Drawing a Crowd

The city of Lancaster, Calif., was faced with an economic downturn in the early 1990s that also affected many communities across the nation. Loss of aerospace employment was particularly hard on the area due to its proximity to Edwards Air Force Base and the local Air Force Plant 42. However, the decline of a previously booming housing market, the new demands of the community for additional recreation opportunities and the environmental restrictions imposed by the adjacent Air Force Plant 42 on a large parcel of desert land were challenges that the city converted into opportunities.

A Strategic Plan

In 1993, the city organized a committee of leading citizens to formulate an economic development strategy tied to sports tourism. The Lancaster National Soccer Center (LNSC) emerged as a top priority, and the city aggressively sought funding to convert the 240-arce parcel into one of the largest soccer complexes in the nation, eventually completed in 1998. Simply by assuming the outstanding assessment costs, the city acquired the property and constructed the complex using redevelopment funds. The $15-million complex consists of 35 fields–11 of which are lighted, with 18 additional fields utilizing practice lighting. Six additional fields meet the international FIFA specifications for field quality. The LNSC also provides 2,800 paved parking spaces, two activity buildings, seven restrooms, two snack bars, two children’s play areas and two large, covered pavilion areas.

The marketing program for the city’s sports tourism is designed as part of a larger recruitment effort for business and industry, by providing a quality-of-life component with recreational and cultural facilities and recreational programs. This ambitious effort–under Parks, Recreation and Arts Director Lyle W. Norton–includes city recreation initiatives, such as the Lancaster National Soccer Center, Clear Channel Baseball Stadium for the Lancaster JetHawks (a minor-league baseball team and Red Sox affiliate), the Big 8 Softball Complex, Prime Desert Woodland Preserve, the Lancaster Performing Arts Center, the Lancaster Film Office and the Museum/Art Gallery.

Going For The Goals

The initial goals of the Lancaster National Soccer Center were two-fold, with the first goal to serve the ever-increasing resident demands for soccer facilities. The development of the complex provided fields and buildings for both league and tournament play, which directly benefited local soccer organizations, public and private educational institutions and adult leagues. More than 3,000 local youth practice and play at the LNSC, including the American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO), Lancaster United Soccer League, Lancaster Rattlers AV United Soccer League, High Desert Men’s Soccer League, elementary, middle school, high school and college teams. The city has strived to make this facility affordable for its citizens, allowing youth leagues and clubs to practice under the lights four nights a week for $15 per field per night, and to play Saturdays for $15 per field.

Once the LNSC was completed, the city undertook the second strategic goal to implement a comprehensive marketing program to attract major regional and national tournaments. A major economic development objective of the complex was to generate direct and indirect revenue to the LNSC and the city. This initiative has resulted in the generation of an annual average income of $300,000 from fees, concessions and admissions. More significantly, indirect benefits from lodging, restaurants and retail trade result in up to $6,000,000 annually, including transient occupancy and sales-tax revenues. The recently awarded, weeklong U.S. Youth Soccer Far West Regional Championships, scheduled for June 2009, will provide an estimated $13 million in economic impact to the region. The city’s Director of Economic Development, Vern Lawson, credits the city’s soccer and softball tournaments as a factor that major hotels and retailers consider when deciding to locate to the fast-growing Lancaster area. With business and aerospace professionals utilizing hotels and services during the week, sports tournament visitors have filled the weekend gaps previously left vacant.

Marketing To The Masses

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