The NFL’s Carolina Panthers will return to Spartanburg for their 2017 training camp running July 26 through Aug. 13 at Wofford College.
According to the Spartanburg Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB), more than 135,000 visitors attended the camp in 2016.
That number shattered the former attendance record of 77,652 fans set during the previous year’s camp, and it represented the seventh consecutive year of record attendance increases at the camp.
“Last year’s attendance blew us out of the water,” said Chris Jennings, executive vice president of the Spartanburg CVB. “That’s going to be tough to beat. But we’re optimistic. There are a lot of great things going on in Spartanburg. And I think visitors will be happy with the opportunities we have for fun outside of Panthers camp.”
The Panthers have held their training camp at Wofford since the team’s inception in 1994.
Superstar quarterback Cam Newton’s arrival in 2011 and the team’s overall improvement have attracted more visitors to the camp in recent years.
Carolina and Wofford have also collaborated to make the camp more enjoyable for fans with amenities like immaculate landscaping, tee boxes, repaved walkways, better parking and shuttle service, and a larger autograph area.
Officials said the spate of new retail and dining options in downtown Spartanburg, as well as recreational opportunities across the county, have provided camp goers with more things to do during their visit.
Downtown Deli and Donuts, Pokenori, The Lemongrass Kitchen, Hub City Scoops, The Black Derby Barber Co., A Nail Bar, HenHouse Brunch, Pink on Main-A Lilly Pulitzer Premier Specialty Store, and Nacho Taco are just a few of the new businesses that have opened during the past year.
Cribb’s Kitchen on Main, Dottie’s Toffee, Wild Ace Pizza and Pub, Wild Wing Café, The Crepe Factory, the Little River Coffee Bar and Hub City Bookshop, Delaney’s Irish Pub, Growler Haus, The Local Hiker, Monsoon Noodle House, Lime Leaf, RJ Rockers Brewery, Carriage House Wines, Hub City Tap House, Papa’s Breakfast Nook, Groucho’s Deli, Miyako Sushi Group, HubDiggity’s, and Health in Hand juice and smoothie bar are among the list of other stalwart downtown businesses.
“We are very hopeful this year’s camp will be a success,” said Kathy Chandler, executive director of the Spartanburg Downtown Association. “There are a lot of new choices; places to eat, things to do. Our live music offering is wonderful. … I think we’re more of an attraction than ever.”
Visitors who choose to venture outside of the downtown area will find restaurant and shopping destinations across the county too numerous to name, particularly on the city’s east and west sides.
“Panthers camp is a unique opportunity to showcase Spartanburg,” said Jansen Tidmore, executive vice president of Spartanburg’s new Downtown Development Partnership. “It’s a testament to the community that the Panthers have continued to demonstrate their commitment. … The authenticity of Spartanburg is put on display during these few weeks.”
While Panthers camp is the feather in the cap of Spartanburg County’s tourism industry, Jennings said he is looking forward to several other opportunities that could yield positive results for the county.
Tourism had a record $390.15 million impact on the county in 2016, according to the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism.
Spartanburg’s average hotel occupancy rate increased to 74 percent, which outpaced Greenville and four other comparative counties, including York, Georgetown, Beaufort, and Florence.
The county’s hospitality tax revenue increased a record 3 percent during the past year, while the city’s hospitality tax revenue increased a record 6 percent, according to the Spartanburg CVB.
“That means that volume is up, especially in the city,” Jennings said.
He said the Spartanburg CVB will introduce its five-year strategic plan tied to the community’s five-year cultural and economic plan One Spartanburg on July 18.
Jenning’s said the county is working to host an AAU basketball event featuring local talent Zion Williamson later this year at the Upward Star Center.
The University of South Carolina Upstate will host a Spartan race in November, Jennings said.
Spartanburg is also poised to host another USA Softball national championship in July 2018.
Jennings said the county is looking for recreational opportunities for lacrosse and soccer, as well as disc golf after seeing the response to a new course at Holston Creek Park in Inman.
On the marketing side, Jennings said the Spartanburg CVB is hoping to build on the success of the previous year’s efforts, which yielded $110 in economic impact for every $1 spent by the organization on advertising.
He said 30-second TV ads featuring Spartanburg will continue to run in markets that include Knoxville, Tenn., Chattanooga, Tenn., and the Raleigh and Durham areas in North Carolina. If all goes according to plan, Atlanta could be targeted in 2018.
The county received a $40,000 grant for tourism advertising from the state, and hosted the S.C. Governor’s Conference on Tourism & Travel, which brought in about 400 tourism officials from across the Palmetto State.
Spartanburg chef William Cribb was named a 2017 S.C. Chef Ambassador. On July 20, Cribb and the state’s three other chef ambassadors will travel to Birmingham, Ala., to meet with officials at Southern Living magazine’s corporate headquarters.
Jennings said a team of local tourism experts will accompany Cribb and be given an opportunity to pitch Spartanburg to the magazine’s editorial staff.
He said the county is also looking forward to hosting visitors who will be participating in the FEI World Equestrian Games in September 2018 at the Tryon International Equestrian enter in Mill Spring, N.C.
Jennings said the county will soon add about 300 to 400 rooms to its inventory of hotel rooms through various projects, including a new $20 million AC Hotel in downtown and a handful of other smaller projects on the city’s west side and along the Highway 290 corridor near Duncan.
“We’re optimistic, but we’re watching the hotel demand,” Jennings said. “Supply is going to catch up with demand. People are noticing us.”
For more information, visit visitspartanburg.com.