Youth and amateur contests Virginia has a deep bench of

jurisdictions that attract sports tourism, says Joni Johnson, the Virginia Tourism Corp’s national sales manager, domestic sales. Virginia Beach, Salem, Roanoke, Hampton and Norfolk, as well as Stafford, Fairfax and Loudoun counties have all stepped up to the plate. Promoting sports, primarily youth and amateur competitions in activities as diverse as ultimate Frisbee, bowling, basketball and fencing, has been an economic winner for them, says Johnson, because these events draw people who spend money.

Salem is a prime example. It hosts

both the NCAA Division III National Football Championship and the Division III Men’s Basketball championship. It also has been home to women’s soccer and softball championships along with volleyball and baseball tourneys. In 2015, a fast-pitch tournament there generated 8,900 hotel nights in seven days, says Carey Harveycutter, the city’s director of tourism. That represented nearly half of the 19,000 hotel nights Salem logged that year and about $20 million in revenue generated by hotel, food and transportation taxes. Like many other jurisdictions,

Salem is looking to upgrade its facilities. Harveycutter says a feasibility study for a new basketball and volleyball indoor venue is in progress. “Everyone wants to be in sports marketing,” explains John P. Shaner, director of Salem’s Parks and Recreation Department. “Everyone is building facilities.” The NASC reports that 40 percent

of the jurisdictions it surveyed in 2015 said that they had facilities under development, and 75 percent reported recently completing renovations. Loudoun County is working with

George Washington University on a study about the feasibility of a new sports complex, says Jennifer Sigal, media relations manager for Visit Loudoun. Stafford County already has taken

the plunge on a major investment. To stay on top of the competition, it has upgraded Embrey Mill Park, adding a $12 million swim center, two turf fields and four synthetic fields, with two more synthetic fields planned. The intention

Photo by Don Petersen

In 2015, a fast-pitch tournament in Salem generated 8,900 hotel nights in seven days, says Carey Harveycutter, the city’s director of tourism.

was not only to serve residents, but to attract more competitions, and it has had the desired effect. During Columbus Day weekend,

169 teams participated in a three-day youth soccer tournament at the park and at other county sites. Lisa M. Logan, tourism manager for Stafford County Economic Development and Tourism, estimates that each team represents 45 to 50 people, with 1.5 to two spectators per athlete. Thanks to its facility expansion, the county also recently won the right to host the 2017-18 U.S. Youth Soccer National Championship Series.

Chesterfield County deal Chesterfield County is poised

to make a large investment, too. At press time it was in the final stages of approving a deal that allows the county to acquire the River City Sportsplex for $5.5 million. The 12-field, 115-acre facility is expected to augment the $1.4 million in annual tax revenues the county already earns from sports tourism, but it needs more than $4 million in site improvements. Lynchburg is still another locality

that has come off the sidelines to join the pursuit of sports tourism

dollars. Johnson says it teamed with Liberty University to co-host the Commonwealth Games last April, which attracted about 10,000 athletes of all ages and skill levels. Furthermore, the partners will host the event for four more years. In 2019, Lynchburg and Liberty additionally will be the site of the State Games of America, an Olympic-style competition expected to draw 14,000 to 15,000 athletes. Pathik says sports tourism has

proven uniquely desirable for several reasons. First, it brings in visitors who otherwise wouldn’t travel. Even better, it is “recession resistant.” Parents may forgo a weekend getaway for themselves when the budget is tight, he says, yet they rarely stint on their children’s recreational opportunities. Thus, when other forms of travel took a hit during the last economic downturn, travel linked to youth sports continued to thrive. In the Richmond region, for

example, nearly 50 percent of hotel bookings now are attributable to sports tourism, says Danielle Vincenti, senior sports development manager for Richmond Region Tourism. What’s more, this sector of the industry fills rooms during slow times.


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