If you’re part of the sports event world, Greenville, South Carolina, is definitely on your radar. The city has longstanding relationships with many state, regional and national governing bodies. But there are some people out there who were less familiar with the sports scene in this city of Southern hospitality, until 2008, when all that changed.
That was the year Greenville took center stage as host of the “Super Bowl of Fishing,” the Bassmaster Classic, and the sports world took notice. Bassmaster returned to Greenville for its 2015 Classic, cementing Greenville’s growing reputation as a capable and exciting sports destination. Now it’s time to take a closer look at how this little city reels in sports’ biggest events and keeps them coming back for more.
Word on the Street
When you’re a growing sports destination, it’s sometimes necessary to get out there and tell everyone you meet about your city’s attractions and capabilities … but it’s far better if someone else does that for you. Just ask Greenville. In the past few months, the city has been named one of “America’s Top 10 Best Downtowns” by Livability.com; one of the “Top Six 2015’s Hottest New Vacation Destinations” by CBS News/Peter Greenberg; one of the “Top 10 Best Small Towns for the Holidays” by SmarterTravel.com; and number 7 on Lonely Planet’s “2015 Best in the U.S.” list.
Why is Greenville on everybody’s list? Well, for a number of reasons, actually.
Beauty and fun: Greenville is located a stone’s throw from the Blue Ridge Mountains, and the Reedy River runs through it. Once an old mill town, the new Greenville has grown into a cosmopolitan retreat for the sports-minded and athletically inclined.
Greenville, a longtime destination for both runners and cyclists, also announced this summer that it will be hosting the 2018/2019 USA Triathlon Duathlon National Championships.
The event includes two race distances— a standard duathlon, which is 4.6k run (2.9mi), 31.2k bike (19.4mi) and 4.4k run (2.7mi), and a sprint duathon, which is a 2.9k (1.8mi) run, 20.8k (12.9mi) bike, and 2.7k (1.7mi) run. The course route will begin at Furman University and go through the foothills.
Robin Wright, senior sales manager for Sports at VisitGreenvilleSC, is a big fan of both the race route and the community’s rallying support. “Greenville’s local community consists of strong running and cycling enthusiasts. We are thrilled to introduce USA Triathlon Duathlon athletes to what we believe is one of the Southeast’s premier cycling and running locations – yeah, THAT Greenville!”
Experience and partnerships: All of this enthusiasm for athleticism and exciting community happenings has fostered the development of a deep bench of sports event expertise, making Greenville a top-tier choice for sports event planners. The community’s support for sports also means that Greenville has been able to build and maintain more than a small city’s usual share of exceptional facilities, such as the MeSA Soccer Complex, Westside Aquatic Complex, Fluor Field at the West End, Conestee Park and the Bon Secours Wellness Arena.
These facilities were one of the features that brought Greenville to the attention of planners for the Bassmaster Classic, but the other clincher was the city’s creative thinking and close partnerships with surrounding communities.
“When you’re a community [of] Greenville’s size, you might look at an event like the Bassmaster Classic and think, that’s not for us,” says Wright. “But with some out-of-the-box thinking, it’s obvious that Bassmaster is actually a great fit for Greenville. We partnered with our nearby community of Anderson to make it happen, and it was a huge hit.”
For the Bassmaster Classic, Anderson provided the water and the fish, in the form of the 56,000-acre Lake Hartwell, located on the border of South Carolina and Georgia. Greenville’s TD Convention Center, with its 60,000 square feet of meeting space and 280,000 square feet of exhibition space, provided a gathering place for anglers, and downtown Greenville’s hotels, dining and attractions kept them full and happy.
The event attracted the third largest attendance in Bassmaster Classic’s 45-year event history, and the reviews were enthusiastic. Michael Mulone, director of events and tourism partnerships for the Bass Anglers Sportsman's Society (B.A.S.S.), which conducts the tournament, told a local Greenville newspaper, The GreenvilleNews, when asked if the Classic would return to Greenville: “I hope it's a 'when.’ I think everyone involved with it left thinking, 'When can we do this again?’”
That success was the result of strong partnerships and cooperation, says Wright. “It’s both a big honor and a big commitment to have been selected, not once but twice, to host such a large event in a smaller city. Working together, Anderson and Greenville were able to deliver maybe even better than a larger city,” she says. “After all, you really are a big fish in a small pond when you’re here in Greenville.”
The Bassmaster Classic is just one example of Greenville’s strong relationships with its neighbors. The 2015 National Softball Association (NSA)/Louisville Slugger Girl's Fast Pitch World Series is holding its Class B Eastern Series at Tyger River, Spartanburg, South Carolina’s 12-field championship baseball and softball complex. The complex, however, happens to be closest to Greenville, so the two cities partnered to host the event, with Greenville providing additional attractions, hotels, dining and entertainment—and of course, one of America’s best downtowns—for athletes and their families between and after games.
“If we can help make something happen, we’re going to do it,” says Wright. “We might not be able to do some of these events alone, but by working with communities right down the road, we can make large events huge successes. And we know they’re successes because they keep coming back.”
The Future’s So Bright
Robin Wright is a great spokesperson for Greenville, since she is also the perfect example of a person who thought she knew this South Carolina city … and didn’t. When she was approached to come lead sporting event sales, Wright wasn’t too sure.
“I drove downtown, and all I could think was, ‘Where did this place come from?’” she says. “It was like somebody planted a seed 12 years ago, and this brand new, fresh city had grown there. I moved a month and half later. I was sold on it just by driving in.”
She’s right: Greenville has experienced an impressive amount of growth and development in the last decade or so, but that doesn’t mean they’re finished. Current renovations to the city’s airport and Bon Secours Wellness Arena are just a couple of the ways Greenville is ensuring its bright future.
Airport Upgrades: Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport recently launched a four-year improvement project called Wingspan, which will bring a number of enhancements to the airport experience. With the goal of retaining the airport’s ease of use and size, but improving visitors’ overall experience, Wingspan began by constructing an expansive ticketing area and a “Grand Hall,” which will include new food, beverage and retail concessions for passengers after the security checkpoint. These new additions will offer outposts of local Greenville favorites, providing a chance for guests to preview or revisit Greenville’s singular food, shops and culture. Other additions include a renovated baggage claim, exterior improvements, construction of a new North Wing of office space and construction of a Rental Car Customer Center.
Bon Secours Wellness Arena Improvements: In the fall of 2012, the Greenville City and County Councils approved renovation funding of $13.1 million and in June 2013, began the first of a three-year renovation project. The first phase included the installation of a new curtain system, a 360-degree ribbon board, a high-definition video score board, digital menu boards and concourse signage, parking lot upgrades and new risers. Phase Two was completed in June 2014, bringing improvements to two new outdoor marquees, upgrades to the concourse and ticket office and renovations to the backstage area.
Go with Greenville
Of all of the must-haves for a successful sports event, local spirit is probably one of the most crucial and hardest to define. Fortunately, some cities just have it, and Greenville is happy to share it. Come see how Greenville can make your next event the Super Bowl of your sport. Visit www.visitgreenvillesc.com to find out more.