Sports Tourism Sees Another Banner Year in Chesterfield

Chesterfield County’s thriving sports-tourism industry poured about $41 million into the local economy during the 2018 fiscal year, an increase of about $2.4 million over the previous year. The year also saw 62 sports events that attracted athletes, families and coaches from across the nation and several countries, and helped generate nearly $1.5 million in local tax revenue.

A big part of the county’s sports tourism success is owed to the River City Sportsplex, which the county acquired in December 2016. The venue – responsible for $32.3 million of the total sports tourism economic impact – hosted 26 sports tourism events and attracted 549,000 visitors in fiscal 2018. That includes citizens, who frequently use the facility for open-play opportunities – a benefit touted by local officials when deciding to purchase the facility.

The 115-acre multi-sport complex continued to establish itself nationally, earning SportsEvents Magazine’s acknowledgement as an “Ultimate Soccer and Lacrosse Destination and Venue.” The National Association of Counties also presented Chesterfield County with an Achievement Award for its efforts to transform the once-fledgling venue into a premier sports destination. River City Sportsplex is home to one of the largest collections of turf fields in the United States.

“We’re successfully competing against some of the finest tournament venues across the country as we continue our momentum to make Chesterfield the place for sports tournaments,” said Dr. James Worsley, director for Chesterfield County Parks and Recreation. “Our facilities also are providing those who live here great opportunities to pursue recreation, as well as compete in some of the nation’s top events here at home.”

Sports tourism events in Chesterfield showed an $84.1 million economic impact regionally, compared to $81.7 million in fiscal 2017, according to Chesterfield County Parks and Recreation. Such parallel growth is no accident, as Chesterfield works with its neighbors to expand the region’s sports tourism capability. An example of the regional impact is that weekend hotel stays, for the first time, surpassed weekday business stays.

“It’s just unbelievable the impact these sports tournaments have had,” said Mike Watkins, general manager for the Doubletree Midlothian hotel. “It’s just had a tremendous impact on hotel occupancies for the entire Richmond region, because when these tournaments come to town they’re often using 35 to 40 hotels.”

Other businesses are also benefitting, especially restaurants, as sports tourism drives an appetite.

“We definitely staff up for weekends,” said Tony Foley, general manager at The Flyin’ Pig, a local favorite for barbecue near River City Sportsplex. “It’s more fun than crazy, but it definitely is hopping.”

On tournament weekends, the restaurant stays busy from the time it opens, Foley said. He and his staff plan their time off around tournament schedules, making sure they’re ready to feed hungry athletes and their families.

“The environment’s electric!” said Andy Clark, district manager for Restaurant Services of the Outer Banks, which operates several Dunkin’ Donuts, which are popular gathering spots before and after games.

Whether they’ve won or lost a game, “you can see how happy they are meeting with their teams, hanging out with their families,” Clark said. “It’s just really great to see the amount of enthusiasm coming through the door.”

In addition to events at River City Sportsplex, Chesterfield hosted numerous other events throughout the county, highlighting 14 sports. Events took place at 13 facilities, including county-owned and private venues, such as USA Swimming’s Futures Championship at SwimRVA and the Professional Putters Association Eastern Open at Putt-Putt Fun Center. A new Richmond Volleyball Club facility also debuted in fiscal 2018, built in partnership with Chesterfield, and hosted the Amateur Athletic Union Bid Tournament and Championship for girls’ volleyball, among other events.

The 62 sports tourism events held in Chesterfield saw 14 new events, including the Club Champions League II Fall and Spring festivals for boys and girls soccer. The Club Champions League now chooses to hold five of its events in Chesterfield. U.S. Lacrosse, the national governing body for the sport, also brought its U15 Nationals girls lacrosse tournament to Chesterfield.

“It takes strong public-private partnership linked to facilities, venues, hotels, restaurants and retailers to produce tangible results,” said Dr. Joe Casey, Chesterfield County administrator. “We are very fortunate to have a fantastic group of professionals supporting sports tourism in Chesterfield and throughout the region.”

Dave Goode
Author: Dave Goode