Sports projects appear a solid bet

Aug. 03, 2014 @ 03:10 PM

With Rocky Top Sports World and Wear Farm Park both operating at full-tilt now, and the Cal Ripken Experience on deck, it’s only a matter of time before Sevier County becomes a full-fledged youth sports destination.

The convention centers might have been the first to capitalize, locally at least, on the traveling sports family phenomenon. They have been hosting large cheer, dance and volleyball competitions for years.

Others, led by officials with children and grandchildren of their own in the traveling baseball, softball and AAU basketball circuits, saw the handwriting on the wall and have officially jumped in with both feet.

Now the community has invested millions of public dollars and committed millions more on the bet that Sevier County’s tourism offerings will give our area a leg up on the competition when it comes to recruiting events and teams to the area.

Murfreesboro, which hosts the annual TSSAA Spring Fling — Tennessee’s spring sports championships — as well other state events, such as the state championship basketball tournaments, sees a huge economic impact from youth sports each year.

One of the biggest hopes, especially with Rocky Top, which offers all-weather turf fields and lots of indoor play space, is that it can be a year-round economical driver.

Something is always in season, unlike standard tourism.

Officials also hope the tournaments and events will bring new, first-time visitors to the area. That, studies show, would result in returning customers later, as new family traditions took hold.

So far, Gatlinburg is overjoyed with Rocky Top Sports World, and that’s a good thing.

Both the city and the county are counting on the project to spur and diversify the city’s economy, perhaps expanding business opportunities toward the park on Highway 321.

“The city is thrilled about the opening of Rocky Top Sports World,” Gatlinburg City Manager Cindy Cameron Ogle said recently. “Rocky Top Sports World allows our community to tap into the growing sports destination market, which will have a positive economic impact on Gatlinburg businesses and job opportunities.”

Lori Moore, the facility’s marketing manager, agreed, and added her belief that the combined efforts of all of the area destinations would provide a winning formula.

“Between what Pigeon Forge is doing with the Cal Ripken baseball (complex) and what we have here at Rocky Top Sports World with this great facility, I think Sevier County is going to be a major hub for sports,” Moore said.