Sports Tourism Boom Blog
Youth sports can require a significant financial investment for travel to out-of-town tournaments. The expenses for food and lodging quickly add up, and communities in North Carolina are capitalizing on the increased interest in amateur sports by integrating them into their local economy.
One of the fastest-growing niches in the tourism industry today is sports tourism. Not limited to fans traveling to away or playoff games for their favorite professional or college teams, this sector includes amateur sports, such as travel baseball or soccer teams for youth. For families and kids participating in these sports, there are also benefits. Youth learn valuable life lessons by participating in sports and working together in teams.
Youth sports can require a significant financial investment for travel to out-of-town tournaments. The expenses for food and lodging quickly add up, and communities in North Carolina are capitalizing on the increased interest in amateur sports by integrating them into their local economy. Communities are building sports complexes capable of hosting tournaments and benefitting from increased taxes when those families stay in local hotels and eat in local restaurants.
One community using this sports tourism boom to its advantage is Rocky Mount. In 2018, the city opened the Rocky Mount Event Center, a 165,000-square-foot facility that has enough space for 8 hardwood basketball courts or 16 volleyball courts to be in use at the same time. Since its opening, the center has hosted dozens of basketball and volleyball tournaments. These tournaments bring thousands of people from across the country to Rocky Mount who otherwise would likely not have visited the city. The event center’s proximity to downtown provides additional support for businesses and restaurants along Main St. Beyond downtown businesses, the economic impact of this center is vast, bringing in an estimated $264 million in additional spending across Nash and Edgecombe counties in the first 10 years of operation. 2022 saw the event center bring nearly $15 million to local communities. In addition to youth basketball and volleyball tournaments, the event center currently hosts concerts and conferences, and its managers hope to expand its offerings to more niche tournaments like pickleball and cornhole.
Rocky Mount’s unique geographic position, directly on the border of Nash and Edgecombe counties, and the event center’s proximity to that border meant that lots of cross-county collaboration and conversation went into building the space. The thousands of visitors coming from out of town for a long weekend need more to do than just hang out at the tournament. A good example of the outgrowth from this event center is the newly refurbished Rocky Mount Mills. The mill and surrounding campus are now home to several new retail spaces, restaurants and breweries, trails and outdoor spaces, and even tiny homes that are used for lodging. Leaders in both counties and the City of Rocky Mount are excited about the growth that will continue to come from the event center, bringing thousands of people to Rocky Mount nearly every weekend.
Each community must play to its own strengths, which often include its history and physical assets. For example, Rockingham’s economy in the early 20th century was centered around manufacturing textiles. But, as more jobs moved overseas, this southern Richmond County town began losing sources of revenue and looked for other ways to gain it back. In the late ’60s, the town found its answer: The Rock. North Carolina Motor Speedway began hosting NASCAR races at the Rock in 1965 after being built with funds raised by Rockingham locals. Annually, the speedway hosted two NASCAR Cup Series races which brought drivers, teams, and racing fans to the area, spending money on hotels and restaurants. However, by 2004, the speedway closed, falling on hard times. But, recently, the speedway received several million dollars in grant funding to repair and restore its track in the hopes of attracting back NASCAR races. After this, the speedway can again hold races and other events, bringing in tourism dollars from across the state and country. Richmond County has already begun planning for several events and festivals to be held at The Rock, which will further incentivize tourism to the area and increase the potential of the speedway as an economic driver.