All’s fair in the race to play host to big sporting events, and North Carolina’s bad judgment might turn out to be South Carolina’s good fortune.
North Carolina is paying a steep price for enacting the notorious House Bill 2, the quickie measure rushed through the Legislature to negate a local Charlotte ordinance that would have protected LGBT individuals from discrimination and, most notably, allowed transgender people to choose which public restroom they want to use.
HB2 ignited protests within the state and around the nation, and caused entertainers and others to cancel appearances in North Carolina.
Perhaps most significantly, it also prompted sports organizations to withdraw planned championship games and other events from the state. Just last week, the Atlantic Coast Conference pulled this year’s football title game from Charlotte, where it was scheduled to be played at Bank of America Stadium on Dec. 3.
Two days earlier, the NCAA had announced that it would yank seven championship events from North Carolina because of the bill.
According to the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, which promotes tourism and hotel bookings in the city, the ACC football championship alone had a total economic impact of $32.4 million in 2015. The cancellation of all those sporting events could cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars.
South Carolina knows what it means to be snubbed by the NCAA and ACC. Both honored a boycott of the state by the NAACP lodged in opposition to the flying of the Confederate battle flag on the grounds of the S.C. Statehouse.
State lawmakers finally relented and took down the flag last year following the massacre at Charleston’s Emmanuel AME Church by a man claiming he was trying to foment a race war. The belated removal of the flag was, first and foremost, the right thing to do.
Secondarily, it was a sensible economic move, taking the state off the pariah list for a variety of events. And now, with North Carolina’s woes, South Carolina is in a good position to take advantage of the situation.
Another reason the state is poised to benefit is that legislators showed rare good sense in declining to pass an HB2 copycat bill, the so-called “bathroom bill,” introduced in April by state Sen. Lee Bright, R-Greenville. Bright, who acknowledged that his bill was essentially the same as HB2, said it would require public restrooms be used as deemed by “biological sex.”
But that bullet was dodged. And now, South Carolina – and perhaps Rock Hill, in particular – has an opportunity to poach some of the business that might otherwise have gone to North Carolina.
Rock Hill has made a concerted effort to position itself as a center for sports tourism. Last week, John Gettys, chairman of the city’s sports commission, touted a plan to build a 170,000-square-foot indoor sports complex as part of the University Center/Knowledge Park development on the site of the former Rock Hill Printing & Finishing Co.
Gettys estimated that the complex could attract nearly 200,000 tourists a year and inject $10 million into the local economy. Specifically, it could attract championships and other events of the sort that fled North Carolina, and the indoor facility could be used 52 weeks a year.
Rock Hill’s sporting venues are plentiful and diverse. The Velodrome, a world-class cycling center; Manchester Meadows, a multi-field soccer complex; and Cherry Park, the city’s venerable softball center, already host major championships.
The city’s most recently built sports tourism site – the BMX Supercross Track – will be the site of the 2017 BMX World Championships in July.
To some extent, the fortunes of Charlotte and York County are tied because of proximity. Charlotte’s bad luck in losing major sporting events is likely to have a negative ripple effect on York County.
It is fitting, then, that York County and other parts of South Carolina might reap some benefits from those decisions in the future.
Even without the fallout from HB2, Rock Hill has shown foresight in nurturing sports tourism locally. North Carolina’s self-inflicted pain from HB2 could sweeten the pot.