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The center has covered operating costs ever since that first year, he said.
Meanwhile, in a 2009 survey of merchants conducted by the city, almost 90 percent of the 41 respondents said their sales increased because of center events.
The new fields will allow organizers to expand the youth soccer tournament, which at times has had to turn teams away. Being big is critical to the center’s appeal and success, said Paul Erickson, executive director of the Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission.
“In order to maintain our market position as the leading amateur sports destination in the United States, it’s economies of scale. The margin in amateur sports is small. If you have a big event, you can operate successfully.” Erickson said.
The center says it also tries to stay ahead of the curve.
“We are always looking to what is the next big thing? How are the sports themselves evolving? Are we meeting those needs?” said Kara Radeke, senior director of soccer and field sport programs.
Realizing that some of the parents at the USA Cup were hankering for a chance to play, for example, organizers last year added an indoor tournament for adults that is played at night. They also added an indoor tournament for younger children to correspond with USA Cup.
For years, the fishing opener in May was a dead weekend at the Sports Center. Staff was challenged to come up with an event that would draw a crowd. The winner would earn bragging rights and a six-pack of beer. The result: the Walleye Chop adult hockey tournament and fish fry.
Early spring and late fall were slow, so staff created youth soccer tournaments, which have evolved into some of their biggest tournaments of the year.
While part of the facility’s mission is to “bring an international experience” to Minnesota, 92 percent of its visitors come from in state.
Tommy and Jean Soehn and their four children are more than visitors. The Soehns looked in the south and east suburbs before buying a home in the city, less than five miles from the National Sports Center. All four kids play soccer year-round, Jean Soehn coaches one of her daughters, and Tommy Soehn is an assistant coach for the Major League Soccer team the New England Revolution.
“It’s everything. It’s not only our livelihood; it’s our true passion because of what it teaches on and off the field,” Jean Soehn said.
Soehn, who grew up in Roseville, remembers playing in the first Schwan’s USA Cup in the mid 1980s.
“I have always said I want my kids to have the experience of the USA cup. Now, it’s come completely full circle,” she said.
Shannon Prather • 612-673-4804