In the arena of sports events, the Greater Daytona Beach community has an array of attributes that make it a go-to destination.
The area’s location, beaches, weather, quality facilities and a welcoming community combine to attract a wide variety of sports-related competitions.
“Being a Florida destination with a great beach is a big advantage point,” comments Brandon Little, Sports Business Development Manager for the Daytona Beach Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB). “Having great weather year-round helps attract groups in the winter months when lots of states/cities are unable,” he adds. “Daytona Beach is well known in the industry for our diverse and well-maintained facilities as well.”
NASCAR races and Daytona International Speedway have made Daytona Beach famous worldwide. And extending beyond are other major competitions. CLASH Daytona is a top-tier triathlon festival that pulls in athletes from around the world. The National Cheerleaders Association and National Dance Alliance have held their National Collegiate Championship here for 25 years. The new Pictona complex in Holly Hill already is hosting national and international pickleball tournaments. And added to these events are basketball (Sunshine Slam and Daytona Beach ShootOut), volleyball tournaments, fitness and gymnastics, golf, tennis, fishing, surfing competitions and even new sports attractions like USA Judo and USA Fencing.
The economic benefits spill over to the community. “Sports events, primarily youth sporting events, are great for any destination because they bring families,” notes Tim Buckley, director of Sales and Marketing for the Ocean Center, the area’s most prime facility for major sporting events. Event organizers “want places that people can bring their children to compete in the tournament and also make a vacation out of it,” he says. “It’s great for the hotels, shops and restaurants that all get to see an impact from these types of events.”
And “families” are exactly who tourism promoters are working to attract. “Hosting quality, family-friendly events is something every destination strives for and we are lucky to have a community and leadership that understands that,” Little emphasizes.
A welcoming spirit and Daytona Beach’s facilities and natural features are key to the National Cheerleaders Association and National Dance Alliance returning for 2½ decades to host their most elite annual competition.
“Our customers love the atmosphere. The city of Daytona Beach is the perfect backdrop to recognize these young people for their hard work, dedication and talent,” comments Bill Boggs, director of the NCA and NDA College Programs. In past years, those “customers” have included up to 300 teams and upward of 8,000 registered participants – with 10,000-15,000 spectators, many of them family members. The Ocean Center, historic oceanfront Bandshell and also nearby Peabody Auditorium “are a perfect setup for events like ours,” Boggs says.
And the five-day event is arranged to enable the athletes and their families to enjoy at least one free day of the beach and area attractions.
Sport competitions are more resilient to economic downturns – even pandemics. “Like everyone, 2020 was a struggle,” says Buckley of Ocean Center activity. “Sports events, however, were the first market to bounce back from the pandemic for us, and attendance for many of these events continues to exceed projections.” The Ocean Center has had more than 138,000 sporting event attendees in the first three-quarters of this year, more than the total for all of 2019.
“People look to sports as a way to get back to some sense of normalcy,” adds Robert Eubank, director of Sales and Marketing for the Hilton Daytona Beach Oceanfront Resort, across the street from Ocean Center and a primary hotel for event attendees.
The economic impacts of sporting events to the community are significant. A 6% ‘tourist tax’ is charged to all visitors of hotels and vacation rentals. Any such revenues generated through sporting event hotel stays are included within the overall collection amount.
Also, revenues from vacation accommodations only comprise about 15% of overall visitor expenditures, according to the CVB’s annual reports on the economic impacts of tourism on Volusia County – with spillover benefits to businesses, retail, restaurants and attractions. For instance, the report estimates that total visitor expenditures in Volusia County for 2019 were $6.2 billion.
As expected, tourism expenditures dropped sharply in 2020, compared to the two previous years. But tourist tax revenues have rebounded robustly this year, with some months’ tourist tax collections surpassing pre-pandemic levels, especially during the summer.
Tourism leaders also credit this rebound with the desires of visitors to once again vacation, especially those who drive to their destinations. And in regard to sporting events, Eubank at the Hilton says, “our location as it relates to I-95 and I-4 is an advantage because most tournaments are drive-in rather than participants flying.”
The Ocean Center with its vast expo hall and arena with fixed “bowl” seating enables the facility to “host just about any indoor sport,” notes Buckley, adding that many groups are attracted to the ability to use both type spaces under one roof, “which is not something you find in many event venues today.”
Aside from the Ocean Center, with an arena of 42,146 square feet, various other facilities also draw the interest of sports enthusiasts for competitions and also as recreational, cultural or phenomenal tourist attractions.
Holly Hill’s 24-court ‘Pictona’ pickleball complex already has more than 700 members and has hosted three national and international tournaments in just more than a year. The complex, which will be expanded to 48-courts over the next year, also sports a clubhouse, games room, restaurant and community garden.
The Daytona International Speedway is (well) internationally famous and aside from racing hosts the CLASH triathlon and numerous other events – sports, recreation and entertainment.
Since 1994, LPGA International (Ladies Professional Golf Association) – with two world-class courses – has gained notoriety as the host of numerous tour championships and is now the host of the final stage of the LPGA Tour Qualifying School.
Nearby on LPGA Boulevard is the 24-court Florida Tennis Center, home to more than 30 major USTA and FTC tennis tournaments annually.
Baseball enthusiasts are drawn to Jackie Robinson Memorial Ballpark on Daytona Beach’s City Island. On the National Register of Historic Places, it is the ball field where Jackie Robinson integrated modern professional baseball in 1946 while playing here for the Montreal Royals, the Brooklyn Dodgers’ Triple-A farm team. The ballpark is now home of the Daytona Tortugas, minor league team of the Cincinnati Reds. Numerous historic placards are throughout the park entrance area, including a bronze statue of Robinson.
The also-historic Peabody Auditorium, adjacent to the Ocean Center, not only hosts national and international performances but also major dance competitions, including the National Dance Alliance.
These and other sports-related facilities (city and college fields and stadiums) and natural attributes (weather, beaches and the Atlantic Ocean) are a boost in marketing the Daytona Beach Area.
Ocean Center, CVB and hotel managers collaborate well to market for sporting events, partnering at trade shows and meeting with potential clients together. “A strong, succinct team is an attractive lure for events considering new destinations,” comments the Ocean Center’s Buckley.
The CVB has a Sports Advisory Committee with members representing area sports facilities and hotels. In addition, the CVB is a member of the Florida Sports Foundation as well as most visitor bureaus in Florida. “If we as a destination are unable to host a particular event for any reason, we work with the Foundation to keep the business in Central Florida,” Little says. “This keeps the group close to the Daytona Beach area and gives us more potential to host them in a future year.”
Marketing efforts have their challenges. “One of our main obstacles is actually a good one to have; availability,” comments Little. “Our area and the facilities are very popular so finding available dates can sometimes pose challenges. This is one of the reasons why we focus on future business.”
Within the hospitality industry, Eubank at the Hilton says “the recent challenge has been that while (tournament directors) were conservative with the number of rooms they booked, their attendance has actually grown because many of these tournaments didn’t happen in 2020” and people are excited now to again attend these events.
The COVID pandemic especially prompted CVB planners to strategize a way to move forward in a situation of total unfamiliarity. “We started a WE CARE campaign which was focused on reaching out to past, present and future clients to let them know we are here to help,” Little explains. “These were not sales messages, they were to let them know they aren’t alone in figuring out what to do with their event. We were able to retain over 70% of the business that would’ve been lost due to COVID by working with the client[s] and local partners to reschedule them to a time [when] they could hold their event safely.”
“Daytona Beach and the CVB have been absolutely wonderful to work with,” says Boggs with the Cheerleader Association and Dance Alliance. “We couldn’t do an event without the support of all the people who are ground zero for all of our events.”