Virginia’s Blue Ridge creates sports tourism division

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Print this page by Tim Thornton
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VBR Sports is creating a buzz about the region’s reputation for outdoor adventure.
Courtesy Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge

Last year, sports-related events accounted for 69 percent of the Roanoke Valley’s group travel business. Bree Nidds aims to build on that.

Nidds is director of sports development for VBR Sports, a recently created division of Virginia’s Blue Ridge, the tourism marketing organization that serves Roanoke, Salem and the counties of Roanoke, Botetourt and Franklin.

Representatives of those communities join Nidds on the VBR Sports council, which wants the region to get its share of the more than $11 billion spent on sports-related travel annually.

More than 30 million children play competitive sports, and youth sports tourism is the fastest-growing segment in travel and tourism. VBR Sports, however, is after more than traveling soccer teams and their entourages. The region has worked hard to cultivate a reputation for outdoor adventure, promoting the second-largest municipal park in the country, hiking and biking trails, the James River, Smith Mountain Lake, the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Appalachian Trail and the continuing development of Explore Park.

Publications ranging from Blue Ridge Outdoors to Men’s Journal have recognized the region’s outdoor bona fides.

“It’s so important to have a buzz about a certain sport or certain area. It’s very important to have passionate enthusiasts within your region,” Nidds says. “We’re looking at events that tap into that.”

Roanoke already hosts the Blue Ridge Marathon, labeled America’s “toughest road marathon.” VBR Sports wants to add mountain bike races, trail races, ultra-distance races — and disc golf.

“When the professional disc golf association is deciding where to hold an event, they really look for a strong community of like-minded folks and sports enthusiasts,” Nidds says. “So, it’s really vital for me to tap into what is very popular within our destination already.”

It’s also vital to stave off attempts to lure events away. Salem calls itself Virginia’s Championship City because it’s hosted so many Virginia High School League and NCAA championships. The city had been the site of Division III football and basketball championships since the 1990s. But the last Division III Stagg Bowl for football was played in Salem  last December. The city’s last DIII Final Four ended in March. The NCAA is moving the events to other states.

The Roanoke Valley will host other small college championships, but the loss of the college championships  underscores the need for the diversified sports portfolio VBR Sports is working to build and maintain. Nidds expects to get that done. “We are very sports-centric in this region,” she says.

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