Eight teams arrived in town this week to compete in the NCAA Division II Soccer National Championships at Blanchard Woods Park. The semi-finals for the four men’s and four women’s teams will be held Thursday and the championship games will take place on Saturday. The event is hosted locally by Columbia County and the Peach Belt Conference.
The significance of hosting an NCAA championship in Evans cannot be overstated. The athletic delegation of approximately 275 players, coaches and NCAA officials, as well as hundreds of fans, are projected to generate an economic impact of a half million dollars. The marketing and public relations value for hosting a successful NCAA championship, though less quantifiable, also has the potential to generate a significant residual effect for the county.
The NCAA has granted hosting rights for the DII soccer championships for 2012 and 2013. Having a two-year agreement to host the tournament puts Columbia County in an enviable position. Not only will we feel the economic effects of this event twice, but the high profile nature of hosting such a prestigious competition will undoubtedly demonstrate the county’s ability to play host to other major events in the future.
Venues and community support are the primary determining factors when organizers are deciding where to hold their next event and Columbia County has a definite edge in that regard. We are fortunate to live in a community with so many disparate resources. From fishing at Wildwood Park, disc golf at the International Disc Golf Center to cross country running at Blanchard Woods Park, our community has an abundance of great facilities. And whether preparing fields for a high profile tournament or shutting down roads for a national cycling championship, our community leaders recognize the importance of putting on a great show.
Having great venues and municipal support, however, will not guarantee an event’s success nor be the deciding factor in whether we are selected to play host to future events. It is absolutely paramount that every aspect of our visitors experience be exceptional. This requires the effort of the entire community. From the hotels that house guests to the restaurants that feed them, customer service must be a priority.
And to our community members not in the hotel or food service industry, let’s show our guests that we put a high premium on Southern hospitality. It is often those intangible items that make the biggest difference in a person’s visit.
Sports tourism is a major economic engine in the United States. During the economic downturn, amateur sports events have proven to be a reliable revenue generator. While vacation budgets have been cut back, people still find the means to travel for sports. Communities with the necessary infrastructure to hold events have been able to capitalize during a time when many other areas are scraping for tourism dollars. This has been true for Columbia County in the past, and it certainly will be in the future.
Locations such as Evans Towne Center Park and the soon-to-be-built BMX track and skateboard park at Blanchard Woods represent the future of a community on the ascent. As we embrace the potential of our Columbia County, let’s be mindful of how we can have an impact on the present.
There is no better time to start than this week. If you have a business, put out a welcome to the NCAA delegation on your marquee. If you run into one of the visiting teams while you’re out and about, give them a smile and welcome them to town. We have no doubt that our fields of play will be worthy for such a grand event; the difference in whether it is a great experience or not might come to down to you.
(Randy DuTeau is executive director of the Columbia County Convention and Visitors Bureau.)