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Flashback: Growth of That Other Football “Just Exploding”

Sporting events are economic prizes for savvy cities like Huntsville, where soccer is a high growth segment and soccer tournaments are weekend windfalls.

Sporting events are economic prizes for savvy cities like Huntsville, where soccer is a high growth segment and soccer tournaments are weekend windfalls.

“Even as Alabama begins the run-up to the high holy days of football season, there’s another sports force rising,” announced our “Business of Sports” columnist Jim Dunn in the September 2007 issue of Business Alabama.

“It has a foreign accent,” Dunn continued his apostasy. “It was virtually unheard of in the state barely 10 years ago, and it’s changing the face of high school sports forever. Meet football’s newest and strongest challenger, soccer.”

Dunn zeroed in on Huntsville, where soccer growth is thickest.

“Our experience is that soccer in north Alabama is just exploding,” said Ralph Stone, executive director of the Huntsville Sports Commission. “In Huntsville alone we probably have more than 5,000 kids ranging from five to 18 that play in league play. We’ve seen steady growth over the last five years in all age groups.”

The non-profit Huntsville Sports Commission sponsors tournaments and activities in 17 different sports, including lacrosse, hockey, wrestling, volleyball, Frisbee meets, hunting dog meets — as well as the usual golf, football, softball and such. Soccer is a growth segment.

“One of the factors in soccer’s growth is the rise in Alabama’s Hispanic population,” reported Dunn, and that trend continued. Between 2000 and 2010, Alabama had the second highest rate of growth in Hispanic population, second to South Carolina, and Huntsville’s 10,512 Hispanic residents topped the state.

The demographics lead to the economics.

“Huntsville probably has 90 percent or higher hotel occupancy Monday through Thursday, and these soccer tournaments and other events happen Friday through Sunday,” said Stone. “So it’s a great marriage between the business and recreation to keep our hotels and restaurants full every day of the week.”

The Huntsville Sports Commission today reports on its website that in the last 12 years, more than 300 sporting events have been held in Huntsville, with an economic impact estimated at $108 million. 

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