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These Destinations Have Gone All-in for Sports

Sports are big business in the events industry. Whether youth or collegiate, amateur or professional, a single tournament can attract thousands of players and their families, driving massive room-night numbers and bringing big economic impact.

Cities and CVBs nationwide know the value of both traditional and emerging sports and are doing whatever they can to court sporting events to their baseball diamonds, football stadiums, ice rinks, soccer fields and convention centers.

Here are five midmarket cities with enticing facility options for sports events.

Seminole County, Florida

In Seminole County, Florida, just northeast of Orlando, facilities are the name of the game — and it’s a big game.

“Youth sports are definitely our bread and butter here in Seminole County, and a lot of our venues are outdoor venues,” said Danny Trosset, director of sports tourism for Orlando North, Seminole County Tourism.

The county’s marquee facility is Boombah Sports Complex, which opened in 2016 with 15 lighted fields, nine of those turf. People often think it’s only a baseball complex, but the synthetic turf fields offer flexibility for soccer, field hockey, lacrosse and football.

After a major renovation, Soldiers Creek Park reopened in 2017 as a six-field girls’ fast-pitch softball facility, and “to have a facility that was built and designed specifically for girls’ fast-pitch has been a big success,” Trosset said. The Seminole County Softball Complex offers another five lighted fields for softball.

Tennis is another major sport for the county. Sanlando Park’s 25 lighted tennis courts will welcome the NCAA Division II Men’s and Women’s National Tennis Championships in 2022, and tennis competitions for the 2024 Division II Spring National Championships Festival. The women’s softball championships will also be played at Soldiers Creek.

The county’s wide range of hotels and restaurants close to the complexes makes it easy for groups “to maintain that bubble concept,” said Gui Cunha, director of leisure tourism. A new WoodSpring Suites recently opened, and a Holiday Inn Express is under construction. Three of the area’s full-service hotels — the Westin, the Hilton and the Marriott — have recently been refurbished and renovated.

Sioux Falls, South Dakota

Sioux Falls, South Dakota, has been rolling out new facilities and venues over the past decade and is now home to two massive complexes just minutes apart.

“You can do basketball, football, soccer, volleyball and swimming all within a drive time of 10 minutes max,” said Krista Orsack, director of marketing for Experience Sioux Falls.

The Sanford Sports Complex is home to the Sanford Pentagon, the Sanford Fieldhouse, Scheels IcePlex, Huether Family Match Pointe, the South Dakota Junior Football Park, and Power and Grace Gymnastics.

The Pentagon has nine basketball courts, including the 3,250-seat Heritage Court. The Sanford Fieldhouse offers 85,000 square feet for indoor soccer, baseball, softball and football, and Scheels IcePlex offers three sheets of ice.

Three miles south is the Denny Sanford Premier Center, which can seat 10,600 for basketball and hockey or 12,000 for concerts. The arena is attached to the Sioux Falls Convention Center, where two exhibit halls and a flexible ballroom combine to offer more than 50,000 square feet, and that connects to the multipurpose Sioux Falls Arena, which seats 7,000.

Softball and soccer “are big for us in the youth space,” Orsack said. Sherman Park offers nine lighted softball fields, Harmodon Park has seven lighted baseball fields and eight lighted softball fields, and Yankton Trail Park provides 21 lighted soccer fields.

College sports are also a major market for Sioux Falls. The city is home to two of the state’s largest NCAA Division II schools and sits equidistant between the state’s two Division I schools. Those factors, plus the city’s central Midwest location, played into the Summit League’s decision to relocate its conference headquarters to Sioux Falls from suburban Chicago in 2018.

Columbia, South Carolina

With 133,000 residents, the South Carolina capital of Columbia is small enough to offer a friendly feel and Southern enough to provide nearly year-round nice weather. As home of the University of South Carolina’s main campus in downtown, it also delivers the vibrancy of a college town.

“College sports, obviously, in a college town is huge,” said Scott Powers, executive director of Experience Columbia SC Sports.

Though the city benefits from the influx of college sports and can sometimes use the university’s facilities for events like state high school championships, Experience Columbia’s biggest markets include youth baseball, softball and soccer, as well as tennis.

Soccer tournaments often use the Fields at Saluda Shoals Park, an athletic complex with six multiuse fields, a couple of practice fields and 10 tennis courts, all in a 400-acre riverfront park with miles of trails, along with canoeing, kayaking, tubing and biking.

For baseball, the Lexington Sports Complex has five youth baseball fields; the Kelly Mill Sports Complex is a four-field facility. The city also works with the minor league baseball team, the Columbia Fireflies, to use Segra Park, a 9,000-capacity stadium that has hosted high school football games and the start/finish lines for half marathons, as well as general meetings and conferences.

“Tennis is another big sports market for us, both youth and adult,” Powers said.

Cayce Tennis and Fitness Center has 23 full-size hard courts and seven small courts for children’s 8-and-under matches.

Providence, Rhode Island

Rhode Island may be the smallest of the nation’s 50 states, but it’s the second most densely populated, and Providence is its largest city with nearly 180,000 people. The Dunkin’ Donuts Center, or “The Dunk,” seats 14,000 and connects to the Rhode Island Convention Center, which is anchored by the 564-room Omni Providence on one end and the 274-room Hilton Providence on the other. A 176-room Residence Inn opened across the street in fall 2019, and the Graduate Providence is half a block away.

The complex is key to the city’s sports markets, and events often use the convention center’s 100,000 square feet of exhibit space and 20,000-square-foot flexible ballroom.

Ice hockey is probably the city’s No. 1 sport, and cheer and dance are other major markets, but “my biggest event scheduled for this year is American Contract Bridge League,” said John Gibbons, executive director of the Rhode Island Sports Commission. The tournament is scheduled to take over the entire convention center for 12 days in July and has contracted about 12,000 room nights.

Varsity Spirit also uses the entire convention center as well as The Dunk for the annual Spirit Festival and regularly books the center for its Athletic Championships, U.S. Finals and Varsity University, a conference for coaches and judges.

Every January, the Kennedy Memorial Hockey Tournament draws roughly 170 teams to play “on almost every sheet in the state,” Gibbons said.

Girls’ volleyball is a burgeoning sport for the city, and sold-out tournaments use the convention center as well as courts at Rhode Island College.

Boise, Idaho

Boise, Idaho, is home to Boise State University and its famous blue turf Albertsons Stadium. The college town of 230,000 also sits at the base of the picturesque Boise foothills, which contribute to locals’ love of all things outdoors.

“We offer a really good experience outside of the sporting experience for families to enjoy while they’re here,” said Brandon Fudge, sports sales manager for the Boise Convention and Visitors Bureau.

One of the city’s largest events is the ASWD Twilight Criterium, a USA Cycling race that takes place in downtown. Local officials hope to expand Boise’s cycling events, possibly into trail competitions that could use the city’s extensive trail systems.

Bam Jam Boise is the city’s annual three-on-three basketball tournament for players of all ages and abilities that takes over courts across the city.

Soccer and softball are also major markets that bring events to town. Most soccer tournaments, like the U.S. Youth Soccer Far West Regional Championships, use the 161-acre Simplot Sports Complex, which has 20 grass soccer fields and 15 baseball diamonds. The Willow Lane Athletic Complex offers six lighted softball fields, and Ann Morrison Park also has softball fields.

Boise has “a ton of tennis and pickleball courts everywhere in the city,” Fudge said, among them the Appleton Tennis Center on the Boise State campus.

The Boise Centre in downtown offers the 24,000-square-foot Grand Ballroom, which can be used for indoor sports like cheer and dance. The center also connects to the 5,000-seat Idaho Central Arena, both close to the city’s growing portfolio of downtown hotels.