Sports tourism ‘ramped up fast’ after state eased COVID-19 restrictions

Henrico estimates $14.7 million in economic activity from summer events

Sports tourism in Henrico County returned to near normal this summer after Gov. Ralph Northam eased restrictions that were in place to limit spread of COVID-19.

Officials estimate that 42 tournaments and other sporting events held at county facilities generated $14.7 million in regional economic activity from June 13 through Aug. 30.

That’s about $1.6 million less than was projected for the period before the pandemic forced a shutdown beginning in mid-March.

“It ramped up fast,” said Dawn Miller, tourism supervisor with Henrico’s Division of Recreation and Parks. “It was a great summer. It was as big as it’s been before.”

She said Henrico was the first locality in Virginia to resume outdoor sporting events – national and regional tournaments as well as local recreation league games – when the state moved into Phase 2 and later Phase 3 of its Forward Virginia plan for managing the pandemic.

More importantly, she added, the games occurred safely, with teams and spectators following the strict protocols and the Virginia Department of Health raising no concerns.

“Everyone was thrilled to be out there,” Miller said. “The parents were spread out and just happy to see their kids out on the field.”

To better ensure safety, the county held a Return to Play webinar June 11 with representatives of more than 80 organizations. Brookland District Supervisor Dan Schmitt helped lead the event as vice chairman of the Board of Supervisors, chairman of Richmond Region Tourism and past president of Glen Allen Youth Athletic Association.

In addition, Henrico required organizations to follow strict safety protocols, which included daily health assessments of all participants and attendees, the wearing of face coverings, social distancing and limits on the number of spectators.

The tournaments resumed June 13, when the USA Softball Region 2 National Qualifier had 48 teams participating at sites across the county. Then, from June 19 to 21, the Virginia Pickleball Classic brought a reported 384 players to Pouncey Tract Park and the USSSA/804 Baseball tournament got underway at Tuckahoe Little League.

Overall, the county saw nine tournaments from June 13 to 28, under the Forward Virginia Phase 2 guidelines and 33 tournaments from July 1 through Aug. 30 under the Phase 3 guidelines.

Of the 42 total events, more than half were baseball or softball. Others included sand volleyball, fishing, flag football, seven-on-seven football, archery and pickleball. Henrico is following state guidelines on which sporting events can be played safely.

“Baseball and softball over the summer were the clear drivers,” Miller said. “Those were the sports that kept us alive.”

The county managed to recapture two tournaments that were initially scheduled for the spring and canceled during the shutdown. Those events – the Virginia Pickleball Classic and the Triple Crown Capital City Invitational – were moved to the summer, generating an estimated $533,000 in activity, according to Miller.

Henrico’s accessible location in the Mid-Atlantic region contributed to its strong summer because many teams and spectators were able to travel by car.

“It was a drive-market summer,” Miller said.

The prospects for a busy fall and winter also are good because the county has synthetic turf fields that allow year-round play. Recognizing the economic benefits that sports tourism generates for restaurants and other local businesses, the county does not charge for use of its fields and facilities.

“Henrico is blessed with temperate weather,” Miller added. “We can play outside well into December, even into January.” For more information on Henrico as a premier destination for sports tourism, go online or contact Sports Tourism Coordinator Michael McCormack at (804) 501-4142 or [email protected].

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