Capitol Hill Volleyball Classic Brings $19.2M to D.C.

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When the Capitol Hill Volleyball Classic was first played in 2006, it occupied one hall at Walter E. Washington Convention Center. The rest belonged to Washington, D.C.’s annual boat show over Presidents Day weekend. A decade later, an estimated 40,000 athletes, coaches and spectators will take over the entire facility, filling at least 16,000 hotel room nights and bringing an estimated $19.2 million to D.C. on what would otherwise be a quiet weekend in terms of events. As for the boat show, it set sail years ago when the economy went south. The USA Volleyball-sanctioned tournament has grown so large that the husband-and-wife organizing team of Bonnie and Barry Goldberg (American University’s women’s volleyball coach for 27 years) cut off registration at 936 teams this year, leaving hundreds of qualified teams out in the cold (and it’s bitter cold in Washington this weekend). Elliott Ferguson, president and CEO of Destination DC, says the city may explore using nearby Verizon Center to accommodate the event’s growth, calling it one of the CVB’s top 10 moneymakers. But Bonnie, the tournament’s executive director, is unsure how she’ll handle the increased numbers, one of the subjects Connect Sports discussed with her ahead of one of the country’s biggest volleyball events. Can you describe the tournament’s growth? The first year, we had 144 teams, which was quite good because we opened registration in December for the February event. We were in one hall and the boat show had the rest of the building. We were told not to go to the boat show, but all the boat show people kept coming to our hall to watch volleyball. The second year, we had 276 teams. Our numbers kept going up. We kept adding 100 teams per year. The boat show broke its lease when the economy went south and nobody was buying boats. Last year we filled the whole building. What do you attribute to the increased numbers? I think it’s the sport. There was a report by the National Federation of State High School Associations saying that girls volleyball, as of last year, is the No. 1 team sport. It overtook basketball. Participation is higher in track and field, but that’s an individual sport. And you saw this coming 10 years ago? Everybody knew volleyball was big in California. We saw it exploding in the Midwest and in Texas and Florida. We were like, “Come on, Mid-Atlantic.” The population base is here with D.C., Philly, New York and Boston, and nobody was touching that market. We thought if we could run a good event, people would come because more and more kids are playing and everybody loves the atmosphere of a convention center because you can stay in one building. Where are you drawing teams from? We are stretching as far as New York and down to Florida. There are a couple of teams from Colorado and a few Canadian teams. In the past, we had a couple of teams from China and a team from Holland. It’s amazing—the problem now being we have more teams than we have space. What’s that mean for the future? I’m not sure yet. Maybe it makes our tournament even more competitive. It’s not so easy to find space. Some tournaments are so big they’ve been split up over two weekends. For us, that’s difficult because you have to keep the courts set up in the convention center over five dark days. But this is Washington—the convention center doesn’t go dark for five days. What’s the draw of D.C. over other regions with tournaments the same weekend? We’ve got the destination city. It might be expensive for restaurants and hotels, but the museums are free. You can make it a fun, family weekend. Of all the places that do have tournaments at the same time, we are, by far, the most family-friendly. How do you keep track of the numbers? We have a stay-to-play policy to show the city how many hotel room nights we have. That helps us negotiate how much to pay to be in the building. But even with that system we can only track the teams and not the parents. The total we can track is 16,000 room nights, but I would we guess we are filling about 25,000. We’ve contracted with between 60 and 70 hotels. It’s a citywide event with a huge economic impact.