MYRTLE BEACH — You’re used to seeing the flip-flop wearing vacationers around Myrtle Beach this time of year, but be prepared to spot another large group of visitors for the next few weeks: youth baseball and softball players.
More than 10,000 players, their relatives and coaches will be hitting the ball fields around town and checking out some of the beach’s attractions while here competing in the Triple Crown Summer Nationals, which has descended on Myrtle Beach for the past decade but registered a record number of participants this year.
Organizers credit the record year with the tournament’s growing reputation, additional fields to play on at The Market Common and the appeal of Myrtle Beach as a destination.
“Teams just love coming to Myrtle Beach,” said Andy Hansen, spokesman for Colorado-based Triple Crown Sports, which organizes 300 events across the country every year. “It’s going to continue to grow.”
If some Grand Strand tourism promoters have their way, you’ll be seeing a lot more uniformed sports competitors year-round.
Officials in Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach, as well as those cities’ chambers of commerce, have stepped up efforts recently to lure more sports events to the Grand Strand, especially during the slower spring and fall seasons when businesses need a little boost.
North Myrtle Beach is building a 160-acre outdoor sports complex planned to open in March, while Myrtle Beach has added fields near The Market Common and is moving forward with plans to build a 100,000-square-foot indoor sports complex.
Adding the fields and indoor arena could make the Grand Strand a star player in the growing sports tourism segment nationwide, supporters say. The area already has enough hotel rooms for competitors to stay and the restaurants, stores and attractions to keep them busy in between games, they said.
“It will round it out for us,” city spokesman Mark Kruea said of the planned indoor sports arena aiming to open in February 2015. “Kids and families travel together to play sports and we have all the other things that make for a good destination. It really is the total package.”
Some restaurants, stores and attractions – especially those near the fields at The Market Common or near the Ripken Experience-Myrtle Beach – have noticed large teams showing up at their businesses more often and asked the city for a heads up when large sports events are in town so they can be ready for the rush. The city now sends a weekly update to businesses alerting them of the sports events coming up.
“They would be surprised when five busloads of people and family members show up,” Kruea said.
In 2012, sports events pumped $132 million in spending into Myrtle Beach’s economy, according to the city. That number is expected to grow this year because of several new fields at Grand Park near The Market Common and more events, Kruea said. In addition to baseball and softball teams, the city regularly hosts competitions for soccer, volleyball, cheerleaders and runners.
City leaders point to Triple Crown as an example of the potential benefits sports events can bring area businesses, saying last year’s Triple Crown generated $9.5 million in spending. The tournament kicked off this week with 265 baseball teams that will compete through the end of the month, followed by 115 girls softball teams that will compete from Aug. 1 through Aug. 4.
The teams are coming from 29 states including typical feeder markets for vacationers to Myrtle Beach such as North Carolina, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. But it’s also bringing teams from states where Myrtle Beach typically isn’t a go-to vacation destination, including Utah, Texas and Wisconsin – introducing the Grand Strand to people tourism promoters hope will return for a leisure vacation.
Triple Crown likely will add more events to its national lineup in the coming years – especially indoor girls volleyball and lacrosse, both of which are growing in popularity – but there’s no specific plans to add events in Myrtle Beach, Hansen said, but added that Triple Crown is pleased with the events in Myrtle Beach and the locals who help make them happen.
“They are really dedicated to bringing in the premier events,” Hansen said, adding that he didn’t know of a sports tourism aspect the area needs to improve on to grow in that segment. “They understand the economics of it. It’s a large impact for their community.”
Contact DAWN BRYANT at 626-0296 or at email@example.com or follow her at Twitter.com/TSN_dawnbryant.