Thanks to recent college championships, people are more aware of region's stellar fields, which are attracting tournaments.
Advantage Valley has been getting an extra kick from sports tourism in recent years. That’s because soccer has become a championship-level attraction in the area, with Marshall University winning the NCAA Division I men’s title in 2021, and the University of Charleston bringing home the Division II championship hardware in both 2017 and 2019.
“Those national championships created a lot more buzz around the sport,” says Kanawha County Commissioner Ben Salango. “There is a long history of soccer in West Virginia that people are now seeing, thanks in large part to the success of Marshall and Charleston. Folks are paying more attention to soccer.”
Netting Big Bucks
The 2019 U.S. Youth Soccer Eastern Regional Championships involved
260 teams from 14 states over seven days. That generated an estimated economic impact of approximately $18 million.
This increased interest has aided efforts to bring revenue-generating soccer tournaments to the region, such as the 2019 U.S. Youth Soccer Eastern Regional Championships.
“When we held that same event in 2009, the economic impact was around $12 million. Then in 2015, it was up to about $15 million, then $18 million,” says Tyson Compton, president of the Huntington Area CVB. “So it steadily increases each time. It fills all the hotels from Huntington to Charleston, because it brings in so many people.”
Build the Fields, And They Will Come
Of course, holding a successful tournament takes more than just interest in a sport. There also has to be quality facilities, which is something Advantage Valley has produced in recent years. It began in 2000 with the construction of the 3,000-seat Schoenbaum Soccer Stadium at Coonskin Park in Charleston, which has hosted the high school soccer championship as well as NCAA games.
Then the town of Barboursville in Cabell County created a soccer complex that quickly caught the attention of the U.S. Youth Soccer organization. Over the past decade, the facility has expanded to 16 fields, including three new synthetic-turf fields, across two pieces of property.
“It was gradual at first, but then it became more of an active effort to really get out there and market the facility as a tournament destination,” says Brandi Beasley, executive director of the Barboursville Convention and Visitors Bureau. “That benefits Barboursville, but it also provides a great boost to the economy across a large area.”
In 2018, the Shawnee Sports Complex opened in Dunbar in Kanawha County. The $20 million facility includes six fields that can be used for soccer, lacrosse and football, along with four baseball/softball fields. The complex quickly began attracting large tournaments.
“We’ve handled some tournaments with more than 200 teams and have provided a good experience. We’ve built off that momentum in creating other tournaments, and we’re already booking tournaments into 2023 – soccer, but also baseball, softball, football, even Frisbee tournaments.”
Ben Salango | Kanawha County
Barboursville also is growing to meet the demand. The new turf fields are bringing in events for lacrosse, baseball/softball, football and rugby, and an indoor facility for basketball and volleyball is in the works.
“As soon as the turf fields were finished, we already had a waiting list,” Beasley says. “They are being used every day. People were waiting, asking us to call them the second they could get on the fields. So, there definitely is a demand.”
First-Class Facilities Deliver Results
All these expansions and improvements enable the region to continue attracting well-attended tournaments. “They built those fields to bring in tournaments of this caliber,” says Anna Adkins of the Huntington Area CVB. “And now to keep them, we have to keep upping our game.”
The economic opportunity makes it worthwhile. Salango says that through its first four years of operation, including the pandemic-shortened schedule of 2020, the Shawnee Sports Complex generated more than $100 million in economic impact. The 2022 schedule includes two more U.S. Youth Soccer tournaments, which he said will pump approximately $24 million into the area economy.
“Teams are always looking to travel to a first-class facility,” Salango says. “If you have that and give people a good experience, they’ll want to come back. That’s what we’ve done successfully around here.”