Sports Tourism Is Economic Game Changer in Rutherford County, TN
Sports events are helping fuel a steady increase in Rutherford County tourism.
Rutherford County is lighting up the scoreboard in terms of the rising number of sports events coming to the region. A variety of state, national and even international athletic competitions are held here each year, from established tournaments such as the Division 1 Boys and Girls State High School Basketball Championships – first held in Rutherford County in 1975 – to newcomers like the Grand Prix of Dog Agility World Championships.
Sporting events have become so prolific in Rutherford County that in 2011, Murfreesboro was named one of the 150 best sports cities in the United States by Sporting News magazine. This rapid growth of sports tourism is earning the county a reputation as the Sports Capital of Tennessee – a phrase by the Rutherford County Convention & Visitors Bureau has trademarked.
“It’s all about rolling out the red carpet, providing Southern hospitality and showing visitors the sports facilities we have here,” says Barbara Wolke, vice president of the Rutherford County Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Once they’re exposed to that and see what we have to offer – and the fact that we are in the geographic center of the state and within a day’s drive of much of the eastern United States – it makes us a perfect destination for sports events.”
Build It, and They Will Come
Tourism in Rutherford County has increased an average of approximately 8 percent each year since 2001, topping $272 million in revenues in 2012. This growth has been fueled in part by the surge of sporting events in the area, which are held in a number of new venues. “All these facilities are why we’re able to bring some larger events here,” Wolke says.
A prime example is the Richard Siegel Championship Soccer Complex, a $12.9 million facility that has 15 fields – nine of which are lighted – spread over 130 acres. For the past two years, the Tennessee Cup Youth Soccer Tournament has taken place at the Siegel Complex, attracting more than 240 teams from across the nation. This four-day event brings in about 8,000 participants and a total of 35,000 visitors, creating an economic impact of approximately $2 million.
Since 2006, the Siegel complex has also been the site of Spring Fling, a series of tournaments that determines the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association champions in baseball, track, softball, tennis and boys soccer. This event has a $3.5 million impact on the county.
Rutherford County benefits from the quality venues found at Middle Tennessee State University as well. MTSU has new facilities for track and baseball that have been used for several state events. Additionally, the university’s athletic program recently joined Conference USA – which has members from Virginia to Texas – and is now bringing C-USA tournaments to campus, such as the 2013 conference volleyball championship.
New facilities are also opening at Old Fort Park, a 50-acre park that has two trail heads connecting to Murfreesboro’s newly expanded greenway system. A $3.7 million indoor tennis facility with eight courts is scheduled to open in 2014, and a six-hole golf course designed for junior-level players, Bloomfield Links, was recently completed. Both are expected to draw additional tournaments to the region.
The Wide World of Sports
The reach of these events extends far beyond Rutherford County and the Southeast. The 2013 Grand Prix of Dog Agility World Championships brought in more than 800 people (and 1,000 dogs), including participants from seven countries. Other events that took place in Rutherford County in 2013 included the Nutrena American Quarter Horse Association East Novice Championship, which had more than 1,500 entrants, and the eastern finals for the Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association. All three events were held at the Tennessee Miller Coliseum.
“The two things that really stood out were the facility – the crew and the staff there were fantastic – and just the overwhelming hospitality and friendliness of the people,” says Annie DeChance, a spokesperson for the United States Dog Agility Association. “Every time we went out and people found out who we were, they acted like it was the greatest thing in the world. We felt like celebrities. It was awesome. Everybody just went above and beyond to make sure it was a pleasant experience. We’re definitely going to come back.”