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Thousands of kids are traveling to Richmond to play sports and pumping millions into the economy

Posted at 10:58 AM, Jul 10, 2024

HENRICO COUNTY, Va. – It's been a busy time over at the Henrico County Sports and Events Center. The center recently hosted the National Futsal Training Camp, just the latest event to takeover the center since it opened near the old Virginia Center Commons mall last November.

“We've hosted the A-10 Women's Basketball Championship, the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame [and] the National Wheelchair Basketball National Championship,” Dennis Bickmeier, executive director of the Henrico Sports and Entertainment Authority, said. “We've had meetings and trade shows. We even did a little mini concert last year.”

Championships, meetings, trade shows and concerts in venues across Central Virginia helped the region collect nearly $850 million in sports tourism revenue in 2022. That's 32% of the state's sports spending revenue, despite being host to no major professional sports teams.

A large portion of that revenue comes from youth sports tournaments held in gyms and on fields throughout the area, Katherine O’Donnell, president of Richmond Region Tourism, said. Those events attract young athletes and families from across the country.

"Those are the [tournaments] we like to have because college coaches are coming in [and] scouting,” O’Donnell said. “Those are the ones that parents and families really want to attend because their college future is on the line."

O’Donnell said once those families visit Richmond, they’re often inclined to make a return trip separate from athletics.

“The food, the outdoors, the culture, the history, the dining, the beer, all of it,” said O’Donnell. “We have a great package... [And] we're not a one and done type of place that you just check off and say, ‘I've already done that.’”

The newly-constructed Henrico center is only the start of a longer-term project. Bickmeier said that in addition to the Sports Authority’s outdoor developments, such as their multipurpose fields and diamond sports, the county is already undergoing another major project.

Green City, which was approved by Henrico’s Board of Supervisors in 2020, is a development that will feature retail space, residential units and a park system. But more important to sports tourism, it will also include a 17,000-seat arena with the hopes of hosting events beyond the youth level.

“That will be a game changer for our region, everything that we can do there from a music standpoint, a sports standpoint and special events,” said Bickmeier.

These are some of the upcoming events that the Henrico Sports and Events Center has scheduled:

  • July 11-12 – Big Shots Summer Live
  • July 22 – FutsalRVA Summer Camp
  • July 27 – Exposure Basketball’s Tournament of Champions

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