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Sports Proving a Valuable Buoy For Rock Hill in the Pandemic

Laurie Helms
City of Rock Hill

Rock Hill’s shiny new Sports & Event Center was all set to be a big deal. It was just slated to open at a colossally unfortunate time – March, 2020.

To be fair, it did open, briefly. There was a soft launch; a few events happened. But the city’s newest economic driver, a facility humming with revenue-raking sports and contests, ringed by businesses and restaurants poised to make a killing, never got its hoopla-launch. COVID-19 shut the center’s doors for two months, before it even had a chance to prop them open.

Roll the clock forward to July and the city reopened the site for some basketball games. Though city leaders took certain precautions, such as mandating masks and severely limiting spectators, they took a lot of backlash from people who said it was too soon and too unsafe to open the center for business.

Since July, the center has hosted a fairly steady string of events, from frequent basketball tournaments to the World Cornhole Championships, which was broadcast nationally on ESPN to a sports-starved nation.

Financially, this has all put Rock Hill in decent shape, amid a pandemic that has already cost the state an estimated $4 billion in expected tourism revenue and choked small businesses and cities around the country. John Taylor, the city’s director of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism, says Rock Hill would have taken in about $13 million more by now, at the end of August, had the pandemic not halted sports and games for more than eight weeks.

But sports, mostly the games held at the Sports & Event Center, have generated $23 million for the city so far this year -- $6 million shy of where Rock Hill was this time last year, when there was no Sports & Event Center revenue.

Taylor says the foresight to have built the center to begin with has proven a valuable move during the pandemic. The center continues to draw teams for volleyball and basketball tournaments by the literal busloads and, barring further pandemic issues, shows no signs of slowing.

Taylor estimates that the Sports & Event Center will contribute to an overall $45 million is sports-related revenue by year’s end.

Scott Morgan is the Upstate Multimedia Reporter for South Carolina Public Radio. Follow Scott on Twitter @ByScottMorgan and follow South Carolina Public Radio @SCPublicRadio, or on Facebook.

Scott Morgan is the Upstate multimedia reporter for South Carolina Public Radio, based in Rock Hill. He cut his teeth as a newspaper reporter and editor in New Jersey before finding a home in public radio in Texas. Scott joined South Carolina Public Radio in March of 2019. His work has appeared in numerous national and regional publications as well as on NPR and MSNBC. He's won numerous state, regional, and national awards for his work including a national Edward R. Murrow.