The results are in and the Panama City Beach Sports Complex is proving to be the winner its backers believed it could be. Between April and July 2021, the facility hosted 20 tournaments, bringing in more than $50 million worth of economic impact to the tourism-based community.
Such activity is just what was envisioned when the complex debuted in fall 2019. Baseball, softball, lacrosse and soccer brought in over 1,350 out-of-market teams, 19,000 players and more than 60,000 visitors (families, friends, spectators) to the Florida Panhandle.
“Operating the Sports Complex, which helps support our local community, is incredibly meaningful to our entire team,” says Jamie Cox, general manager of the Panama City Beach Sports Complex. “We are looking forward to continually improving the economic vitality of the community we serve, while providing young athletes with a world-class facility to compete in for years to come. We were pleased with the number of teams that traveled to Panama City Beach to play here within the past few months, and we are optimistic about future events and their ability to grow and bring in even more travel teams year versus year.”
The victories this spring and summer are especially sweet after a frustrating 2020. Just as the facility was set to flex its muscles for its first full year, the COVID-19 pandemic forced its doors shut for three months to comply with new health and safety standards.
A comeback was never in doubt with Chris O’Brien, director of sports marketing and special events at the Panama City Beach CVB, working the phones. The destination was already a hot spot for baseball and softball tournaments prior to the shiny new facility coming online.
But the dream project allows for great flexibility in terms of the number of teams and events that can use Panama City Beach as a home at one time, as well as for the number of different sports.
The facility features 13 rectangular fields, including nine with artificial surfaces and two championship fields. Lacrosse, soccer, football, rugby, Quidditch and more are natural fits, to say nothing of the diamond sports. Among the tournaments that have come to town this year are:
- Four weeks of Grand Slam Baseball brought in 544 teams.
- Two weeks of USA Fastpitch drew 449 teams.
- Snap Soccer Trident Cup accounted for 133 teams.
With pristine beaches, family-friendly activities and blue skies, Panama City Beach is driven by sports tourism. While young athletes hit the fields, their siblings can ride the Ferris wheel, play arcade games and jump in the Gulf of Mexico. Pending FDA approval of vaccines for children 5 and up should provide a further boost to the sports tourism industry reliant on parents to feel comfortable traveling.
Having experienced some early setbacks, the teams at the CVB and sports complex are ready to witness the potential impact a state-of-the-art facility can have on the region.
“The destination had a record-breaking spring and summer and the Panama City Beach Sports Complex, along with Frank Brown Park, continue to host our well-established weeklong Summer World Series events for Grand Slam Tournaments and United States Fastpitch Association,” notes O’Brien. “The additional fields at the Panama City Beach Sports Complex also allow for the development of new dates offseason for sports and family ‘playcation’ events in lacrosse, soccer and other national organizations.”
Photos By Michael Booini