November 01, 2009
By: Jane Stancill,staff writer

Cary banks on collegiate sports
NCAA promotion will bring tourism dollars to town

CARY - When it comes to college sports, the Triangle is best known for the hard-court rivalries that connect Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill.

But soon, the region could be known as a mecca for all kinds of collegiate sports. And that reputation may come from the unlikeliest of places -- the town without a college sports team.

Cary is one of six places in the country to be designated an NCAA Championship City, with the inside track to host collegiate tournaments in men's and women's sports during a four-year period.

The men's College Cup -- the Final Four of soccer -- will be held at the WakeMed Soccer Park next month.

Cary is, by far, the smallest town in the NCAA's pilot program to cultivate host cities and brand them with the college sports banner. The others are Cleveland, Indianapolis, St. Louis, San Diego and San Antonio.

"They're rubbing shoulders with the big boys on this," said Scott Dupree, vice president for sports marketing for the Greater Raleigh Convention & Visitors Bureau. "In the last five to 10 years, the town has made a real and clear commitment to become a leading sports destination and it's really starting to pay off."

The designation came last fall, and by 2012, Cary venues will have hosted six NCAA championship tournaments in soccer, baseball, cross country and tennis.

And starting this week, the WakeMed Soccer Park will host the Atlantic Coast Conference championships. The women's tournament starts Wednesday, and the men's teams will begin play Nov. 10.

"Cary has done an exceptional job of building itself into a soccer city," said Davis Whitfield, the ACC's associate commissioner for championships. "Our coaches simply love going there."

The contests bring dollars to Cary and Wake County. When fans aren't watching games, they're spending money in area hotels, restaurants and stores.

Last year -- the first time the park hosted both the men's and women's ACC championships -- the economic impact from out-of-town visitors who booked hotel rooms was $635,000, the Raleigh visitors bureau estimated.

But the impact is actually greater because several large soccer events converge on the town.

In addition to the ACC and NCAA championships, the park will also host the Capital Area Soccer League's National Soccer Series. Four youth tournaments are scheduled in November and December.

Last year, the ACC, NCAA and CASL youth tournaments together brought more than 1,100 teams to the area, generating $7.5 million in direct spending, the visitors bureau estimated. A similar economic impact is projected for this year's events.

Beyond the spending by visitors, Cary leaders hope to reap an enhanced reputation as a sports town. Cary already is home to the Carolina RailHawks minor league soccer team and headquarters for USA Baseball.

The Championship City designation could take that exposure further, without much financial risk.

It will cost money, of course, to put on tournaments that don't necessarily generate loads of ticket sales. But the NCAA has guaranteed that the events are a break-even proposition for the town, said William Davis, athletic manager for the town's Parks, Recreation & Cultural Resources Department.

The real boon is the NCAA's marketing of Cary.

"It gets Cary's name attached with the NCAA across the country," Davis said.

The NCAA approached about three dozen cities with the idea for its championship program. Twenty-one submitted proposals for the designation and six were chosen. Cary beat out other locations because of its sports facilities and its experience hosting soccer championships since 2003.