LAKEWOOD RANCH, Fla. — This week the best youth soccer players from around the U.S. are playing against each other in Lakewood Ranch. It’s the oldest youth sports championship in the country, and just a few months ago their organizers weren’t even sure where it would be played.
“Actually the tournament was supposed to be in Phoenix and in March the folks in Phoenix said, ‘you know what we don’t think we are going to have the city ready to go,’” said Skip Gilbert, CEO of U.S. Youth Soccer.
Once again, a major national sporting event has fallen into the lap of Manatee County.
“It’s hard if you walk around here not to say, ‘wow this is pretty impressive,’ so it all came together really fast, we appreciate the doors that opened from the community and we’re ready to play,” said Gilbert.
It was back in February when the World Golf Championships came to The Concession when Mexico City was no longer an option. This time, it’s the U.S. Youth Soccer National Championships finding its way into the Premier Sports Complex.
“Ninety-thousand dollars into this event, 104 teams, economic impact of $3-4 million,” said Elliott Falcione, Executive Director, Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.
These sporting events continue to score revenue longer after a champion is crowned.
“Converts soccer parents to future vacationers that will convert to future real estate buyers so there is a conversion there, that’s how Florida has grown,” said Falcione.
Nick Fifis flew in from New Jersey to watch his daughter play.
“I would definitely come back for the Sarasota, Siesta Key area, Longboat Key area, it’s definitely beautiful, we’re staying in Bradenton right now,” said Fifis.
With every national event, comes the opportunity and notoriety to attract even more sports to the area.
“It gives us more experience in our portfolio because when you bid on national or world events the first question is, ‘tell us what you’ve hosted before,’” said Falcione.