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Sports tourism rolling in Rock Hill

Rock Hill’s sports tourism history began in 1985 with the opening of Cherry Park, a softball/baseball facility located in a 68-acre park with trails, a playground and numerous park amenities. Since then, the focus on sports tourism has grown, with the city constructing additional regional parks offering opportunities for local leagues and programs, as well as sports tournament events.

The Rock Hill Parks Recreation and Tourism Department estimates that sports tourism has had a $121.9 million direct economic impact on the city since 2006, according to Director John Taylor.

BMX Supercross Track, Rock Hill
BMX Supercross Track/Photo: Wendy Waddle, City of Rock Hill

Rock Hill’s newest facilities are the Giordana Velodrome (track cycling), which opened in 2012, and the Novant Health BMX Supercross Track, which opened in 2014. Both are Olympic-caliber training facilities, open to the public—with the BMX facility being the first of its kind on the East Coast, Taylor said. These facilities offer new rider training and certification, open track riding, and specialized programs in addition to hosting events from the local to the international level.

At the same site, the city is on track to construct a $2.55 million criterium course with infield parking. The completion of the criterium (closed road course) is expected by early fall 2016 and will enhance the 2016 UCI BMX Supercross World Cup event (scheduled for September 30 - October 1) by providing a warm-up site for cyclists.

Rock Hill is also hosting the 2017 UCI BMX World Championships to be held July 26 - 30, bringing more than 3,300 cyclists to the area. With plans to construct a cyclocross course in the near future, Rock Hill will be the only cycling destination in the United States featuring permanent facilities for all five cycling disciplines in one location, Taylor said.

Nationwide, communities are looking at ways to break into the sports tourism industry. A 2012 report from the National Association of Sports Commissions found that visitors spent more than $7.6 billion on sports travel in 2011, most of that spent in the local economy on food, lodging and retail.

There is no formal data on the impact of recreation/sports tourism in South Carolina, according to Dudley Jackson, research director for the SC Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism. Data related to this sector, however, indicates that the impact of sports tourism in the state could be as much as $3.4 billion annually, he said.

PRT offers a grant program to provide financial assistance to nonprofit tourism or sports-related organizations, applying through their respective local government, for recruiting new sporting events to South Carolina.

The grants provide a match up to $50,000 per event for common sporting event recruitment costs such as bid fees, event advertising and equipment rentals directly related to the event.

Sports tourism is an underdeveloped segment of the state’s overall tourism industry, according to PRT. It’s valuable, though, because sports tourism activities provide direct revenues through sales, admissions or accommodations tax collections, as well as drawing new visitors to the state’s tourism destinations.

Rock Hill’s success shows the positive impact of the sports tourism industry.

"Creating a vibrant, diverse parks, recreation and tourism program is an overall benefit to attracting businesses because new businesses are often looking for a city that values a high quality of life for its citizens," Taylor said. "They want to operate in such an area and have their employees enjoy that same quality of life. Additionally, they are looking for a city with a growing economy, which the positive economic impact of sports tourism certainly supports in Rock Hill."