2013. Modeled after similar events in other countries, the Games are expected to be held in the United States every two years.
There’s plenty more happening in Greensboro, too. What follows is a sampling of Greensboro sports highlights, made possible in large part thanks to the city’s late-2014 acquisition of a modular polypropylene flooring system called Sport Court for multipurpose use in the Greensboro Coliseum and Special Events Center.
Several levels and age groups of the North Carolina AAU and USSSA Boys’ Basketball State Championships were held at the Coliseum Complex in May, the first time those humongous events had been staged under one roof. “The AAU organizers never had considered Greensboro until we acquired the Sport Court,” says Brian Ambuehl, another sports sales manager for the Greensboro Area CVB, adding that other cities previously hosted games at multiple sites. “By cutting down on the logistics associated with using multiple sites, more referees and more site directors, we are able to save teams and event organizers a lot of time and money.”
Another basketball first: The Coliseum’s Special Events Center hosted the Greensboro Spring Invitational in April for an estimated 100 elite girls’ basketball teams from as far away as Illinois. Part of the NCAA’s series of Women’s Certified Basketball Events, it allowed players to compete in front of recruiters from several colleges and universities.
Finally, the AAU Boys’ Basketball 13U Division I and II National Championships are scheduled for the first week of July in both 2015 and 2016. With an anticipated 190 teams of 10 to 12 players and two or three coaches each, plus their families, Greensboro CVB officials expect to tally up to 10,000 hotel room nights from the weeklong competition. No wonder the city has already placed a bid to host the 2017 and 2018 championships. “So far, that’s the marquee event to be held on the new courts,” Ambuehl says.
In addition to the Special Events Center, the Coliseum Complex houses the Greensboro Aquatic Center, which has been busy lately, too. Known locally as the GAC, the facility includes a 50-meter competition pool with eight long-course lanes and up to 22 short-course lanes, a 25-yard diving well with six lanes, and another six-lane 25-yard pool for warm-ups/cool-downs, as well as teaching and therapy.
The 2015 U.S. Synchronized Swimming Junior Olympics will be staged at the GAC in late June and early July, attracting an estimated 1,200 young athletes. Later in July, USA Swimming will hold its 2015 Futures Championships at the facility for the first time. This meet will provide young elite swimmers the opportunity to qualify for the Speedo Junior Nationals or the 2015 Phillips 66 National Championships.
Tennis and Soccer Expansion
A pair of capital improvements projects at the city-owned, privately operated J. Spencer Love Tennis Center and Bryan Park Soccer Complex should help boost programming and sponsorship opportunities at those two facilities.
The tennis facility already boasts 13 clay courts, and at least $350,000 has been earmarked for an additional five or six clay courts. More fundraising efforts, however, could lead to the construction of as many as 18 new courts — which would make the Spencer Love Tennis Center, already one of the busiest tennis facilities in the state, among the busiest in the entire South and a destination for regional and national tournaments.
Meanwhile, officials at the Bryan Park Soccer Complex — home of the Greensboro United Soccer Association and 17 immaculately maintained Bermuda grass fields used only during games and not for practice — have developed a master plan that calls for the addition of up to 50 new fields within a 10-mile radius of the Bryan Park facility. That will require a $4 million investment, according to officials, and the goal is have the fields ready for play in 2017. Ambuehl says those fields also could double as venues for lacrosse and field hockey.
The evolution of soccer, in particular, is significant to Greensboro. The city hosted 12 youth tournaments in 2014, which collectively attracted an estimated 25,000 players from the United States and Canada.
Greensboro has even become “tournament town” for dogs. More than 250 dogs from eight states participated in the Sweet Tea Classic earlier this year at the Greensboro Sportsplex. This was a flyball event in which teams of four dogs (any breed and any size) each competed in a relay race. Dogs needed to clear four hurdles to reach a box, trigger the release of a ball and then carry that ball back over the four hurdles, and then the next teammate in line completed the cycle. The fastest team won.
When the competition — animal or human — is over, there’s plenty for dog owners, athletes and their families to do in Greensboro, including visits to the ACC Hall of Champions, the Greensboro Arboretum and the new SKYWILD, a treetop adventure park located above the Greensboro Science Center’s zoo. The park consists of 60 challenges including ropes courses, zip lines and towers that range in height from 12 to 45 feet above the ground and are specifically designed to mimic a variety of animal adaptations and behaviors.
Long Live Tournament Town
Greensboro has established itself as a top-notch sports destination city — one that has plenty to offer – and its tourism officials continuously look for more opportunities. Taken collectively, the events hosted at the Greensboro Coliseum Complex and other facilities in the area demonstrate the city’s dedication to sports tourism.
“There’s always been an effort to bring in more events,” says Amy Scott, director of marketing for the Greensboro Area CVB. “But we have a lot more facilities now, so we can go after even more.”