Not The Usual Sports Suspects

Emerging sports teams - Pick me!!

Jacksonville has an extensive variety of venues for the more mainstream sports – endless fields and arenas for football, baseball and soccer; dozens of year-round golf courses; inshore and offshore waterways for competitive fishing; a 9-lane Olympic grade track and field stadium with IAAF certification, some of the country’s most underrated waves and wide beaches for surfing get the idea.

But what about the niche sports? For an event planner, where do you go when you have unique requirements for a burgeoning competition? With Jacksonville’s mild climate and easy geographic location, it’s an excellent locale for almost any spectator sport. Here’s a few facilities that warrant some attention and sports I’d love to see more of in Jacksonville.

The freshly renovated Conference Center at the Hyatt Regency Riverfront is the largest meeting facility in Northeast Florida at over 116,000 square feet. The Conference Center includes 30 meeting rooms, a/v equipment rentals, high speed wi-fi, customized catering and 20,000 square feet of deck space overlooking the St. Johns River. Fun fact – it has the largest hotel ballroom space (28,000 square feet) between Atlanta and Orlando.

An indoor hotel venue of this size checks all the boxes for the booming trend of eSports events. The main ballroom is large enough for a stage, massive screens and spectator seating, both floor and stadium style. The hotel has the added benefits of numerous breakout spaces for other immersive experiences. And the best part – all have a front row view of the St. Johns River and easy access to Downtown Jacksonville attractions.

Riverfront Plaza, former site of the Jacksonville Landing, is an open green space on the bank of the St. Johns River in the heart of Downtown. Since July 2020, the 15+ acre site has been managed by Jax Parks, the City of Jacksonville’s Parks and Recreation branch, and is available for event permitting for large and small events. The sunny location is a blank slate for any outdoor (or tented) event – from concerts to private parties to the world’s biggest bounce house.

The coolest use of space I’ve seen so far was in 2021 when SLS (Street League Skateboarding) chose the waterfront field for its two-day Super Crown Championship. The event included a custom built, one-of-a-kind skate plaza with classic skating-style rails and steps, along with a temporary grandstand that held an estimated 6,000 fans and an adjacent Family Skate Park area.

Hodges Stadium at University of North Florida has been an impressive addition for both the city and university. The field has served as a practice facility for visiting NFL and NCAA college football teams. It is a frequent host for NCAA, FHSAA and Junior Olympic track and field championships, in addition to other organizations. With a 9,400 stadium capacity, it’s an ideal spot for an outdoor tournament or let’s say a budding sport amongst the younger crowd – Quidditch.

Quidditch, now also known as Quadball, was made famous from the Harry Potter series and over the last 15 years has grown to include professional leagues, school teams, and community clubs throughout the world. Essentially the size of the field and grass/turf preference allows the sport to be played on existing soccer or football fields. The spirited chaos and high intensity of the sport would draw in many area spectators. In addition to game play, Hodges Stadium has a great deal of surrounding space both in and outdoors where spectators can enjoy a fan festival with merchandise vendors, food trucks, and family entertainment.

Jacksonville has a diverse selection of facilities and big ideas for how we can creatively use those spaces. Pickleball, Disc Golf, Extreme Running, Ultimate Frisbee, FootGolf - I'm looking at you too. Let's talk.

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