DE Turf books over 50 events for ‘18

DOVER — Sports success increases with a tenacious competitive nature.

The fight to host those athletic events and earn the money they produce is fierce, too.

DE Turf Sports Complex backers are thrilled with the opening months of the south Frederica-based facility’s operations off the Del. 1 highway, which followed years of dogged persistence just to build it.

The mission to provide Central Delaware with a sustainable game-changing economic driver is still evolving, however.

The DE Turf nonprofit booked 20 major events in 2017 and has more than 50 planned for this year. That will bring a massive economic impact primarily to Kent County restaurants, lodging and tourism enterprises thanks to thousands of out of state visitors associated with youth sports teams, organizers say.

They expect DE Turf to inject $18 million into the local economy annually.

Others have noticed DE Turf’s potentially lucrative benefits associated with the sports tourism industry that produced $9 billion in spending nationwide last year and are seeking to cash in.

“What keeps us up at night is the looming competition,” saisd Bill Strickland, chairman of DE Turf’s board of directors, during a Wednesday presentation to the Greater Kent Committee hosted by Tidewater Utilities.

Mr. Strickland cited still developing ventures in Georgetown, Wilmington, Middletown and Ocean City, Maryland, that could possibly draw some of the market share that DE Turf covets, particularly youth sports travel teams and college showcases.

“What that speaks to is that we can’t get complacent,” Mr. Strickland said. “(In some respects) the easy part was to build the facility.

“The hard part is to build … an economic model that makes sense (and can sustain itself for years to come.”

At Wednesday’s noon gathering, DE Turf executive director Chris Giacomucci highlighted the 2018 schedule. It will consist of large scale-events predominately involving, lacrosse, soccer and field hockey, along with some football, flag football, ultimate frisbee and running. The schedule rruns from Feb. 17 through Dec. 15 and didn’t allow for many weekend openings.

The 2018 US Lacrosse Youth Nationals held Aug. 2-5 is expected to involve over 90 teams, while the National Lacrosse Classic on July 16-19 will attract over 2,500 athletes nationally.

“The goal is to have a year-around facility and we’re certainly getting there, we really are,” Mr. Giacomucci said.

Also, Mr. Giacomucci said, “The facility is not open exclusively for travel tournaments.

“We are also dedicated to offering opportunities for local schools and teams to utilize our fields. In addition to hosting local play days, we offer several high quality sports programs open to you of all ages and ability levels in the community.”

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A win-win partnership with Kent County stakeholders is part of the plan to assure the local community grows and benefits in step with DE Turf’s expansion.

The nonprofit’s early return on investment is creating revenue to fund the $24 million venue’s debt service and create financial reserves to replace the 12 turf fields that will eventually require attention in a decade or so, Mr. Strickland said.

After offering corporate sponsorships for fields during last year’s construction phase, DE Turf has expanded into a new series of sponsorships opportunities for tournaments and events. Mr. Giacomucci said the available rates will are tailored for affordability and a chance to get involved.

“We want to show folks the value of spending 50 to $75,000 to have an exclusive sponsorship,” he said.

Also coming is a Delaware Department of Transportation park and ride stop at the southern end of the 84-acre facility.

Last year, more than 40,000 visitors from over 900 teams and 22 states and Canada experienced the DE Turf. Teams booked 2,845 hotel rooms throughout 23 hotel properties, generating $333,189 in revenue.

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