The road back to tourism recovery in McAllen leads through its youth soccer, baseball, softball and football fields in the view of a city official who has spent years cultivating relationships that have brought teams and visitors by the thousands to local parks.
Robert Lopez, the vice president of Visit McAllen, is hardly allowing the setbacks of 2020 to temper his ambitions to bring more youth sports events and tournaments to the city. He has been working on raising McAllen’s profile among national and state youth sports associations since 2012. Lopez’s persistence has paid off for McAllen.
He describes youth sports as McAllen’s fastest-growing tourism segment. Lopez points out that each visiting athlete family staying overnight in a hotel spends about $205 per person per day. This brings business to the local hospitality and restaurant industries, and millions each year to the local economy.
There was an obvious lull in this activity last year, but the city is moving full speed to regain what Lopez and his staff had built up. Visit McAllen recently confirmed two softball and two baseball events. These are expected to generate 900 hotel room nights with an estimated economic impact of $997,500. The city expects more than 7,000 spectators.
“We’ve really been working it and looking for opportunities,” Lopez said, whose department works under the umbrella of the McAllen Chamber of Commerce. “We’ve got a lot to offer with great fields … all the hotels and restaurants visitors could want. We check all the boxes.”
Laying The Groundwork
Getting there was a process for Lopez and Visit McAllen. A breakthrough came in 2016 when the Texas Amateur Athletic Federation brought its Games of Texas to McAllen. Hundreds of athletes and teams in soccer, track and field, golf and swimming came to the city for a huge midsummer event. The event was a success and the Games of Texas have been back to McAllen in subsequent years.
“It was huge for us,” Lopez said of landing the Games of Texas. “It gave us credibility and really opened the door for other sports leagues to notice us.”
Another watershed event came when the Texas Youth Football Association hosted its annual Spring Bowl in McAllen. The youth football tournament is the largest event of its kind in Texas. McAllen has hosted the Spring Bowl for seven straight years over the Memorial Day weekend. The event attracts 60 teams and more than 3,000 visitors to McAllen. It has an economic impact of $350,000 over the holiday weekend.
The city’s growing appeal in youth sports would then bring the Pop Warner Southwest Region and its major fall football event to McAllen in mid-November. Lopez’s strategy in bringing events to McAllen has been to play up its South Texas/border location.
“How do we separate ourselves from Waco, College Station, Corpus?” he asked in going up against other similar-sized cities in competing for events. “We can bring in teams from Mexico. We can host more international sporting events than anywhere else in Texas. We’re claiming that.”
Getting Back To Busy
Lopez is looking forward to both an active summer and fall schedule of events as youth sports gets back to normal activities. He credits the city’s park and recreation department, and the McAllen school district for their support and partnerships in making the youth sports events possible in the city. His outlook is a positive one in looking to the rest of the year and beyond for segment of McAllen’s tourism industry that has an economic impact of $5 million-plus yearly and books over 6,000 hotel nights.
“Youth sports are going to be key to the tourism rebound in McAllen,” Lopez said. “People are getting comfortable being together outside, and here in McAllen and the Valley, we have a culture of first-rate hospitality.
“We’re taking that cultural quality and putting it into our event life,” he said.