Unless you consider watermelon farming a sport, the 145 acres that comprise Premier Sports Campus never hosted a sporting event before 2011.
That makes the 200,000 people who will use the facility in 2017 – and their economic impact on the Bradenton-Sarasota area – all the more impressive.
When Antonio Saviano joined Premier Sports Campus as director of sports in 2013, the “sea of grass,” as Rex Jensen, CEO and president of developer Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, referred to the 22 full-size multipurpose fields at the sports complex, the campus was hosting eight to 10 events a year.
That number has grown to about 45 events in 2017, Saviano said.
“There has been a big change,” he said.
With the exception of Easter weekend, Premier Sports Campus is booked for a soccer event every weekend in April, Saviano said. This month, 40,000 people are expected to walk through the complex’s gates.
Annual events include massive soccer competitions like the U.S. Soccer Tournament in November and the Labor Day Tournament, but Premier also serves as home for much quieter, smaller events, such as soccer practice for area children.
Part of the reason for the increasing use of Premier Sports Campus is that owner SMR has continued to improve the facility, adding field lights to enable night play, and in 2016, a 3,500-seat stadium, restrooms, concessions, a multi-use room and a medical treatment room.
“It’s an investment in the community. The time was right for the improvements, and now we have infrastructure on site,” Saviano said. “I don’t know what the next phase of improvements might be. It’s perfect right now.”
In addition to soccer, the campus also hosts lacrosse, ultimate frisbee, football, rugby and other sports. It has also hosted musical concerts and is now home to the Thunder by the Bay event for bikers.
The sports complex helps fill hotel rooms, sell meals in restaurants and attracts visitors who will take a shine to the area and potentially become residents of Lakewood Ranch, Bradenton or Sarasota.
“I was on the phone with someone from Brandon who was moving here,” Saviano said. “The school was their No. 1 concern, and No. 2 was their desire to have their daughter play in the under-11 girls soccer program. The family will always do what is right for the kids.”
Heather Angersoll said her son, Mason, 9, has been honing his soccer skills at Premier Sports Campus for five years.
“He loves soccer and the program here is great. They host so many wonderful events here. It’s becoming a prominent part of Lakewood Ranch,” Angersoll said.
Sean Walter, Manatee County sports commissioner, said Premier Sports Campus has been a huge advantage for the Bradenton-Sarasota area.
“There are 26 sports commissions in Florida, and they ask about this state-of-the-art facility, and how they are able to maintain it so well. Premier Sports Campus has 22 contiguous fields, so large events can be held in one place and not have to go to four different locations,” Walter said.
Walter estimates Premier Sports Campus has a direct economic impact of $10 million a year, and an even greater indirect impact.
The facility represents a great partnership between SMR, Manatee County and hoteliers.
“We’re all in this together,” Walter said.
Mark Dennis, operating director for the PDQ restaurant at 5484 Lena Road in East Manatee, is one of those who recognize his business has benefitted from Premier Sports Campus.
“It’s a great way to get people into the community. The influx of visitors helps our local businesses. They have been a great partner to work with,” Dennis said.
Jensen will acknowledge that it was a gamble when he advanced the idea of building the sports complex. But it is a risk that has paid off in far-reaching dividends.
“The PSC has exceeded everyone’s expectations, I think, and has subsequently become an economic driver not only for Lakewood Ranch but for Sarasota and Manatee counties,” Jensen said. “It has allowed us to bring hundreds of thousand of people to our community, both for sporting events and for other events and festivals.
“The PSC is a unique amenity that brings incredible value to visitors, residents and the region as a whole.”