For years, the site where Wiregrass Ranch Sports Campus is now thriving was the topic of — well, conversation.
The birth of the event destination dates back to 2001, when a feasibility study identified Pasco County as a possible sports tourism hotspot.
Actual plans for the athletic center didn’t come together until 2015.
The facility broke ground in June 2018 and it opened in August 2020 — in the midst of a pandemic.
Rather than derailing the success of the sports destination, though, the facility managed to attract tournaments that had intended to go elsewhere but couldn’t because the place they intended to go was closed.
During the pandemic, staff with Florida’s Sports Coast — Pasco County’s tourism arm — also set the stage for future business by developing relationships with event planners.
Late last year, the Florida Sports Foundation named the Wiregrass Ranch Sports Campus in Wesley Chapel as Florida’s Small Market of the Year for its contributions to the state’s $57.4 billion sports industry.
The recognition didn’t exactly surprise Consuelo Sanchez, sports development and tourism manager of Florida’s Sports Coast.
After all, Sanchez said, efforts to promote the venue at national and international trade shows had been ongoing for years.
“Once it opened, in the middle of a pandemic, it exploded,” she said. “Everyone wanted to come here. All of these event organizers that we had been talking to for years, they wanted to come,” Sanchez said.
She attributes excellent customer service as a key ingredient for the facility’s success.
“Once, they came, they loved the venue, and moving forward, they want to keep hosting these events (here) on an annual basis,” Sanchez said.
The athletics campus is a public-private partnership between the county, which owns the land and facility, and RADD Sports, a private sports management company tasked with handling day-to-day programming, maintenance and operations.
The sports campus also was developed as part of a private-public partnership between the Pasco County Commission, the county’s tourism agency, and the Porter family, who donated the land.
Designed for flexibility
The field house, which is the centerpiece of the campus, has two 35,500-square-foot multipurpose courts featuring eight drop-down basketball hoops and 16 volleyball nets.
It has a 5,000-square-foot indoor cheer zone.
The campus also has two full-size, outdoor multipurpose fields and will be getting five additional fields to wrap up phase one.
The facility can accommodate up to 17 different sports.
Already, it has attracted amateur events sanctioned by several national governing bodies, such as USA Volleyball, USA Gymnastics, Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) basketball, AAU volleyball, Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA), National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), Florida Senior Games, Special Olympics, and U.S. Club Soccer.
Recently, it finished the Christmas Invitational, which brought in 148 teams from around the country, said Adam Thomas, tourism director for Florida’s Sports Coast.
“These are top-level girls basketball players that are top recruits. We had eight of the top basketball teams from around the country, playing in our tournament at Wiregrass Ranch Sports Campus of Pasco County,” Thomas said.
Last June, the facility hosted the first ever Tampa Bay Pro Combine, which brought in Division I and Division II college players, eligible for the pro draft, to showcase their hoop skills.
It will be hosting its second rendition of that event in April, in which 51 or 52 players will compete in the combine.
Local benefits, too
Besides attracting tournaments and tourism dollars to the area, the cutting-edge facility offers significant advantages for local aspiring athletes.
Local leagues and players can take part in programming at the sports campus, when the facility is not booked for outside tournaments or special events.
“We have kids in Pasco County that participate in travel ball. They participate in travel ball for volleyball or basketball or gymnastics or soccer or whatever sport that we’re hosting at the sports campus,” Thomas said.
“Their level of experience now gets to increase because we’re bringing in better competition, from a national perspective. So, they can compete against top-level athletes,” he added.
Another plus? Local athletes can sleep in their own beds, eat meals at home and forego the expense of travel, he said.
The venue continues to expand its events and programming, and Florida Sport’s Coast staff now are working to secure bookings from 2023 through 2026.
Staff is eyeing one opportunity, in particular, which has great promise, the tourism director said.
“It’s a North American event,” Thomas said, adding he is not yet able to disclose specifics.
“It would be the first time that this event would ever be held in the Southeast Region of the United States,” Thomas said.
And what’s happened so far is just scratching the surface of possibilities for the sports campus.
Once the first phase wraps up, there will be a phase two and phase three.
How those phases will play out isn’t yet clear, so stay tuned.
- 98,000 square feet of indoor space
- Two 35,500-square-foot gyms
- Separate cheer/dance studio
- Bio-cushioned hardwood floors
- Multisport electronic scoreboards
- 37-foot high ceilings
- Can accommodate 16 volleyball games or eight full-court basketball games at once
- Floors can be converted for sports such as pickleball (up to 16 courts), futsal (up to eight courts), and large-scale wrestling, mixed martial arts (MMA) or karate tournaments
Sampling of events coming soon to the Wiregrass Ranch Sports Campus:
- Feb. 26 – Feb. 27: East Coast Cheer
- March 5 – March 6: Mark Foster V-Ball
- April 23 – April 24: RADD Volleyball Battle of the Bay
- May 7 – May 8: RADD AAU Volleyball
- June 25 – June 26: RADD Futsal
- July 23 – July 24: SOH Elite Basketball
Published February 16, 2022