Sports tourism is a growing and often overlooked segment of tourism in Lancaster County, said Ed Harris, CEO of Discover Lancaster.
Harris has credited sports travelers heading to tournaments at the pandemic-resilient Spooky Nook Sports with bolstering group travel in 2021.
Nationally, there were 175 million sports travelers in 2021, according to a report by Fort Worth-based Sports ETA, the association for the sports events and tourism industry.
Meanwhile, WinterGreen Research has pegged the youth sports market at $19.2 billion market in the US, rivaling the size of the $15 billion NFL. The youth sports market is divided into segments that represent revenue generation from travel, equipment, team membership, facility construction, software and venue rental.
Venue rental is where Spooky Nook, in East Hempfield Township fits in. Spooky Nook Sports began at and is named for its address, 2913 Spooky Nook Road. It is the largest indoor sports complex in the United States, providing regulation courts and playing fields for more than a dozen sports under one roof.
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In addition to the 700,000-square-foot indoor facility, it offers an outdoor field hockey pitch and a climate-controlled dome used for field hockey, soccer, football and more.
It also features extensive recreational facilities, including a climbing center, fitness center, food court and arcade, as well as event and meeting space for individual fitness training to birthday parties to national sporting events.
As youth travel sports and competition grows, Spooky Nook is on track to see 1.5 million visitors in 2022, said Mackenzie Bender, corporate director of marketing & sponsorships. That’s up from about 860,106 during the pandemic year of 2020.
A 2018 study commissioned by Spooky Nook estimated that $15.5 million in Spooky Nook Sports revenue and $39.2 million in off-site ancillary spending would result in a total direct impact of $54.7 million in the region’s economy. It’s not far from a $15 million hotel project on 3.3 acres and the new Penn State Health Lancaster Medical Center.
Bender said Spooky Nook is continuing to update to serve its clientele, including repolishing its court facility and replacing its outdoor field with turf so it can be used for football and soccer as well as field hockey.
Bender said the facility is building capacity to host more than one event at a time.
Spooky Nook is seeing its biggest growth in renting the venue to groups that take care of all the organizing and ticketing.
Out of 52 tournament weekends, about 40 of them are rentals in which Spooky Nook doesn’t run the events.
Perhaps best known for field hockey tournaments, the facility has hosted corn hole tournaments, senior games, darts, dead lifting and even roller derby.
The facility sees an opportunity to host trade shows and conventions.
“It’s really been an area that’s seeing double digit growth,” Bender said. “Only so many places can hold 1,800 people.”
In September, Spooky Nook opened its first location outside of Pennsylvania in a former paper mill in Hamilton, Ohio. Spooky Nook Champion Mill is Ohio’s second-largest convention center and the nation’s largest sports complex, spanning over 1,000,000 square feet in total.
In Pennsylvania, Spooky Nook currently employs about 620, including full-time, part-time, seasonal and intern workers, and in Ohio it has about 45 workers, Bender said. The goal is to have about 250 in Ohio in the first two years, she said.
“The teams between Pennsylvania and Ohio will collaborate and there is some overlap,” Bender said. “Our leadership teams oversee their respective team in both locations.”
Sports tourism encompasses more than just Spooky Nook, Harris noted.
Clipper Magazine Stadium, home of the Lancaster Barnstormers, a professional baseball team in the Atlantic League, is on track for a $1.3 million replacement of its grass field with turf. It received approval from Lancaster’s City Revitalization and Improvement Zone in May but is awaiting state authorization, said Mike Reynolds, Barnstormers president and general manager.
The project would in effect make the stadium a multi-use facility. Harris said that would make the facility more attractive for other sports-related tourism.