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Tourism Group Seeks to Leverage Sports Visitors

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The Roanoke Times (Virginia)

 

The Virginia's Blue Ridge tourism commission wants more dollars being spent in the Roanoke area by visitors in town for sporting events.

Now, VBR is in position to provide the events to draw in the outsiders.

The commission announced the upgrade in its effort to promote the region through sports with a kickoff event Wednesday at the Countryside Sports Complex.

And whether its drawing huge soccer events or getting a couple of dozen disc golfers into the area, many of these events will be coordinated by VBR's new branch, VBR Sports.

A new name, brand and director are all part of the effort to attract new events, and in turn help area businesses benefit from the economic activity.

VBR Sports is tasked with branding this area as a destination for large events that will attract thousands of visitors.

Bree Nidds, a western North Carolina native who came to Roanoke from a job in sports tourism in Wilmington, North Carolina, joined the division as director of Sports Development in September.

She is leading the charge at VBR to promote the Roanoke Valley, along with Botetourt and Franklin counties, as a place that has the sporting and lodging facilities needed to stage high-level events, both established and new.

Salem has been long known for bringing thousands of people to the region by serving as host for a multitude of NCAA championships.

The Division III championships in football and basketball are the best known of these, but Salem has been host for many other Division II and III championships in sports such as softball, lacrosse and baseball.

A total of 86 NCAA championships have been won in Salem, but both the Stagg Bowl and Division III men's basketball tournament will move to new locations.

A push to showcase and utilize the facilities built with the NCAA in mind would help offset the loss of revenue caused by the exit of the NCAAs.

In addition to the college tournaments held in Salem, large softball tournaments have been centered at the Moyer Sports Complex, but also held at other facilities around the valley.

In recent years, there has been an increase in facilities that could help attract even bigger events.

Botetourt County built a complex at Greenfields that also has attracted large events, such as softball and soccer.The Roanoke Star Soccer Club holds large tournaments twice a year that have used fields across the valley and built a complex of six fields on the old Countryside property in Roanoke.

All these events required cooperation at the regional level which formed a strong foundation for VBR Sports.

Nidds said the emphasis now will be to go beyond the established events and find new events. Tennis, mountain biking, disc golf, archery and a variety of other sports will be explored as options.

Landon Howard, president of Virginia's Blue Ridge, said that tourism brought in $813 million in revenue to this region. Sports tourism was estimated to account for 69 percent.

Last year, the 189 sports tournaments or events in the region brought outside dollars into the coffers.

Howard said money generated by sports tourism brings tax revenue that can be used to build and improve facilities, not only further enhancing the attractiveness of this region, but making the quality of life for locals better by offering more opportunities to use those sites.

He said much of the sports tourism the area attracts right now come from three sports - soccer, softball and volleyball.

VBR has identified 22 additional sports that could be enticed to bring events to the valley's facilities.

Nothing has been pursued, but one sport Howard thinks is a natural fit is mountain biking.

"We want to be America's East Coast Mountain biking capital," said Howard, who added that the Explore Park area could develop competitive trails .

Nidds said some of the sports she's identified include disc golf, archery, wrestling and tennis.

"There is already a rich history of hosting very successful sporting events," Nidds said. "A lot of that takes place in the city of Salem, and they do it so well, it's a matter of telling their story and the number of successes they've had, leveraging that and capitalizing on that with other sports opportunities."

One of the flagship programs for sports tourism, the Roanoke Star soccer club, is so devoted to promoting the area that it's changing the name of its club to VBR Star.

Executive Director Danny Beamer said the club is regional, so a name that wasn't so Roanoke-centric made sense.

"We're a regional club, we have kids from West Virginia, Blacksburg, Franklin County, Botetourt, so we just figured being VBR Star will include everybody and show we're regionalized," Beamer said.

"We figured it would help us in the long run, but already VBR has helped us get a booth in the national coaches convention to promote our tournaments."

Beamer said the two large tournaments - the Kimoyo Cup in late April and the Kroger Cup in October - will welcome larger fields, due in part to the marketing efforts of VBR Sports to see increases in participation from the publicity that comes from VBR Sports efforts.

"When people start seeing these facilities and these fields, the numbers will start going up," Beamer said.

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