The formula for successful sports tourism in the Myrtle Beach area is relatively simple.
“First and foremost, you must have the facilities in place and they have to be high quality,” says Mike Anderson, executive director of sports tourism for the Myrtle Beach Regional Sports Alliance and Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce/CVB. “But not just facilities for competition; you have to be able to accommodate meetings, expos, etc.
“Then, you need the destination itself, with a tremendous amount of hotel options, which in our case includes hotels to fit all budgets, beach homes and townhomes,” he adds. “Next, there are the restaurants—we have more than a thousand in the Myrtle Beach area, with plenty of options to choose from. On top of all that, there’s so much to do and see here, for visitors of all ages. You just can’t be bored in Myrtle Beach.”
When you add all of that up—excellent sports facilities, plenty of hotel and restaurant options and amazing entertainment and activities for visitors young and old—the answer you get is Myrtle Beach, an area where sports planners and organizers know their tournament or event will be a success.
As Anderson notes, it starts with the sports venues themselves. “If you don’t have the facilities for people to play and meet, then there’s no reason for them to come. The sports facility development in the Myrtle Beach region is amazing. They’re state of the art and very high quality.”
Myrtle Beach Sports Center
The shiny new penny on the sports facility scene is the Myrtle Beach Sports Center, which opened in March and is “going gangbusters,” Anderson says.
Just steps away from Myrtle Beach’s “Grand Strand” waterfront, the Sports Center is a new 100,000-square-foot, $12.4 million indoor facility adjacent to the Convention Center. With more than 72,000 square feet of column-free hardwood space, the Sports Center can accommodate eight basketball courts, 16 volleyball courts and be configured for many indoor sports and activities. There are seven team rooms, telescopic bleachers to handle crowds of up to 2,500, a mezzanine for elevated viewing and a café with indoor and outdoor seating.
“The response to the new Sports Center has been tremendous,” says John McDonald, MBSC’s general manager. “Even in these first three months, we’ve been extremely busy and the feedback from event owners and our guests has been terrific.”
So far, since March, MBSC has seen a varsity cheerleading event that brought in 5,000 athletes over the course of a weekend. There have also been large volleyball tournaments with 110-plus teams. In July, McDonald says the Sports Center will see volleyball action on four weekends, each with more than 200 teams.
Another unique aspect of the MBSC and one that helps build the future for sports tourism is the internship program the center has with the local community college, Horry Georgetown Technical College, as well as a collaboration with Coastal Carolina University. “Students in sports marketing and sports tourism are getting hands-on experience,” McDonald says, proudly. “It’s been a real positive in this industry.”
North Myrtle Beach Park & Sports Complex
Opened less than a year and a half ago, the North Myrtle Beach Park & Sports Complex can easily accommodate a range of activities. The complex has four regulation youth baseball/collegiate softball fields, two regulation high school/collegiate baseball fields (which can be transformed to regulation youth baseball and college softball fields), eight soccer/lacrosse fields and eight batting tunnels. Facility amenities in NMB also include umpire/officials rooms, dugouts with misting fans, concessions areas, picnic shelters, playgrounds, a three-acre dog park and more.
“We opened the Park & Sports Complex in March 2014 and it’s been one of the most impactful in this area,” says Matt Gibbons, superintendent of recreation/sports tourism for the City of North Myrtle Beach. “One of the trends we’re seeing is a big emphasis on college and high school spring training. For instance, we have a group called the Fastpitch Dreams Collegiate Softball that comes for three weeks in March, bringing in 80 teams each week, who play and practice, then enjoy all the activities in this area when they’re not on the field.”
This year, High Tide Ultimate Frisbee brought in 225 teams throughout March. “We had 30 states represented, from colleges all over the country,” Gibbons says, adding that both the softball and Frisbee groups had such a successful time, they signed on for the next five years. “Now with this being our second year, we’re seeing a lot of our tournaments increasing in size. It’s a great sign that event organizers want to come back here.”
Coastal Carolina University
Another large piece of sports tourism in the Myrtle Beach area is Coastal Carolina University, a Division I school that offers many top-notch facilities.
“We want to be a player in any way we can to support Myrtle Beach’s efforts as a sports tourism destination,” says CCU’s athletic director, Matt Hogue. “The caliber of our facilities is very high. Our new baseball facility, for instance, is one of the top in the country. Across the board, we have facilities that fit in very nicely with the Myrtle Beach area’s sports tourism goals.”
The unique baseball venue at CCU “very much has the look and feel of a high-end minor-league stadium,” Hogue says. “It’s very conducive to a lot of the things you have with major events. It’s really become a crown jewel for us.”
In addition to hosting NCAA baseball and softball playoffs, CCU has also hosted soccer and football playoffs, too. CCU’s sports facilities not only include a baseball and softball complex, but a practice and hitting facility, a football stadium, soccer stadium, tennis complex and more.
“Youth sports is so much more sophisticated now than five or 10 years ago,” Hogue says. “You have to have quality venues to offer, no matter what the sport is.”
Cal Ripken and More
Also recently renovated and expanded is the Cal Ripken Experience–Myrtle Beach. The complex consists of nine fields—four regulation-size diamonds and five youth diamonds. Each features a popular synthetic playing surface used by many pro and collegiate teams, which provide for consistent play, elimination of rain-outs and reduced risk of injuries. In addition, the fields are designed after historic ballparks, such as Griffith Field, The Polo Grounds and Navin Field.
The Grand Park Athletic Complex in Myrtle Beach features seven large multi-purpose fields and two youth fields, all with synthetic grass and lighting and designed to accommodate a variety of sports, including baseball, softball, lacrosse, soccer and football. The complex also has a six-tunnel batting cage, three buildings for restrooms and concessions and plenty of parking.
The Myrtle Beach area runs from the Little River at the border with North Carolina south 60 miles to the smaller community of Georgetown, South Carolina, which itself is a strong player in sports in the region.
“Georgetown has state of the art softball and baseball complexes that are catching the eye of regional sports organizers,” Andersons says. The community has 51 baseball and softball fields, in addition to 14 multipurpose fields and 31 tennis courts.
Something for Everyone
Off the playing field, it’s hard to find a better destination for players, their families and spectators.
“There’s something for everyone here,” Anderson notes. “From 60 miles of sandy beaches to all the attractions the waterfront offers, to great places to play every sport, including golf and tennis, to amazing restaurants—this is a perfect place for sports organizers to plan their events. And we look forward to helping them find everything they need to produce a successful event or tournament.”
In fact, with all the entertainment, activity and lodging options, Anderson says many sports events in the Myrtle Beach area reach record attendance.
“For players, fans and families,” he adds, “Myrtle Beach is not just a city but a destination.”