The Age of the Small Market

While these markets may be smaller in size, that does not mean they are not a force to be reckoned with when it comes to a sporting event. Smaller markets across the nation are proving once and for all that this is the age of the small market.

Snohomish is a Standout

In such a revitalizing time for our industry, small markets are repeatedly proving they have what it takes to rival larger sports-focused markets.

Time and time again, small markets have been seen as a second- and third-tier option when picking a location for an event. However, these markets are truly embracing what being giving those labels mean and are using that label to break records.

In the age of COVID-19, small markets have an unseen advantage. Due to the smaller size, the entire CVB will step in when needed to help a planner with their event. Because of the hands-on approach when it comes to safety measures and execution, smaller locations will not be seen as the younger sibling much longer.

The Angel of the Winds Arena in Snohomish County is a frequent stop for tournaments.

Take it from Snohomish County Sports Commission’s very own residential expert in all things sports planning, Tammy Dunn. Dunn, a long-time CVB employee, says when it comes to sports, Snohomish County focuses mainly on the ones they know they can execute near perfection for the planner.

“We have a great partnership with our venues in our county, so by having a partnership with them we can work together to bring a sporting event to our community. We do the same with the sports event planners–we build a relationship with them to understand their event which helps our relationship grow.”

When it comes to a planner’s relationship with a smaller market, building a rapport with the staff at the CVB is crucial. This better serves the planner in the long run, especially when it comes to repeat events.

For example, the Northwest United States Club Soccer organization has already formed a contract with Snohomish County Sports Commission to host their annual Club Soccer Regional after a stellar year in 2021 proved exemplary. Snohomish County will now host the event through 2023.

More events Snohomish County retains are Perfect Game Northwest Baseball Tournaments, United States Specialty Sports Association (USSSA) Adult Tournaments, USA Softball fastpitch tournaments, and National Softball Association NSA fastpitch tournaments. Aside from softball and baseball, they have also hosted the 2016 Pacific Rim Gymnastics Championship, the 2017 USA Curling Men & Women National Championship, 2018 Skate America, and tennis’ 2020 Fed Cup by BNP Paribus Qualifier. The Fed Cup, hosted in February 2020, was a standout success as spectators from around the globe tuned in to see Team USA compete against Team Latvia at the Angel of the Winds Arena. Over 6400 people were there in person to ultimately see USA defeat Latvia 3-2.

This year at the same arena, Dunn says that Snohomish County is expecting a large turnout at the American Cornhole League’s (ACL) Pro Shootout and Open Series on June 24th through the 26th. Another major event this year at the Angel of The Winds Arena is the Street League Skateboarding Champion Tour which is being held in mid-August.

In addition to regional events, Dunn says Snohomish County routinely hosts local sports as well and puts the same amount of emphasis and work into them as they would a larger event. Both the Lake Stevens Regatta, hosted by the Lake Stevens Rowing Club, and the TriMonroe Triathlon, as well as the USA Triathlon Youth & Junior Elite Race Series will be back after being missing two years. This is exciting for the area, because it means that sporting events are finally returning to normal again.

Dunn also says the “Kayak Disc Golf Resort will be hosting several disc golf events throughout the spring and summer. The tournament drew over 310 players last year and will be back July 16th through July 17th. “

Dunn also suggests capitalizing on what you have around your location. “Snohomish County has so many must-do excursions when visiting. The Boeing Future of Flight has a gallery with exhibits about aviation innovation and history plus interactive exhibits. The Boeing Company is located in Everett at Snohomish County Paine Field,” she says. “Funko Pop headquarters are also must-see. The now worldwide famous business started as a retailer in Snohomish, Wash. Today, Funko headquarters is a retail store selling their famous Pops—mini action figures—including Star Wars, Marvel, Disney, Harry Potter, famous athletes, and more.

Numerous airports in relation to Snohomish County also are utilized thanks to the location.

“Snohomish County is conveniently located in the Puget Sound Region in the Pacific Northwest which acts as easy access to nearby hotels, restaurants, and sports venues. Traveling to Snohomish County to compete in tournaments is easy and convenient thanks to Paine Field Terminal in Everett. Alaska Airlines through offers commercial air service to several destinations all along the West Coast including Phoenix, Tucson, Spokane, Boise, Orange County, and Las Vegas.

Moving East

On the East Coast, Leah Markham with Wilmington and Beaches Convention and Visitors Bureau thanks the area’s natural beauty for helping the staff capitalize on high retention when it comes to events. Markham says “our staff are truly blessed with a great destination to serve as the base for more than a half dozen annual outdoor events including soccer tournaments, marathons, triathlons, softball tournaments, surfing events, and more. Not only do we have the amazing scenic beauty and natural surroundings visitors see as they make their way around town, but we also have great attractions, restaurants, and nightlife to fill any downtime they may have. Once we get groups here once, there is a high likelihood they return.”

Wilmington offers all the perks that come with a coastal destination along with the conveniences and amenities of a big city.

Markham states, nestled along the Cape Fear River, Wilmington was selected as one of The South’s Best Cities by the readers of Southern Living magazine. Previously, the city was chosen as having America’s best riverfront, and the Riverwalk was selected as one of the country’s best riverwalks in USA Today’s 10 Best Readers’ Choice awards. Wilmington’s River District features more than 200 restaurants, shops, and attractions, most of which are within walking district. Visitors can choose from an assortment of water- and land-based activities, as well as a variety of guided and self-guided tours including history, craft beer and theme walking tours, trolley, horse-drawn carriage tours, kayak/canoe excursions, biking and nature trails, narrated cruises, and culinary adventures. The area hosts a busy lineup of festivals and special events throughout the year that may already be taking place during planned sporting events. There are multiple attractions for visitors who want to “get physical” with activities like laser tag, climbing walls, and more, plus multiple championship golf courses located nearby.

Markham says signature events hosted in Wilmington include the IRONMAN 70.3 North Carolina edition, the Seaside Soccer Classic, the Carolina Cup Standup Paddleboard race, and the Wilmington Marathon, which is noted as Boston Marathon qualifying event

Wilmington’s IRONMAN brings in close to 3000 athletes and more than 7000 total attendees each year. Markham states, “we anticipate seeing the same gradual year-over-year increases moving forward.”

IRONMAN in Wilmington is a standout event each year.

Other sporting events hosted in the area include the North Carolina State Closed Hard Court Tennis Championships, Cape Fear Rugby 7’s Tournament, Sweetwater Pro/Am Surf Fest, and USA Wrestling tournaments.

Wilmington also offers a variety of other sports thanks to their amenities. Markham states, “Wilmington’s venues are best suited for youth and amateur sporting events including soccer, softball, volleyball, gymnastics, cheer, rugby, baseball, triathlons, marathons, golf, watersports, weightlifting, bowling, lacrosse, table tennis, and flag football. Ranging from multiple indoor and outdoor athletic facilities like Miracle Field at Olsen Park (which is accessible for wheelchair athletes) to the only convention center on the North Carolina coast, there are plenty of options for hosting sporting events.”

Markham mentions, “The Wilmington Convention Center is the only convention center on the North Carolina coast and can host sports events with attendance for up to 2000 people. The convention center has a 30,000-square-foot exhibit hall, 12,000-square-foot ballroom, 5784 square feet of meeting space, 15,000 square feet of pre-function space, ticket office, concessions, and an attached parking deck. To date, the convention center has hosted events including cheerleading, dance, gymnastics, martial arts, badminton, and volleyball.”

Other facilities available for use in Wilmington are the Althea Gibson Tennis Complex at Empie Park which has 24 tennis courts with lights and a 1500-square-foot clubhouse with a lounge, meeting room, and snack counter. The complex also connects to the Gary Shell Cross-City Trail which is the largest tennis facility east of I-95 in N. Carolina.

Wilmington also offers Legion Sports Complex which includes Jurgenson-Gabriel Field, Legion Back Field, Buck Hardee (Baseball) Field, Robert Shipp Pool, and four lighted tennis courts. The venue seats about 6000 spectators including 40 open spots for handicapped seating.

Also in North Carolina is Winston-Salem. If you visit Winston-Salem’s official webpage, you are greeted with the saying “venues built to compete.” Winston-Sales located in the heart of the state offers pristine facilities, tracks, spacious arenas, multi-purpose fields, and more. Winston-Salem has a long history of prestigious sports and athletics, after all, it serves as home to Wake Forest and Winston-Salem State University.

Visit Winston-Salem’s sports resume includes several Division I, II, and III playoffs, NCAAA Championship games in various sports, and multiple Team USA-sanctioned events.

UNC vs. Pembroke took place in Winston-Salem NC.

In Winston-Salem, make sure to check out several things that city has to offer. From beautiful walking trails to bar crawls, to historic gardens and fine dining, you will never run out of things to do.

While you visit, make sure to try some of the famous Moravian cookies—bite sized lemon-flavored shortbread that will have you wanting to visit Winston Salem for every event. Before you leave, you will have already planned your next visit.

If you still want the North Carolina feel, try Nash County. Nash County is a smaller city just outside of Raleigh. Nash County is also home to several baseball and softball facilities including Rocky Mount Sports Complex (RMSC). RMSC is a prestigious sporting complex and athletic facility hosting youth and amateur teams from across the country.  Conveniently located off Highway 64 and four miles from Interstate 95, the Sports Complex is an impressive 143-acre multi-use facility. Host to a full slate of regional, state, and national sporting events, it boasts baseball fields, soccer/football fields, a professional disc golf course, two outdoor basketball courts, outdoor volleyball courts, picnic shelters, and a walking trail. Miracle Park offers baseball, softball, and soccer fields, walking trails, basketball courts, and an accessible playground that accommodates individuals with varying disabilities.

The state-of-the-art Events Center brings concerts, cheerleading events, volleyball tournaments, basketball playoffs, and more to its 165,000 square feet of event space. It also keeps spectators and guests happy between games at game day, and indoor adventure park with climbing walls, rope courses, and arcade games. Outside of athletics, Nash County is home to seven disc golf courses perfect for enjoying the beautiful sunshine. You could also enjoy a game of ball at Grover Lucas Park or J.W. Glover Memorial Park & Complex. If you are planning an event for avid golfers, have them check out Belmont Lake Golf Club, Northgreen Country Club, or Benvenue Country Club.

If your event is in the heat of the summer, try Tar River Paddle Trail made up of 10 canoe and kayak spots that span over 50 miles. In addition to the numerous facilities, Nash County also has a small town feel that will keep you returning year after year.

On the same coast is also Stafford, Va. In Stafford, teamwork makes the dream work. The staff at Tour Stafford is always there to provide hands-on guidance to planners. Stafford is also home to a wide range of sports facilities that have hosted several world-class athletes, teams, and events.

Stafford’s team offers free services to planners as well including hotel and facility selection, bid development and presentations, tourism information including special offers from local shops, event marketing and promotion, and onsite staff the day of the event.

Stafford also has a variety of sports facilities including landscaped golf courses, several parks, football fields, baseball stadiums, swimming pools, and more. While you are in Stafford, make sure to check out the extensive nightlife offered. You’ll want to check out everything, so make your plan more than one event at once.

Further up the East Coast, sports still reign supreme on Presque Isle Bay with the Erie Sports Commission.

Erie Sports Commission’s executive director Mark Jeanneret says, “our market offers everything that a major market offers. We have repeatedly seen that once an event is held here, event owners want to repeat the success they experience, and they keep coming back. Erie has the updated, modern venues that event owners need, as well as the accessibility, affordability, attractions, and accommodations that event attendees need to create a memorable and enjoyable trip. Additionally, our team at the Erie Sports Commission provides unparalleled service throughout the course of the event and will do everything we can to make the event planning process as seamless as possible.”

The Bayfront Convention Center in Erie, Penn. frequently hosts events for all levels of sporting events.

It is no surprise that Erie Sports Commission is such a big name in the sports tourism industry. After all, they host events such as the NCAA Women’s Frozen Four, a CHA Tournament, College Hockey Inc. Ice Breaker Tournament, Pennsylvania Junior Wrestling Championships, and the NCAA Division II Women’s Basketball Championships in the Erie Insurance Arena. However, one arena that stands out is the ERIEBANK Sports Park and Erie Sports Center.

According to Jeanneret, “These two adjacent facilities are in the heart of Erie’s shopping and entertainment district, just off busy Interstate 90. ERIEBANK Sports Park offers two NHL-sized ice rinks and four hardwood basketball/volleyball courts with bleacher seating and has 10 locker rooms on site. Adjacent to the property is Erie Sports Center, a facility that has 10 grass fields as well as an indoor facility that was completely renovated in fall 2021 to include a new café, dining area, updated restrooms, and a brand-new FIFA-accredited turf installed under a four-season dome.”

Erie is also home to Bayfront Convention Center which offers more than 120,000 square feet of space and spectacular floor-to-ceiling views of Presque Isle Bay. The largest room, The Great Hall, features more than 28,000 square feet of column-free space and a ceiling height of 23 feet. The facility annually hosts major gymnastics, cheerleading, dance, and billiards tournaments.

To further retain events, the Erie Sports Commission works to foster relationships with local sports enthusiasts to assist them in creating local events, growing them into ones that attract competitors from a regional market.

“Erie Sports Commission embraces that we’re a mid-sized market and believe that is to our advantage. When athletes and their families attend events in Erie, they will find our small city has the updated and modern venues they need to compete, but with limited traffic they’ll spend less time in the car traveling to their game,” Jeanneret says. “They’ll find eclectic restaurants and a wide variety of attractions for entertainment between rounds, and because they are more affordable, visitors can experience more while they’re here. Our event owners know their events will receive local media coverage and community buy-in, as they’re not vying for attention against major league sports.”

Take it from the NCAA Women’s Hockey Championship this past year. The event has made national headlines time and time again for the stellar performance of not just the athletes, but the attention to details thanks to Erie Sports Commission. Jeanneret adds, “Erie was the location for women’s college hockey nationwide in 2021. Even though fan access was limited due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the events were the biggest Erie has hosted in terms of national prominence and notoriety, with games broadcast live on ESPN networks and receiving major social media and national digital news coverage.”

Keeping with the same level of notoriety, Erie will host the VNEA World Junior Pool Championships, the USA Dodgeball Northeast World Team Tryouts, and the 2022 Strongman Corporation National Championships later this year.

 Gone Midwest

Lincoln is known worldwide as the capital city of Nebraska. Lincoln’s official website states it is “a cityscape that communicates a thriving economy, expansion of new business, influx of talent, and endless opportunity. Lincoln is sweeping top national rankings which are validating its success, yet its charming character and modesty still rings true.”

If you plan a sporting event in Lincoln, be prepared to be met with praise. A statement from Lincoln states, “The Lincoln Sports Foundation is one of the finest sports complexes in the nation, with over 100 acres, with 60 of those acres being professionally maintained fields. The multipurpose indoor facility holds 11 volleyball courts, four basketball courts, and one indoor turf field.”

The complex hosts major soccer tournaments, volleyball tournaments, basketball tournaments, and other civic events. Lincoln has held club sports, spartan races, high school championships, and even food shows.

Heading back south to warmer weather, sports are a way of life—these small markets are no exception.

The South and Sports

Dothan, a small southern town in the heart of Alabama, is known in the area for their extensive tournament lists including national events for USTA, USA BMX, and Dixie Youth Baseball and Softball. Thanks to Dothan’s extensive fields, which according to Visit Dothan is 47 professional grade tennis courts, 31 baseball and softball fields, six soccer fields, a competition pool, a killer BMX track, and so much more.

The National Peanut Festival in Dothan takes place every fall.

The Visit Dothan staff offers hands-on experience alongside sports planners to make events the best they can be.

The Visit Dothan website reads, “Dothan, AL is a city filled with history yet embraces the modern times. If you are looking for an interesting town in the South to visit, consider stopping by Dothan, AL. This town has a rich and unique history that spans several centuries. It’s grown from a small township established before the Civil War into a modern city with universities, parks, and other modern amenities. Although it has grown into a modern city, it still holds onto much of its historic past.

Dothan prides itself on accessibility. With Dothan Regional Airport (DHN) nearby, flying into the area from any state is, as they say in the South, “easy as pie.” According to Visit Dothan, “DHN offers a daily scheduled non-stop jet service to Atlanta, provided by Delta connection regional service ExpressJet.”

In addition to the ease of travel, Dothan is a town filled with things to do. The National Peanut Festival held in Dothan every year during November, attracts thousands of visitors from all over the South.

According to Visit Dothan, “This extravagant festival, which honors the contributions of local peanut farmers, as well as the history of the peanut industry in Wiregrass Country, includes a vast range of events and attractions that draw fairgoers of all ages.”

If you are not going in November, do not fear, Dothan also offers a variety of other entertainment sources. Folklore Brewing and Meadery is a local favorite among craft enthusiasts. If you stop by, try ‘the Grateful Red.’

Plano, a country town in Texas, is showing the bigger markets what a smaller market is all about. According to the city’s website, its sports motto is “Plano’s Got Game,” which could not be truer.

Shopping at Legacy in Plano is a must-do when visiting the area.

Visit Plano notes “Plano’s incredible sports support infrastructure enables us to run the best tournaments in the industry, amateur and non-traditional alike. With the support of an experienced, award-winning athletics staff, Plano produces amateur youth sports tournaments at a professional level.”

Plano has everything to back up its proud statements. With over 16 state-of-the-art facilities ranging from smaller baseball and softball fields to collegiate centers, Plano has everything you could ever wish for when it comes to your event.

In total, Plano has five recreation centers, two golf courses, 133 tennis courts, nine swimming pools, 168 athletic fields, 160,000 square feet of indoor sporting courts, and two ice rinks.

If you are a planner who likes to plan everything or multiple tournaments in one weekend, Plano is the destination for you. Plano also offers several dining and shopping options perfect for your crew.

As they say, “everything’s bigger in Texas,” and Lubbock is no exception. Their official website encourages travelers to “visit a place where rich western history meets a thriving metropolitan hub, and where creative expression meets fine wine, eclectic food, craft beer, lively events, world-class art and serene outdoor spaces. From cultural festivals to Texas Monthly-recognized BBQ joints to classical symphony concerts, Lubbock has a taste of something for every visitor.”

The team at Lubbock Sports knows sports. The team has excellent service and hospitality to make your event the best of the best. Lubbock nicknamed “Hub City,” will want to be on your planning radar for every event after you visit. In 2019, Lubbock hosted 198 sporting events, held 130,875 room night stays, and received $40.9 million in economic impact.

Lubbock also has extensive sports facilities for every event including baseball, basketball, bowling, boxing, disc golf, fishing, football, golf, gymnastics, martial arts, motocross, powerlifting, roller derby, soccer, softball, tennis, track, swimming, diving, volleyball, wrestling, and more.

Speaking of nightlife, if you want to live like a true Southerner, check out Baton Rouge, La., and the team at Visit Baton Rouge. Louisiana’s capital city is filled to the brim with all things shopping, fine dining that will be a hit with all palettes, and of course, sports.

It is no secret why Baton Rouge and the state of Louisiana in general are referred to as a “sportsman’s paradise.” After all, with everything from kayaking to canoeing, bass fishing to deep sea fishing, and running to golfing, there is no shortage of outdoor sports that will have you reconnected with nature in no time.

Baton Rouge also features a stunning Audubon Park Golf Course on the water perfect for relaxation time, several community baseball parks with a Marucci Clubhouse, a state-of-the-art Burbank Soccer Complex with 21 fields, Memorial Sports Complex, and several Louisiana State University sports facilities available for use.
For planners, Visit Baton Rouge has an excellent toolkit when visiting their website, visitbatonrouge. Planners will be able to select the type of field they need, for what sport, and other close-by necessities such as restaurants, malls, gas stations, and more.