Cover Story: Charlotte sports - big bucks

By Jeff Atkinson - bio l email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - It's a big day in the sports world for Charlotte.  The Bobcats celebrating their first time in the playoffs with a huge rally on Thursday.

And Tiger Woods announcing he will return to Charlotte to play in the Quail Hollow tournament. It'll be Woods' first PGA tournament since returning to golf in the Masters after a 5-month break.

Charlotte's really becoming the home to all types of sports teams and sporting events.  Add that to the booming NASCAR industry that's already here and you have a recipe for more than just entertainment.

Say Charlotte and outside the region people know it as bank town.. second biggest in the country behind New York.

But this too? Sports town?

How far we've come from being a city that just hosted racing three times a year.

"Charlotte is really a very big sports town.  I think people are surprised by that," says Dr. John Connaughton, economics professor at UNC Charlotte.

Just look what's been added since the Hornets debuted 22 years ago.

We got the NFL.  Another NBA team.  Minor league Hockey and Baseball.  A major golf tournament.  And college football and college basketball tournaments.

And most recently, soccer.. a nearly sell-out crowd at B of A Stadium when the Mexican national soccer team played here.

How did this happen?

"I think it's a combination of some good planning and some good luck," says Tim Newman, CEO of the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority.

Vision he says which built a speedway.  A football stadium.  And a downtown arena.

And luck of the weather.  And luck in landing a great date on the PGA Tour-- to attract the likes of a Tiger Woods.

Just look what's on Charlotte's calendar in the next few weeks.  Bobcats and Checkers in the playoffs.  The Quail Hollow Championship.  And 10 days of speed in May.

"I think community spirit is a big part of this. Charlotte is a town that really rallies around great and quality events," says Newman.

But it's more than just fun and games.  There's an economic windfall as well says UNC Charlotte economics professor Dr. John Connaughton.  "Sports provides a real big economic impact to this community. It's big business in Charlotte. It's one of the major industries in this city."

Racing spawned an industry that support it.

Nearly all the NASCAR race teams are based in this region.. providing four and a half billion dollars worth of economic output.

TV networks have located here:  Speed Channel, ESPN U, NASCAR Media and Raycom Sports.

And it's provided jobs on game day and services to support the events.. what economists call the supply chain network.

"We say Charlotte's got a lot from a destination branding standpoint.. we do have a lot particularly on the sports front," says Newman.

And nobody really knows when Charlotte will cross the finish line.

Who could have predicted a decade ago that the Queen City would be where the NASCAR Hall of Fame is.

And news out Thursday is showing a prime example of how sports are boosting the economy.

The recent CIAA tournament in February--brought in nearly 25 million dollars in direct spending for the area.

That number from the Charlotte Regional visitors authority.

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