Close to 5,000 soccer players will be in Surrey this weekend for the SX International Cup tournament, with games at Newton, Cloverdale and South Surrey athletic parks. (File photo: Gord Goble)

Close to 5,000 soccer players will be in Surrey this weekend for the SX International Cup tournament, with games at Newton, Cloverdale and South Surrey athletic parks. (File photo: Gord Goble)

GAME ON: ‘Sport Surrey’ aims to bring athletic events to a city that often lacks enough hotel rooms

This weekend’s big SX International Cup soccer tourney is the kind of event Matt Holbrook welcomes

SURREY — If your relatives and friends find it difficult to book a hotel room in Surrey this long weekend, it’s probably because B.C.’s largest soccer tournament is here.

More than 300 teams – a third of them from out of town – will fill athletic parks in Newton, Cloverdale and South Surrey for the SX International Cup, a competition involving close to 5,000 players.

”You multiply that by mom and dad and maybe even grandpa, you’re looking at 10,000, maybe 14,000 people flooding into Surrey’s parks for three days,” said Matt Holbrook, whose job is to bring such sporting events to Surrey. “It all has a huge economic impact for the city – for restaurants, shopping malls, the hotels, of course. It’s millions in economic impact – probably close to $6 million.”

Fields in Richmond are also used for the soccer tourney, which starts on Saturday (Sept. 2) and continues until Monday.

SX Cup promo video:

As Surrey’s sport tourism manager, a contract position, Holbrook is the sole employee of Sport Surrey, which helps sports organizations plan and stage events in the city – a kind of “one-stop shop” for tournament and competition organizers in need of sports facilities and hotel rooms here.

Holbrook has been in the position, jointly funded by the City of Surrey and Tourism Surrey (now known as Discover Surrey), since February 2016.

Soccer, baseball, fastpitch, water polo, hockey, diving, field hockey, tennis – Holbrook is game to bring competitions involving these and other sports to Surrey, and the strategy seems to be paying off.

July, in particular, was one of Surrey’s busiest sports months on record, he said, with provincial- and national-level golf, field hockey, soccer, ultimate and other events played in the city.

Evidently, Surrey has become a go-to city for many such tournaments and competitions.

“In 2017, we’re going to see about 70 provincial and regional (sport) events, and close to nine national events,” said Surrey Councillor Bruce Hayne, who chairs the city’s Parks Recreation and Sport Tourism Committee.

“It’s growing, and this is a partnership we’ve had with Tourism Surrey for four or five years now,” he added. “Of course, as we bring more facilities online, like the two new pools (in Guildford and Grandview), we’re able to attract larger and bigger events, including diving and synchronized swimming, things like that now. In the past, we just didn’t have the ability to host some events.”

Surrey’s sports-tourism strategy is detailed in a document called Ahead of the Game, published in 2016 around the time Holbrook was hired.

“The strategy will establish Surrey as a premier sport tourism destination in the Pacific Northwest and Canada while balancing community needs with sport tourism development,” the report says.

The website is the organization’s key portal, with details about the city’s sports facilities, future and past events, testimonials from competition organizers and bid-preparation assistance.

The website boasts: “We’re proud that our athletic community has played home to such internationally recognized events such as the 2016 Cameroon Football Federation FIFA Training Camp, the Water Polo Canada Western Conference National Championships for the last three consecutive years, the 2012 BC Summer Games, and the Scotiabank Canadian Open Fastpitch International Championship. Sport has a long history in our growing city – and a very bright future!”

With so many events hitting the city, one problem is finding enough hotel rooms for all those athletes and families.

“No doubt, that’s been a challenge,” Holbrook said. “You know, all the hotels here are pretty much max capacity for six months of the year right now. It’s extremely difficult. I’m looking at events right now for 2018 and we’re already maxed out at some hotels for certain dates. It’s a challenge.”

Some local hotels, he said, don’t necessarily want sports teams when they’re filling up with other business.

“To be perfectly honest, hotels that get lot of corporate travellers, a lot of people just driving across the border for a night or two, they they can get a $149 corporate rate and deal with that traveller instead of giving a lower team rate to get groups in and then have a bunch of kids running around with soccer balls everywhere.

With some local hotels, it’s often a negotiation – some “arm-twisting,” as Holbrook explained.

“When I go to the management and say, ‘Hey, I’ve got this event and they need 300 rooms per night,’ a lot of them will come back and say, ‘We can give you 10 or 15 because we’ll be full at that time.’ It’s often a struggle to find enough hotel space, no question, and there’s no doubt that an event like SX Cup (soccer tournament) is overflowed, with hotels in Langley, Richmond, New West, wherever, listed on their website as host hotels, because there’s just not enough room capacity in Surrey.”

A lack of hotel rooms in Surrey is “unfortunate,” Hayne said, “but it’s just the nature of the beast.

“We have another hotel coming online in City Centre this fall (Marriott’s Civic Hotel), so that will help,” he noted. “And there’s another hotel in City Centre, closer to 96th Avenue, that’s just gone through third reading at council, so that will probably be under construction within a few months here. There are more hotels coming online.”

READ MORE: A look at Surrey – from the third tallest tower in B.C., from July 2017

Sport Surrey’s work to “build capacity” includes having enough experienced volunteers to be able to host big sports events.

“Once we’ve done an event of a larger size, you’ve got a list of volunteers, and they’re generally keen to come back to help if they’ve had a good experience,” Hayne said. “You start to build a base of qualified and experienced volunteers that are able to put on a large-scale event like that in the city. That’s capacity-building for that event and also for others that might want to come here. Just having a facility is one thing, but if you can’t man it with volunteers who know what they’re doing, it’s not going to be a successful event from the organizers’ perspective, or the participants either.”

About eight years ago, when Surrey was pushing to create many new turf fields for soccer and other sports, Holbrook was on “the other side equation,” as a planner of sports events. By 2014, he was involved in the creation of the SX Cup, along with Chris Murphy, managing director of E11even Management Inc., which continues to run the soccer tournament. Holbrook continues to manage the BC Soccer Premier League, which includes eight clubs.

At the time Holbrook was hired as Sport Surrey’s manager, the new pools in Guildford and Grandview drove much of his work to bring in diving, water polo and swimming events.

“We’re getting into another cycle now, having brought in some aquatic events to facilities here, solidified them and have them keep coming back,” Holbrook said. “Now we’re moving on to ice, with the new arenas being constructed over the next 12 to 18 months (in Cloverdale and North Surrey). Now I’m looking at ice opportunities, what events could we bring to the arenas, to grow our arena sports. The two new facilities will bring five new sheets of ice to Surrey, and they old ones won’t be closed down until they run their life, so there will be some overlap of having the new ice sheet and still having the old ones.

RELATED: Here’s a first look at Surrey’s two new arenas, from June 2017

“We’ll be able to look at bringing in larger participation events, not so much spectator events – I still can’t go after events Langley Events Centre can go after, for example. They have 5,000 seats. Ours are more club tournaments, figure skating events, things on a smaller scale – that’ll be our bread and butter, and that’ll be our focus over the next year, to make sure people know about those venues and fill those when they open up.”


Matt Holbrook, Surrey’s sport tourism manager, outside the Tourism Surrey office with retired runner Charmaine Crooks, a five-time Olympian. (Photo: submitted)

Matt Holbrook, Surrey’s sport tourism manager, outside the Tourism Surrey office with retired runner Charmaine Crooks, a five-time Olympian. (Photo: submitted)