Manatee County's sports industry potential growing

September 7, 2013 

As the rain starts to subsides Saturday evening the team captains of the IMG Academy Ascenders and Palm Beach Lakes Community High School meet for the coin toss in the middle of the playing field at IMG's new stadium. This is the inaugural game at the stadium. PAUL VIDELA/Bradenton Herald

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Manatee County's sports industry got a huge boost this week with the awarding of the 2017 World Rowing Championships on Monday.

While that's a major accomplishment for tourism and the economy, that's only one piece of the puzzle that is being put together by community leaders.

Here's another: IMG Academy and Manatee County are teaming up to -- hopefully -- attract Major League Soccer clubs here for preseason matches, "friendlies" as soccer people call games that don't count in the standings.

IMG, an international powerhouse in the sport industry with an expanding Bradenton campus, hopes to become an annual home to MLS clubs and one of the preaseason hubs that brings the league's 10 Eastern Conference teams to play here and treat the region's soccer fans to a taste of top-notch competition.

Like rowing, this region is a growing soccer hotspot. The Premier Sports Campus at Lakewood Ranch, only a few years old now, features 22 play fields on 140 acres and just hosted 300 teams in a tournament this past weekend. Those fields are well known among experts as some of the best in the country.

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