When the convention and visitors bureau for Bryan College Station changed its name to Bryan College Station Sports + Events, it was not because of changes in its role; in fact, the organization had already built its reputation on its proven history of attracting and marketing some of the most successful sports events around. Rather, it was a reflection of the area’s ever-growing role as a sports destination.
Nicknamed “Aggieland” for its rich agricultural heritage, the dual cities of Bryan and College Station — with a collective population of about 200,000 residents, plus the student body at Texas A&M — host events as diverse as the US Youth Soccer Region III Presidents Cup and the American Quarter Horse Association Youth World Cup. Large-scale basketball, softball, lacrosse and seven-on-seven football tournaments also are part of the mix.
“A sports commission is not good for every community,” says Kindra Fry of Bryan College Station Sports + Events, explaining that fundraising for multiple communities under the Brazos Valley Sports Foundation umbrella proved impractical. “But obviously, we’re doing something right, because people are interested in coming here. Now the question is, how do we capitalize on this momentum and not get complacent?”
The answer to that question lies in the results of a recent analysis completed by the CVB with a strategic planning consultant, the Huddle Up Group. The goal, Fry says, is to determine what the organization — and, by extension, Bryan and College Station — are doing well regarding attracting more sports tourism, as well as how and where it can improve.
“This could lead to new facilities, and this could lead to upgrades of existing facilities,” Fry says, adding that implementation of changes will begin this year. “The restructuring will make it clear to event owners that our focus is on sporting events.”
Additionally, with the naming of Scott Woodward as the new athletic director at Texas A&M in January, the restructuring also could lead to new opportunities with the flagship institution of the state’s largest university system.
Spirit of Cooperation
Not only is Bryan College Station home to Texas A&M, but the two communities also boast strong ties with local school districts and parks and recreation departments.
Those relationships date back to the days of the Brazos Valley Sports Foundation, when representatives from those entities — as well as local government officials, restaurant and hotel operators, and youth sports organizations — sat on the foundation’s advisory board. That board still operates today under the leadership of the Bryan College Station CVB.
“We don’t have the facilities to sell; they do,” Fry says of the board members. “But we have the sports-selling and event experience to help them. They bring ideas and actively pursue events. When we host larger events, they are the first people we go to help organize local organizing committees. It’s all about constant relationship building with us.”
Variety of Venues
Some of the most popular athletic facilities at Texas A&M that are used for both public and private events include Reed Arena for basketball and volleyball, Kyle Field for football and a variety of student recreation facilities that offer natural grass and synthetic turf fields, a natatorium and other indoor activity areas.
The natatorium, in particular, has become a destination for high-profile events. It features an eight-lane, 50-meter competition pool equipped with two moveable bulkheads that allow for conversion to either two 25-yard or 25-meter courses. There’s also a 17-foot diving well that contains 1-, 3-, 5-, 7.5- and 10-meter diving platforms, and it doubles as an eight-lane, 25-meter pool. The facility’s second level provides spectator seating for 1,100, with room for an additional 1,200 more.
Sometimes scheduling at Texas A&M can be a challenge, Fry says, but university officials are willing to cooperate with the CVB and event organizers to iron out logistics.
Veterans Park and Athletic Complex in College Station currently offers 11 multi-purpose fields (two of them with synthetic turf, and two more synthetic turf fields on the way) and five grass softball fields — all of them lighted. Recent upgrades include Wi-Fi and new audio systems. Youth, college and other amateur sports organizations use the multipurpose fields primarily for Ultimate, lacrosse, soccer and seven-on-seven flag football tournaments.
Then there’s the Bryan Regional Athletic Complex, which offers nine soccer fields, four softball fields, two tennis courts, two baseball fields and a basketball court.
The annual Budweiser Softball Festival for adult slow-pitch teams from throughout the state uses both the Bryan Regional Athletic Complex and Veterans Park and Athletic Complex as hubs for its continuous 24-hour tournament format. As many as 300 teams play at those and other facilities throughout the area.
For sports of a different kind, the Brazos County Expo Complex hosts a variety of events, including horse shows and rodeos, in two large 70,000- and 75,000-square-foot arenas. The facility also includes large barns, conference and exhibit space and ballrooms.
Meanwhile, the four high schools in Bryan College Station — each with two regulation-size basketball courts — host the annual Aggieland Invitational, a long-running holiday basketball tournament that attracts more than 60 high school girls’ teams from around the state.
In June, those four high schools (along with three middle schools) will welcome one of six Texas stops on the 2016 Great American Shoot-Out, a tournament featuring some of the best high school boys’ basketball talent in the country and attended by hundreds of college coaches.
Temperatures in Bryan College Station hover between the 50s and 80s for much of the year, with a few months of average temperature readings in the 90s during the summer. Interestingly, summer is when the area attracts some of its biggest events, including:
The 2016 US Youth Soccer Region III Presidents Cup at multiple venues will bring in teams from several states (including Louisiana, Tennessee and Alabama) between June 13-19
The 2016 PrimeTime Sports Tournament of Champions seven-on-seven football state tournament will feature an estimated 130 teams at Veterans Park and Athletic Complex on June 25-26
The 2016 7-on-7 State Championships will feature 128 teams at Veterans Park and Athletic Complex from July 7-9
The 2016 USA Masters Swimming South Central Zone Long-Course Championships will be held at Texas A&M from July 29-31
“The big thing in this community is that everybody is very supportive of one another,” Fry says. “Because of that, when we ask the school district to use its facilities, for example, people there see the benefit of bringing people into our community to eat at our restaurants and sleep in our hotels.”
Situated in the middle of the Dallas/Fort Worth, San Antonio and Houston triangle, the Bryan College Station area offers approximately 4,300 hotel rooms — a number that is expected to increase to 4,700 by 2017. At least seven new hotels have been added to the mix within the past 18 months.
“One of the best aspects of our community is that you’re within a 10-minute drive of anything from any venue in the city,” Fry says.
“Anything” can include, well, plenty of things. Grand Station Entertainment is ideal for members of youth sports teams when they’re not competing. The 73,000-square-foot space features 40 lanes of bowling, laser tag, a glow-in-the-dark miniature golf course, arcade gallery, sports bar and food court. Broadway shows, and museums and galleries, aren’t far away, either.
For adults, antique shops, wineries and live music venues await.
There’s also the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum, which opened in November 1997 on the campus of Texas A&M and is widely considered one of the top 30 attractions in all of Texas. The facility “is dedicated to preserving and making available the records and artifacts of George H.W. Bush, 41st President of the United States … [and seeks to] promote civic literacy and increased historical understanding of our national experience, and foster a community of public service and volunteerism.”
The extracurricular activities that the Bryan College Station region offers away from the playing fields, the pool and the courts are — just like the sports opportunities themselves — abundant and welcoming.
“People are so proud of this community,” Fry says, “that they want to share it.”
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