Myrtle Beach scores big with sports tourism

For more than 100 years, beach lovers have flocked to the Grand Strand to enjoy the beautiful coastline and warm temperatures.  Tourism is, without a doubt, Myrtle Beach’s top industry.  However, in recent decades, a specific category of tourism has emerged:  sports tourism.

What is sports tourism and why has it become a nationwide phenomenon?

Sports tourism is defined as a sports-related event that brings participants to a destination to attend sporting events or training camps.  Myrtle Beach is a natural for sports tourism, since we have a wealth of accommodations and activities for visitors to enjoy while here for their sporting activity.

According to the National Association of Sports Commissions, sports tourism is a fast-growing sector within the global travel industry.  Hosting sporting events has become a big investment for municipalities around the country because of the positive economic impact.  Whether Myrtle Beach hosts a baseball, cheerleading, football, soccer, dance or marathon event, the number of players, coaches, family members, friends, scouts and event organizers who visit our city translates to revenues generated and a booming economy.  Like Myrtle Beach, other municipalities around the country are building sporting event venues.

The City of Myrtle Beach is already ahead of the game – pun intended.  The city first offered the Myrtle Beach Convention Center, which can be configured to suit a majority of sporting events.  Additional city recreation facilities include the Ashley Booth Field, Myrtle Beach Tennis Center, Ned Donkle Complex, Whispering Pines Golf Course and four recreation centers (Crabtree Memorial Gymnasium, General Robert H. Reed Recreation Center, Mary C. Canty Recreation Center and Pepper Geddings Recreation Center).  The Grand Park Athletic Complex at The Market Common was completed in 2013.  A renovated Doug Shaw Memorial Stadium opened in 2008 and received a face-lift in 2017.  And, the Myrtle Beach Sports Center, which opened in 2015, is our newest sports tourism venue.

The connection between sports tourism, the airport and former military base…

The history of Myrtle Beach as a sports tourism destination began in 1948.  With World War II’s conclusion in 1945, the United States Government returned the base property to the City of Myrtle Beach.  Major league baseball clubs that conducted spring training camps for professional teams had the bright idea to host training camps in a new location.  The old sites were in Florida.  The ideal, new site would include a community that could provide ample amenities, great weather, a large hospital and plenty of space for field training and more for 400+ traveling adults.  Training camp organizers contacted the major leagues with the news that the Myrtle Beach Airport served as the perfect location.  After a few months of negotiations, a contract was signed with the Boston Braves to make Myrtle Beach the new training base for the entire team, along with affiliate players and teams.

Myrtle Beach’s Airport now featured four baseball fields that formed a square.  In the center, a 20-foot tall tower stood high above the action for baseball managers and coaches to watch multiple games at once. Baseball officials who visited the site were impressed, saying that it was the best and most practical training camp they had experienced.  (Source: Anthony, A.E., Airports and Airways Aero Digest, April 1950)

Fast forward to 1981, when Socastee High School’s then-coach, Dan D’Antoni, dreamed of a high school tournament for high school boys’ basketball teams in South Carolina.  That dream evolved into what we know today as the “Beach Ball Classic.” Since the inaugural event, the tournament has progressed into a 16-team national tournament and serves as the premier high school holiday tournament in the United States.  These events now are hosted at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center, which was expanded in the mid-1990s specifically to house the Beach Ball Classic.  In 1998, the Beach Ball Classic added a new tournament:  the girls’ basketball Beach Ball Classic Holiday Invitational. Lastly, a Carolina’s Challenge was added to feature women’s collegiate basketball teams.  The three collective events encompass 10 days of fun in Myrtle Beach.

The Myrtle Beach Marathon began in 1998 and has been a mainstay ever since.  A group of local residents participated in a marathon elsewhere and thought, “We could host a marathon here.”  The flat, attractive course has been welcomed by runners who make the Myrtle Beach Marathon an annual destination.

Sports Tourism Statistics for 2018

The statistics are in, and the city again benefitted greatly from sports tourism events held within the city.  Sports tourism in the City of Myrtle Beach generated $137 million in direct spending during 2018.  Of that total, $12.7 million was returned to local governments (city, county and state) through taxes and fees.  Myrtle Beach received nearly $2.4 million of that total.

Baseball participants were the biggest economic contributors at $49 million, followed by fast-pitch softball attendees at more than $23 million.  Other top revenue-generating sports for the community included basketball ($15.8 million), dance ($10.2 million), cheerleading ($8.2 million), slow-pitch softball ($6.6 million), volleyball ($6.3 million) and gymnastics ($2.9 million).  Dollar-wise, July was the biggest month, with $45.3 million in direct spending.

While comparing statistics to previous yearly reports, it is important to remember that upgrades were made to Doug Shaw Memorial Stadium in 2017-18, leading to a lack of event bookings for that period of time.  Spending for both cheerleading and dance competitions continues to decline as a result of consolidation among groups within those fields.  Still, Myrtle Beach remains a prime sports activity and tournament destination for people to visit with their families.

To see the 2019 Sports Tourism Event List for Ashley Booth Field, Doug Shaw Memorial Stadium, Grand Park Athletic Complex and Ned Donkle Complex bookings, visit the Sports Tourism Department webpage on the city website.  For additional information, contact the City of Myrtle Beach’s Sports Tourism Department at 843-918-2278.