Sunny skies, chirping birds and blooming magnolias aren't the only early signs of spring in Myrtle Beach. So are the crack of the bat, cheering crowds and a booming sports tourism economy. Above all, the common theme and color scheme between the sports fields and spring season are a whole lot of green.
As the February frost melts in the March sunshine and April showers bring May flowers, thousands of visitors and millions of dollars pour into the Grand Strand for sporting events. Modern and plentiful athletic venues, along with the appeal of Myrtle Beach as a major tourism destination, have combined to create a new word to describe how hosting silly little games can have a major economic impact.
"The hot, new buzzword in our industry is 'tournacations' - combining tournaments with vacations," said Tim Huber, sports tourism director for the City of Myrtle Beach. "It's great that we have nice facilities for athletic events, but it's the total package of the beach, shopping, dining, everything Myrtle Beach has to offer. Families come for the sporting events and they also enjoy the Myrtle Beach vacation experience."
Popular events like Baseball at the Beach, Snowbird Softball Freezeout (month of March), Can-Am Cup soccer tournament (March 3-4), Beach Run Invitational (March 31-April 1), Grand Strand Softball Classic (March-April), Battle at the Beach Cheerleading Competition (March 24-25), Mingo Bay Baseball Classic (March 26-30, April 2-7), and Coast Spring Soccer Classic (April 21-22) bring droves of college and high school students and club sports participants to Myrtle Beach for spring training instead of spring break.
"This weekend is the kickoff of the collegiate spring training season, and around the middle of March it will transition to the high school spring training season," Huber said. "This is the seventh consecutive weekend our facilities have been booked solid, and the calendar for March is wall to wall color. That means we're going to be very busy for the coming weeks, but it's a good problem to have."
Sports teams, coaches, families and fans from all over the Eastern U.S. and Canada use the Grand Strand as a place to play and stay. That’s good news for the City of Myrtle Beach’s sports tourism industry, which generated an estimated $150 to $160 million dollars in direct spending in 2017. Final figures are scheduled to be released to Myrtle Beach City Council in March.
Those figures do not reflect the overall economic impact, which multiplies direct spending by factors of five or six to estimate the dollars that change hands on the Strand (team stays at hotel, hotel hires new employees, new employees spend earnings at local businesses, etc.). Nor do they include the vast number of privately owned sports attractions, such as golf courses, the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, eco-tourism, and the Myrtle Beach Marathon (March 1-3).
Officials anticipate an even bigger 2018 thanks to the completion of the renovations to Doug Shaw Memorial Stadium and the addition of several major track and field events at the venue. Last year the City lost revenue while the facility underwent massive renovations, but the track and field events have coming running back to Myrtle Beach this year.
"We weren't able to host track and field meets last year because of the renovation, but those events have bounced back really strong this spring," Huber said. "For the collegiate meets, we have over 3,000 athletes from 70 colleges, 21 states, (Washington) DC, and Canada. Our preliminary numbers on those three collegiate track and field meets alone show they will generate about $2 million, all during the shoulder season."
That shoulder season, the stretch that surrounds the peak summer tourism season, continues to broaden in Myrtle Beach. Since Huber took over the newly formed Department of Sports Tourism 10 years ago, the City has built the massive Grand Park Athletics Complex, Ashley Booth Field, and the Myrtle Beach Sports Center, an indoor facility that has created more offseason demand for winter sports like volleyball, basketball, cheerleading, gymnastics, wrestling and more.
Expansions and renovations of existing facilities, like Shaw Stadium and the "Pepper" Geddings Nautical Center, have kept Myrtle Beach on the front row of the sports tourism trend. The City has also partnered with Horry County facilities and neighboring cities, such as the new North Myrtle Beach Sports Complex & Park, to co-host major events.
Another added benefit is that many of the participants are youngsters who may have limited exposure to vacation destinations. If they have a good time, they could become lifelong visitors with their future families; yet one more way that sports tourism is tied to spring.