Building a new facility is often a tactic used by destinations to put them on the sports tourism map. But that’s not the case with Virginia Beach Sports Center, one of the industry’s most anticipated new venues slated to open this fall.
“I helped start this unit 20 years ago,” reminisces Nancy Helman, CSEE, director of sports marketing at the Virginia Beach CVB. “We were marketing the destination as a sports destination before it was a cool thing to do.”
Between Helman and Dani Timm, CSEE, sports marketing sales manager, the Virginia Beach staff is filled with proven winners with backgrounds in event organizing. They’ve gone from hosting a handful of events two decades ago to about 100 annually—usually in the spring and summer, when the beach destination is especially appealing to families with children out of school.
Helman is quick to point out Virginia Beach enjoys mild weather year-round, an asset that will only grow in importance as participants and their families seek outdoor activities as part of social distancing efforts.
If all goes according to plan—and there has been extensive planning—Virginia Beach Sports Center will allow more athletes discover the city is truly a year-round destination.
Filling a Need
“We did this the right way,” says Helman. “We let the data and our history in sports tourism direct us.”
Using trusted industry resources, including Victus Advisors, the CVB conducted a feasibility study to see what it could improve upon. An indoor sports venue emerged. At first, it would be a standard with flexible courts for basketball and volleyball.
But in reaching out to planners and peers who’ve worked with Virginia Beach for years, a new plan emerged. “There was a hole in the marketplace,” Helman says.
The destination plans to fill that hole with a 200-meter hydraulically banked track typically only seen on college campuses. This addition will quickly establish Virginia Beach as a top choice for neutral site competitions on the East coast.
It was a dramatic shift, but one Helman was sure was the right move.
“We had to make a really serious business decision to do this,” she says. “This was not like adding a meeting room. It was a significant design and program change to our whole plan.”
Brian Connolly, CEO of Victus Advisors, says the professional manner in which the CVB pivoted is an example of what makes the group special.
“Working with the Virginia Beach Sports Marketing team on research and planning for the new Virginia Beach Sports Center was a pleasure,” he says. “They wanted to move quickly to capitalize on sports tourism demand and project funding opportunities, but they made sure that the local and regional sports community were engaged in the process, and that their facility plans and projections were thoroughly market-tested. I have no doubt in my mind that the Virginia Beach Sports Center will be one of the primary sports tourism attractions on the East Coast when it opens in November.”
Despite COVID-19, the venue’s first event is still scheduled for early December as originally planned. Helman is working with the Centers for Disease Control and state officials on cleaning standards.
About 5,000 seats will surround the track, which can be converted into basketball and volleyball courts when the indoor track season ends in March. In total, there will be 12 basketball and 24 volleyball courts available.
The CVB reports 24 new events—totaling more than 43,000 athletes and nearly 90,000 in total attendance—are lined up to use the new facility. Sports range beyond track to wrestling, gymnastics, basketball, volleyball and field hockey.
“There was interest literally as soon as we announced,” notes Helman.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt the sports center is one mile from the beach.
“We’re used to entertaining people year-round,” says Helman. “This is just a catalyst to bring new people here.”