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Why This Florida City Is Investing in Sports Tourism

With the establishment of the Jacksonville Sports Foundation, Jacksonville aims to boost the local economy and unite the community through diverse sporting events.

Jacksonville Sports Foundation's Launch
"I’ve seen firsthand the impact of sports tourism in Jacksonville,” says Donna Deegan, the mayor of Jacksonville and the founder of The DONNA Foundation, whose signature event is the annual 26.2 DONNA Marathon to End Breast Cancer. “Having an organization dedicated to attracting sports events to Jacksonville is a game changer and I’m excited to see what the Jacksonville Sports Foundation brings here.”
Photo: Courtesy of Visit Jacksonville

JACKSONVILLE, FLA.—Michael Corrigan, the president and CEO of tourism authority Visit Jacksonville, fondly looks back on the day the Jacksonville Jaguars NFL team was founded in 1995. "Sports has this incredible way of bringing the community together," he points out. "When you go to an event and your team does something, you’re instantly high-fiving and even hugging the people next to you. We’ve seen time and time again the Jacksonville community rally around the sports industry."

Those fond memories and sense of community are part of why Corrigan and his team have announced the Jacksonville Sports Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to making the northeastern Florida city a premier sports destination. The new foundation will work to attract sporting events of all types and sizes to Jacksonville, including collegiate athletic tournaments, surfing competitions, outdoor endurance races, and large-scale international games.

Corrigan describes the foundation as a “coordinated effort with Visit Jacksonville, the City of Jacksonville, and various sports entities in town." He continues, "There have always been individual efforts being done in the past and a lot of focus on the sports complex downtown, but there hasn't really been a real communitywide effort by all the entities involved." 

While the foundation will of course make efforts to recruit major professional sporting events, Corrigan emphasizes the importance of also focusing on drawing less high-profile sports year-round—"From archery to Zumba!" he says. "Jacksonville is a community with 840 square miles of really unique sporting venue availability, either existing today or being built in the future. We have one of the largest urban park systems in the country, which gives you a lot of opportunities to hold these sporting events at locations that aren’t currently being maximized." Jacksonville Sports Foundation's LaunchJacksonville has a large number of unique sporting venues, including Edward Waters University (pictured), a historically Black university that competes in the NCAA Division II.Photo: Ken McCray for Visit Jacksonville

So far this year, bids have been made to host the AAU Track and Field Primary Nationals and Club Championships, 14 NCAA Division I and Division II tournaments, USA Gymnastics competitions, and various collegiate conference championships. In another big win for the city, the headquarters of the Atlantic Sun Conference (ASUN) will move from Atlanta to Jacksonville this fall. ("I am more than thrilled to be announcing our relocation to Jacksonville, a market that is growing exponentially in a location that will allow us to access and engage with our student-athletes, coaches, and administrators at an unprecedented level," said ASUN conference commissioner Jeff Bacon in a press release.) 

Corrigan expects this renewed focus on sporting events to have a major impact on Jacksonville's economy; in 2023 alone, he notes, sports had a $178 million estimated economic impact—a number the city hopes to grow with the new foundation.

He also believes the city's hospitality industry is uniquely positioned for this type of initiative. “Jacksonville has a large number of what are known in the industry as select service properties, and we’ve seen over the decades that when we bring sporting—especially amateur athletic—events to town, it has a profound positive impact on the tourism economy," he says, noting that the economic impact extends to restaurants, bars, and sports apparel stores too. "Having a huge inventory of hotels that can cater to that type of customer makes it really easy for athletes, and families and friends of athletes, to come to town and have a really incredible experience.” Jacksonville Sports Foundation's LaunchIn January, the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) announced Jacksonville as the new home of the AAU Track and Field Primary Nationals and Club Championships previously held in Orlando. This year, the event will take place at Hodges Stadium at the University of North Florida July 7-13.Photo: Ken McCray for Visit Jacksonville

Moving forward, Corrigan is excited to partner more closely with existing foundations like the Florida Sports Foundation. "We'll be working with them daily to try to maximize Florida as a location for sporting championships," he explains. He's also excited about some upcoming venue developments, including the newly proposed $1.4 billion renovation of EverBank Stadium, home to the Jaguars, which is currently going through the approval process with the city.

“Sure, that’s a football stadium—but there’s also going to be some 250 meeting areas available inside, where we’ll be able to create some really unique, out-of-the-box places to have events and conferences," he says. Another exciting option for groups? The upcoming Four Seasons Hotel, a 170-room property downtown expected to open in 2026. “Jacksonville has incredibly diverse choices. We call it ‘the flip side of Florida’—you’re going to find everything you’ll get in other beautiful areas of Florida, but you’re also going to find so many things you've never experienced in the state before.” 

Currently, the team at Visit Jacksonville is leading efforts for the Jacksonville Sports Foundation—but as it evolves, the initiative will have its own staff. It's currently actively seeking founding partners to help carry out its mission; see more at

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