Nonprofit has increased field usage, diversity of sports

Published in the January 6 – 19, 2016 issue of Morgan Hill Life

By Robert Airoldi

Photo courtesy MHYSA Hundreds of soccer players enjoy the Outdoor Sports Center during a recent tournament.

Photo courtesy MHYSA
Hundreds of soccer players enjoy the Outdoor Sports Center during a recent tournament.

After more than two decades, Morgan Hill’s efforts to build a top-notch sports destination is coming to fruition. What started in 1994 with 10 grass soccer fields, has become the spot for regional, state, national and international tournaments and events in Northern California. In 2015, the Outdoor Sports Center boasted 35 weekends booked, with even more planned for 2016.

“Our work is just a continuation of all the work done by those before us,” said Jeff Dixon, president of the Morgan Hill Youth Sports Alliance, which for the last five years has run and operated the fields. “We are just the latest generation. It’s our turn now, but there will be someone else behind us to continue the legacy of providing a world-class facility for local children and for regional, state and national tournaments in a variety of sports.”

But the beginning was a humble one for the operators.

The city’s goal when MHYSA took over in 2010 was to balance the number of users between regional and local users and to create a greater diversity in terms of the different sports. Today, instead of just soccer, sports include Lacrosse, rugby, NFL flag football, U.S. Ultimate Frisbee, and a national dog agility championship. Non-sporting events include a non-animal circus, a carnival and the annual Fourth of July firework show.

“In the beginning, it was about getting our kids on the fields during the week and supporting the overall mission of more kids and more sports,” Dixon said.

MHYSA’s move to open the grass fields to local usage during the week greatly increased the number of available hours for local children, said General Manager Dave Payne. Furthermore, with the availability of grass fields, Morgan Hill Pop Warner Raiders were able to make the OSC their home field and consolidate operations. OVYSL, Britton Middle School and other programs were also able to move their practices to the OSC’s superior fields.

“Today, there is a backlog for times and slots on all fields,” Payne said.

MHYSA---Balloon-at-ESPN-Copa-tourney-webIn 2007, after construction was completed of the grass and turf fields, city staff faced the challenge of how to realize the full value of the center as a multi-sport facility while finding the financial means to do so. They needed a mechanism to ensure superior playing fields for Morgan Hill children while increasing revenue. After running the OSC for two years in partnership with CYSA and using a model they developed with the YMCA to run the CRC, the city found one. They sent a Request for Proposal for a single operator in February 2010. After a rigorous competition, MHYSA took over operations in July 2010.
Now Monday through Friday during the school year, the fields are used by South Valley Rugby, Pop Warner Raiders, South County Outlaws (lacrosse) and Sobrato High School girls soccer, and local children now use the fields about 40 percent of the time.
We started off effectively from scratch,” Dixon said. “Now we have a viable, sustainable operation that is just continuing to grow.”

The first 12 months saw the fields rented for 19 weekends, primarily by California Youth Soccer Alliance Cal North with some NorCal soccer events. That number slowly increased and in 2015, that number increased to 35 weekends a year.

Economic impact
By 2010, Dixon and Payne — along with the board of directors — began to understand the economic impact of sports tourism in Morgan Hill.

“As we started to understand better, we grew to appreciate the economic impact to the city and the region,” Dixon said. As an example he cited the global dog agility championships which drew more than 100 dogs and their owners who stayed in the area for more than three days, and the Flynn Creek Circus, which played at the OSC for several days to please children of all ages.

“Now what we do is just the tip of the iceberg,” Dixon said. “Now there is a whole new level of businesses we can attract.”
Those include sports camps, which look for fields to be used during the weekdays, and major state, national and international tournaments of all levels of amateur sports.

One problem the organization and the city have encountered is that other cities with similar facilities often have a visitors bureau or tourism-type agency that helps financially support the facility. More often than not, these large tournaments ask for — and often receive from other cities — discounts on local hotels, parking, field rentals and concessions.

“Morgan Hill is not in a position to do that. The focus now has to be to build a Morgan Hill brand for sports tourism,” Dixon said. “We have great wineries, a vibrant downtown and great restaurants, but so do a lot of other cities. But how many have an Outdoor Sports Center, an Aquatics Center and soon-to-be-built softball fields? We need to come together as a community and build that model that will provide an even greater economic impact. Sports tourism is the one big draw for Morgan Hill.”

Organizers of these large sports tournaments send out RFP and cities compete for the business. The nonprofit is now working with the city on new ideas that pull together the synergy between the city and the OSC and the Aquatics Center, he said.

“We have learned that our events have increased local restaurant, business and lodging use and I understand that the venue is credited with a few million in local direct economic impact yearly — above and beyond the improved tax revenues for the community. Other events, like the Dog Agility Show in October of 2014, is believed to have brought close to $2 million to Morgan Hill and the surrounding area,” Payne said.

Super Bowl event
To celebrate “Super Communities,” the Morgan Hill Youth Sports Alliance and the city of Morgan Hill will be host a “Gold Light Event” Jan. 9. This event will celebrate the community’s support for Super Bowl 50 by bring together a gathering of thousands of people who will use their cellular phones to spell out a “Morgan Hill Loves SB50” on the main soccer field. The light display will cover 4,500 square feet and be visible from the sky. In addition to the light display, there will be a variety of family-friendly activities including, photo booths, food and drink, games and a performance by local artist Soul Sisters. The event will run from 4 to 6:30 p.m. at the Morgan Hill Outdoor Sports Center. For more information and registration go to

“We have a rare combination of features in our area enhanced by the Outdoor Sports Center that allows us to compete in the sports destination segment of the tourism market,” Payne said. “We bring the perfect California location close to the beach, the Bay Area, Yosemite and Monterey for visitors to enjoy side trips. Morgan Hill directly has the California experience of a charming downtown and nearby outlets, golf courses, and the oldest wine region in California able to compete with most any other. By adding a world class sporting venue, we are able to attract national events better than most other locales.”

Editor’s note: Morgan Hill Life editor Robert Airoldi who wrote this story is a member of the MHYSA board of directors.