When the Greensboro Area Convention & Visitors Bureau created a position in 2004 exclusively aimed at boosting sports tourism business in North Carolina’s third-most-populous city, local officials were excited about Greensboro’s potential.
“Early on, youth travel sports were growing and we were cautiously optimistic about what the market would produce,” says Brian Ambuehl, hired as the CVB’s first sports sales manager. “The Atlantic Coast Conference is headquartered in Greensboro, and we’ve hosted quite a few ACC Basketball Championships, which laid the foundation for other sports pursuits.”
The 75-acre Greensboro Coliseum Complex, which opened in 1959 with a 7,100-seat arena, is now one of the most active and versatile facilities in the United States, hosting more than 1,100 events on an annual basis. Among its eight buildings are the 22,000-seat Greensboro Coliseum, the 167,000-square-foot Special Events Center, the recently renovated 38,000-square-foot Fieldhouse (home of the Charlotte Hornets’ NBA G League) and the 78,000-square-foot Greensboro Aquatic Center.
The publicly operated complex also offers 6,000 parking spaces and is a popular destination for championship-level competitions in everything from volleyball and gymnastics to figure skating and wrestling. It also consistently receives high praise from athletes, event planners and spectators.
In 2014, the city acquired the Sport Court modular flooring system for multi-purpose use in the Greensboro Coliseum and Special Events Center and, with the subsequent acquisition of basketball goals, score clocks, volleyball standards and 12 wrestling mats, the complex opened itself up to several new youth sports opportunities.
“We’re continually expanding our facilities to meet the requirements of events and event organizers,” Ambuehl says, adding that some expansion projects are funded with dollars from hotel and tourism taxes. “The biggest things happening right now are in aquatics.”
A fourth pool being added to the Greensboro Aquatic Center is scheduled for completion in 2019 and will boast eight 50-meter lanes and 10 lanes that can be used for either 25-meter or 25-yard competitions. The new pool will help keep the YMCA National Short Course Swimming Championships in Greensboro, which has hosted the event annually since 2012. GAC officials say that meet attracts approximately 1,600 swimmers from more than 200 YMCAs nationwide.
Other pools in the GAC include a 50- meter-by-25-yard competition pool with eight long-course lanes and 16 to 22 short-course lanes with seating to accommodate more than 2,000 spectators, a 25-yard six-lane warm-up/cool-down pool that also is used by the community for swimming lessons and aquatic therapy, as well as a diving well with eight diving apparatus and six 25-yard swimming lanes.
Before that fourth pool opens, though, the facility will host two high-profile USA Swimming events. The 2018 Winter National Championships is returning to Greensboro and run from November 28 to December 1 for the first time since 2014, featuring approximately 800 swimmers who will be able to post qualifying times for the 2020 U.S. Olympic Team Trials. The following week (December 5-8), the GAC will host the 2018 Speedo Winter Junior Championships-East, a short course yards meet that will include an estimated 1,200 up-and-coming swimmers.
“The Aquatic Center’s main competition pool has a consistent depth of nine to 10 feet all the way across,” Ambuehl says. “This depth helps suppress waves, creating a fast pool.”
Out of the Pool
While the immediate focus in Greensboro is on aquatics, basketball is never far behind. After all, it’s one of the main reasons the city is referred to as “Tournament Town.”
The Greensboro Coliseum has hosted the ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament 26 times and the ACC Women’s Basketball Tournament 18 times. The arena was also home to the 2015 NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Regional Championship and hosted preliminary rounds of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament nine times, with the most recent event being held in 2012. Plus, the facility was the site of a breathtaking Final Four in 1974, when North Carolina State upset UCLA in the semifinals.
In 2006, the Greensboro Coliseum hosted the ACC men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, as well as the first and second rounds of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, over a 10-day, 28-game stretch. It was the first time any arena in the United States hosted three post-season college basketball tournaments in successive weeks, Ambuehl says.
But it won’t be the last, as the Greensboro Coliseum will once again welcome both ACC tournaments and the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament in 2020.
Additionally, the ACC Women’s Basketball Tournament is slated for Greensboro through 2023, and every attendance record for the 40-year-old tournament has been set at the Greensboro Coliseum.
In 2016, Greensboro hosted the USA Masters Games, an inaugural multi-sport event that attracted 2,500 athletes ages 21 and older from 45 states and 10 countries who competed in 24 sports at the Greensboro Coliseum Complex and a variety of other venues in and around the city. The coliseum served as the 10-day event’s central hub and village.
The diverse facilities at the Greensboro Coliseum Complex aren’t the only venues attracting sports tourism in “Tournament Town,” though.
BB&T Stadium at North Carolina A&T State University — the new name for the facility formerly known as Aggie Stadium — houses Irwin Belk Track, which will soon be resurfaced in preparation for the AAU Junior Olympic Games coming to Greensboro in 2019. The facility opened in 2004 and has hosted numerous events including the NCAA Division I East Regional and New Balance Nationals Outdoor (a prestigious high school invitational), as well as high-profile events for USA Track and Field, North Carolina’s 2017 and 2018 Powerade State Games, and the North Carolina High School State Championships.
In mid-August, Greensboro’s Sedgefield Country Club hosted the Wyndham Championship — the sixth-oldest event on the PGA TOUR, dating back to 1938, and the oldest professional golf event in all of North Carolina.
Additionally, the city’s Parks and Recreation Department recently announced a 20-year comprehensive master plan and maintenance management strategy for the parks system, which Ambuehl says could lead to an even greater breadth and depth of sports facilities.
Hotels and Attractions
Considering the way sports tourism continues to escalate in Greensboro, it should be no surprise that at least four new hotels are in the works or already under construction. They include a business-traveler-oriented Hyatt Place (which is the closest to completion, according to Ambuehl), an upscale Westin Hotel and a Hampton Inn & Suites.
The developments coincide with a renaissance in downtown Greensboro, which went decades without any new lodging development.
“Sports, especially in the summer, really drive demand for rooms,” Ambuehl says, adding that the downtown area — located about three miles from the Greensboro Coliseum Complex — also is home to several restaurants and popular attractions, including First National Bank Field, home of the Greensboro Grasshoppers, a Class A farm team for Major League Baseball’s Miami Marlins.
Athletes and their families looking to take in some of the local sights that aren’t directly related to sports will be happy to know that two major attractions are getting bigger and better.
The Greensboro Children’s Museum recently underwent a series of significant enhancements and now offers an interactive indoor water feature that provides a captivating sensory experience in which patrons control the movement of water.
Meanwhile, the Greensboro Science Center, an experiential and family-focused facility, is in the midst of multiple projects that include building a STEM center, doubling the size of its onsite zoo and adding a carousel.
All told, Greensboro boasts more than 130 attractions, more than 500 restaurants and almost 10,000 hotel rooms.
“We have a lot to offer,” Ambuehl concludes. “Sports has really grown since the early 2000s, and we plan to keep that tradition going.” SDM