As one of the larger cities in Texas, with a near-perfect vacation-destination location on the Gulf of Mexico coastline, Corpus Christi is ripe for a robust sports tourism boom.
Which is exactly the plan.
The Corpus Christi Sports Commission formed in August 2022 to help propel economic impact in this city of about 320,000 residents by leveraging its clout in both land and water sports.
“There is untapped potential here,” says Joey Jewell, who returned to his native state to become executive director of the new sports commission after a seven-year stint at the Eugene, Cascades & Coast Sports Commission in Oregon. “We’re not Houston. We’re not San Antonio. We’re not Austin. But we are the Gulf Coast Capital of Texas. I cannot overstate how big of an opportunity — and responsibility — that is for us. And it would not be doing this destination any justice if we would not begin promoting the fact that this is a very heavy sports community.”
Indeed, professional athletes like Major League Baseball’s David Freese and Jose Trevino, the National Football League’s Clint Gresham, NASCAR’s Bobby and Terry Labonte, and five-time Olympic high jumper Amy Acuff, are from Corpus Christi. The city also is home to the Texas League’s Corpus Christi Hooks (a Class AA affiliate of the Houston Astros), and the Texas A&M-Corpus Christi men’s basketball team made its third appearance in the NCAA tournament this year.
Plus, there’s plenty of infrastructure already in place — including a convention center, parks with synthetic turf and natural grass fields, a natatorium, a tennis center and “some of the best wind in the world” (according to Jewell) for sailing and kiteboarding.
By Land and By Sea
As a Gulf Coast city, water is Corpus Christi’s largest and most powerful natural asset.
“We’ve got the bay right off from the downtown area, and then we’ve got Padre Island just off the coast, so all of those wind- and water-based sports are fantastic for us,” Jewell says.
Corpus Christi Bay ranks as one of the few natural harbors on the Texas coast, and average windspeeds of 17 miles per hour contribute to ideal conditions for sailing, windsurfing and kiteboarding. The Corpus Christi Municipal Marina and Corpus Christi Yacht Club likely will be integral partners with the sports commission in boosting sports tourism efforts on the water, according to Jewell.
“In addition to the historical sales success we’ve had from a competitive standpoint, we’re really looking to develop the kiteboarding community,” he adds. “We’ve got a huge local community for it, and we know there are people from all over the U.S. who travel down to experience that here. Our goal is to capitalize on that, as we have an opportunity to develop that sport as a destination, with the appropriate launches, so that we can start going after some big events or creating our own. Kiteboarding is going to be big for us.”
Overlooking Corpus Christi Bay is McGee Beach, located in the heart of downtown with manicured sand that plays host to volleyball, soccer and rugby, including Texas A&M-Corpus Christi’s beach volleyball team and the Express Soccer Club. Seawall steps double as spectator seating and provide outstanding views of the beach and beyond.
Back on dry land, the American Bank Center is a convention center complex with about 100,000 square feet of space for ball and mat sports, as well as a 10,500-seat arena. The facility is suited for everything from basketball, volleyball and gymnastics to ice hockey, boxing and rodeo, Jewell says. In fact, the center hosts a rodeo during the annual Buc Days celebration every May, and the facility is only nine miles from Corpus Christi International Airport.
Meanwhile, Cabaniss Athletic Complex (also known as Cabaniss Fields) hosts a variety of sporting events each year, including high school state tournaments and regular season matches of Corpus Christi’s professional soccer club, Corpus Christi FC. The complex can accommodate football, track and field, soccer, softball and baseball, and it boasts six synthetic turf fields, each with a permanent concession stand, press box and lights. Four of the fields have soccer and football goals. All told, the facility seats almost 15,500 spectators at all fields, with a large multi-purpose field holding up to 8,000 fans.
Adjacent to the fields is the Corpus Christi ISD Natatorium, with an eight-lane Olympic-size pool that is open year-round and includes two 3-meter and three 1-meter diving boards and a swimming pool lift. A second 25-yard instructional pool can serve as a warmup/cooldown spot during meets.
There’s also the HEB Tennis Center, with 25 lighted outdoor courts, and Bill Witt Park, which offers 12 multi-purpose grass fields (two with lights) and four baseball fields. In years past, the facility has hosted the South Texas Youth Soccer Association Cup State Finals and the Little Miss Kickball All-Star Kickball Tournament.
‘Gulf Coast Capital for Sports’
Prior to the formation of the Corpus Christi Sports Commission, either city officials or local community organizations would oversee state and regional sports events that came to town. “We had different groups that would just bid on or host events on their own, and a lot of them weren’t used to the process of bidding, submitting proposals and running events,” Jewell says. “That was a big impetus for creating the sports commission.”
Under the commission’s watch, some facilities in Corpus Christi, including infrastructure elements at McGee Beach, will undergo renovations to make them even more appealing to sports event organizers and planners.
“We’re at a point where we can host just about anything at the state and regional levels,” Jewell says. “We’re looking at some national events and world championships for sailing and other water-based sports. Our mission is to become the ‘Gulf Coast Capital for Sports,’ and we’re aiming to be that. We’re trying to make waves. But we also want people to know we’re all about South Texas hospitality, as well. We want them to feel welcome and comfortable while they’re here.”
With about 10,000 hotel rooms available, Corpus Christi offers opportunities for extended stays that could include visits to Padre Island National Seashore (a protected area in the Gulf that is home to a rare type of sea turtle), the Texas State Aquarium and the Art Museum of South Texas.
Within the next five years, Jewell expects the city to build new facilities that he says will be “massive game changers” to the sports tourism landscape in Texas. He can’t discuss most of them yet, but at least one has already been publicized. The privately developed, 37-acre Corpus Christi Sports Complex is expected to house several multi-purpose sports fields, a 5,000-seat soccer-specific stadium, walking and running trails, a hotel, and office and retail space. Developers say it will be able to host events for soccer, football, lacrosse, field hockey, rugby, cheer and more.
You can hear the excitement in Jewell’s voice when he talks about everything Corpus Christi has to offer, and how the future is as bright as the sun on the Texas Gulf Coast, and more specifically in the Gulf Coast Capital.
“Our main focus right now is letting people know who we are and where we are,” he says. “It’s a really great time to make some noise in the industry, and we’re going to do that. Once they’re here, people are not going to forget who we are.” SDM