“We want to be as locally relevant as possible,” said Mike Vest, Chairman and Co-founder, Lionsbridge FC. It was indeed the Hampton Roads Community that was at the heart of the Hampton Roads Sports Commission’s Sports Council event in Virginia Beach on Tuesday, January 23rd. The Hampton Roads Sports Commission is an affiliate of the Hampton Roads Chamber where being locally relevant is a priority. The enthusiasm was contagious as Jonathan Mensink, Corporate Sponsorships and Promotions for the Norfolk Tides, joined Vest on a panel titled, “The Impact of Professional Sports in the Community.”
Members from the Hampton Roads hospitality community, sports professionals, outdoor enthusiasts and avid fans joined the audience. Wes Hall, Executive Director of the Hampton Roads Sports Commission, described the Sports Council series as, “A quality, educational sports series. In an effort to increase sports tourism in the Hampton Roads area, this series will focus on building relationships off the field.” Hall anticipates the series running quarterly with an emphasis on the economic impact of sports on our business community.
While there was discussion of the need for a professional sports team in the area, the morning focused on the reality that Hampton Roads will soon have a soccer team to rally around. Alongside our Norfolk Tides and Admirals, the Lionsbridge FC will be based in Newport News and hold their matches at POMOCO stadium as a tenant of Christopher Newport University. Vest’s commitment, vision and passion for the sport was tangible. This team did not form overnight and had been a dream in progress for several years. Vest shared the origin of a Premier Development League soccer team and recounted the initial discussion. “It was myself and two other guys sitting around a kitchen table and between us we had 7 sons who all lived and breathed soccer, but we had no options in the area for youth to see a local professional soccer team.” From an idea to the formation of a team who will kick off in front of those very youth in May 2018 is something to cheer about.
Hall asked the panelists to talk about their respective organization’s impact on the community. Mensink discussed the endurance of the Norfolk Tides Baseball team as they enter their 26th season. “We are proud that the community continues to support us. It’s a privilege to say there is going to be a next year, a next season, we couldn’t do that without the community support. Sports is the community gathering place. It’s the place where you may not have all like-minded people, you can be whoever you are, and gather in the name of fun, and a team that to a certain extent, represents you,” Mensink said.
Vest echoed the sentiment, “We think of our games, not as games, but as community festivals. Soccer is not necessarily central to our mission and values, it’s more the building of a community. Nothing in any community ever happens without the support of everyone. We can shape it, as community-minded, community-oriented citizens, we can really do that at this early stage in the team.”
All in the room seemed to agree that sports tourism will indeed generate economic impact and enhance the quality of life here in Hampton Roads. When asked if he was looking at growing the soccer team outside Hampton Roads, Vest said, “With good corporate support and community relationships, there can be so many roots developed right here. The biggest asset is people who care collectively about something and the desire of the community to make that happen.”
The Chamber means business and we know that sports provides economic development. The Hampton Roads Chamber and the Sports Commission work together as an economic catalyst for the region.