Sports tourism is a lucrative business. Just ask hotel and motel owners in a wide radius surrounding Barboursville here in Cabell County and the Dunbar community in Kanawha County.
Barboursville Mayor Chris Tatum wants to build on that success even more.
Consider the 2019 U.S. Youth Soccer Eastern Regional Championships, which ran from June 28 to July 4. That tournament brought 225 state champion teams from 13 states to compete for a chance to participate in the national tournament. It was the second such event in this region this summer. Such tournaments are so large that they need the facilities of both the Barboursville Soccer Complex and the Shawnee Sports Complex at Dunbar.
Local tourism officials say these large tournaments average $14 million in local economic impact each.
How so? Hotels within a two-hour radius of Barboursville sell out. Restaurants are packed. And the Marshall Sports Medicine Institute expands its presence in the Kanawha Valley by providing some emergency care to players at Shawnee.
Sports tourism is a different opportunity from traditional tourism efforts. Instead of expecting people from New York, Pennsylvania and elsewhere to come here and watch us do our thing - blow glass, play football - we provide a place for them to come here and do their thing along with people from other states with the same passions.
Thus, Tatum sees an opportunity for a big return on an investment he is considering.
"If you come out here and look, it's absolutely astounding just looking at this facility," Tatum told The Herald-Dispatch sports reporter Grant Traylor recently. "Now, imagine it with six fields of turf and a building that has an indoor element and concession stands built into it and it's a multi-use facility for all youth sports."
Tatum said he and people in his office have been looking into what it would take to improve the village's sports complex. One thing that is important to them is using local talent to design and build the fields and facilities.
"We've engaged a local architect, as well as talked to several companies who specialize in the construction of turf fields," Tatum said. "There are numerous resources in this area for the purpose of constructing these types of facilities and we're going to make some visits in mid-July to places that are similar to what we're looking at doing. We are looking at having an indoor element and having a larger outdoor element. We'd like to do six fields, which would alleviate a lot of problems for us, including the potential for weather."
Although Barboursville would build the new sports facility, the larger region would benefit, Tatum said.
"Because they are staying from Clendenin (West Virginia) to Grayson, Kentucky, anyway, each area is getting a piece of this tournament," Tatum told Traylor. "Ultimately, if we had a facility that accommodated golf cart traffic and includes all the elements from places we've looked, I think we'll really have something that allows us to bid on more national tournaments."
Better facilities at Barboursville paired with the new complex at Dunbar would truly make this part of West Virginia attractive for youth tournaments and events in several sports. A little competition mixed with a lot of cooperation could work wonders.
"Build it and they will come" is a great adaptation of a movie line, but it doesn't always work in real life. Just ask the West Virginia Department of Transportation about the Gateway Heartland Intermodal facility at Prichard.
Tatum is researching whether a greatly expanded soccer complex in Barboursville is viable. It's a possibility worth investigating. If the numbers add up, it could be a huge asset for sports tourism in this area.