A year after the AAU Junior Volleyball Championships marked the return of live events, the competition set a new standard. Attracting 135,000 attendees between June 18-29, 2021, creating an estimated economic impact of $173.3 million for the region, the championships shattered records at Orange County Convention Center in Orlando.
While the numbers surpassed pre-pandemic levels, COVID-19’s shadow was present, if much smaller than last year. There were no customary handshakes or gift exchanges between teams. Courts were spaced farther apart than usual, and masks and socially distancing were encouraged.
“We are pleased to have been able to yet again offer the opportunity to let athletes do what they really want to do, and that’s to play,” says Jennings “Rusty” Buchanan, President/CEO of the AAU. “The 2021 AAU Junior National Volleyball Championships at the Orange County Convention Center welcomed our biggest numbers to date, positively impacting not only the AAU organization but also the Central Florida area as well. Hosting such a large event successfully would not be possible without the dedication, commitment and tireless efforts of the Orange County Convention Center team.”
The event has made OCCC its home for nearly 20 years and it’s easy to see why. The convention center is among the best in the country in terms of staff and facilities, and the location places youth athletes in the hear of Orlando, home to Walt Disney World, Universal Studios and many other attractions.
When the coronavirus reared its ugly head last year, AAU delayed the competition but ultimately put on the competition one month later than usual. In doing so, it created a blueprint for other event organizers (not just sports) to follow, particularly in Florida, the first state to embrace the return of in-person events.
Volleyball, in general, acted as a catalyst for many destinations to reopen convention centers that in some cases had been closed for a year or longer.
OCCC officials note the bond built between event and venue is strong.
“We appreciate the strong partnership between the Amateur Athletic Union and the Orange County Convention Center,” said OCCC Executive Director Mark Tester. “Our trusted relationship and our many years of collaboration has enhanced this event to become the largest volleyball tournament in the world. We are proud to be the premier destination for the AAU to host its events safely.”