Hundreds of junior college athletes, coaches, families and fans who attended a national soccer championship here in November gave the area an economic boost and global exposure.
The National Junior College Athletic Association’s (NJCAA) Division I Men’s Soccer Championship was held Nov. 16-21 at the Smith River Sports Complex. It was the first time that a NJCAA National Championship had been held in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
It was “a huge honor for our community to host the event here in Martinsville-Henry County with a three-way partnership,” said Chris Parker, Senior Athletic Administrator of Patrick Henry Community College (PHCC).
The PHCC staff collaborated with staff of the sports complex and the EDC’s Tourism Division for nearly two years to plan the event, which was won in a competitive bid process.
That effort paid off for the community. Based on figures from past events hosted by the NJCAA, an economic impact of more than $1 million was projected for the event. This figure included lodging, meals, fuel, shopping, contracted services and other expenses throughout the community.
Hotels were full for most of the week, which boosted the area’s hotel occupancy rate and generated revenue for Martinsville-Henry County through the lodging tax. The event’s planning committee has records of more than 850 room nights being booked for the event by teams, which generated more than $71,000 for area hotels.
Families and spectators booked additional rooms in hotels and rental properties. The Fishel Cottage on Church Street hosted a family from Michigan that stayed for six nights while their son competed in the tournament. Cottage owner Lynn Pritchett noted that the couple “really enjoyed visiting because of all of the parks, trails, and nearby wineries.”
Bill Bouvier, general manager of the Dutch Inn, said that in addition to hosting six teams, 70 room nights were booked by families.
“It really was a terrific turnout,” Bouvier said. “The financial boost from the tournament will go a long way to help the new owners finance the renovations taking place at the Dutch Inn. We couldn’t be happier with the event and hope to have many more like it in the future.”
The event gave players and guests a chance to explore a new place and experience southern hospitality. James Narke, a sophomore player from Iowa Western Community College, was impressed with the scenic beauty of Martinsville-Henry County.
“I like it! I’ve never actually been in the South. It’s beautiful here and a lot different from Nebraska where I’m used to,” Narke said.
More than 400 athletes and team coaches attended the event, and an additional 591 tickets to the tournament were sold. Among the spectators, more than 200 coaches from four-year colleges around the nation came to watch the games and find players to recruit.
All of the athletes and guests needed to eat during the weeklong event, and area restaurants benefited from that traffic. Tournament officials estimated that more than 4,000 meals were purchased by athletes while visiting the area.
Laurence Vanderwoods, owner of Serendipity Coffee House & Bistro, said the team from Louisburg Community College in North Carolina ate at his restaurant six times during the week.
“This was a huge boost to our income for the week, and we welcome more events like this In the future,” Vanderwoods said.
Tony Dimaro, owner of Elizabeth’s Pizza in Collinsville and Martinsville, noticed “there was a consistent presence throughout the week of tourists in town and at our restaurants.” Danny Wulff, owner/operator of Chick-fil-A of Martinsville, said his location “saw anywhere between 15-20 teams during the week.”
Cathie Carter of Tacoma, which operates two local Taco Bell locations, reported a 27 percent sales lift over the prior week due to the tournament. “We very much appreciate the sports complex for hosting the event and hope to see more,” Carter added.
Area retail businesses and service providers also benefited from the additional traffic. Some teams had their uniforms washed at Martinizing Dry Cleaners, and Uptown Sweets prepared more than 400 cake pops — decorated to look like soccer balls — for the opening banquet. Quality Catering provided a banquet meal to 400+, and Casting Logos helped provide official tournament merchandise that was sold to spectators.
According to Tim Martin of Martin Plaza in Uptown Martinsville, “We are thrilled with the tournament. It brought in significant new, out-of-town revenue to Martin Plaza Furniture Outlets/The Showroom. We are hoping that these events continue to spotlight our community and expand our business value to all new tourists that visit Martinsville and Henry County. Hats off to the tourism office, PHCC and the sports complex.”
Martinsville-Henry County and the Smith River Sports Complex received national recognition in the press, including mentions in the Chicago Tribune, Arizona Daily Star and Florida Today. Nearly 30 media articles and news stories mentioning the tournament were recorded by tournament officials.
The tournament was promoted on social media and received a positive shout out on Twitter from Ocean Spray, Inc., the Massachusetts-based cranberry company.
According to Jennifer Doss, with the EDC’s Tourism Division, “The publicity gained from this event was a valuable marketing tool for the community. It put Martinsville-Henry County, Virginia, on the map as a destination of choice for high caliber sporting events such as this.”
CBTV 17 in Council Bluffs, Iowa, produced a sports recap show called the Bluffs Sports Zone which featured not only the tournament action at the Smith River Sports Complex but also showcased Martinsville Speedway. Brooks Taylor, director of Public Relations for the speedway, noted that host JJ Davis, who taped segments of the show from the historic track, “did a great job of marketing Martinsville Speedway and the area.” The show was televised Nov. 24 and can been seen on YouTube.
Fans across the globe were able to enjoy the tournament as it was live-streamed online. This was a huge marketing opportunity for the Smith River Sports Complex and the Martinsville-Henry County area. According to Billy Russo, Director of Operations of the sports complex, "With so many foreign athletes participating, the webcast gave us a global audience. We heard from someone who said their parents were watching from England. This global platform will help our area in recruiting other events in the future."
Tournament sponsors for the event included Bassett Furniture, the title sponsor; The Lester Group; BB&T; Autos by Nelson; Wells Fargo; Valley Star Credit Union; the Harvest Foundation; Chick-fil-A; Dominos; and McCloskey Insurance. "These companies believe in the power of economic development through education and sports and really helped to make this tournament a great success," Parker said.
Doss and Russo noted that they are actively pursuing additional sporting events to bring to the area in the future.