When Danvers Indoor Sports opened its mammoth, $3.4 million facility last fall, featuring four turf fields under one roof, its owners were betting that a recent sports trend would continue to grow.
Their bet seems to have paid off.
Some 7,000 kids now play soccer and lacrosse there each week, and management says the center is 85 percent full.
This is only the latest indoor sports arena on the North Shore trying to capitalize on the trend. The growing popularity has led to a diverse bunch of facilities on the North Shore whose focus is indoor play.
Some, like Soccer Etc. in Beverly and the North Shore Indoor Arena in Topsfield, cater to soccer and lacrosse teams. Golfers can tee off all winter at the new OptiGolf indoor golf center in Middleton, which boasts nine indoor simulators. Tennis players can head to the Bass River Tennis Club in Beverly or to the North Shore Tennis and Squash Club in Salem.
For baseball and softball players, there's the Route 1 Sportsplex in Danvers, which offers an indoor turf field and batting cages, and Extra Innings Indoor Training Center in Middleton, which is part of a growing franchise of batting facilities with 40 locations in 19 states.
All are driven by the desire for kids to hone their swing — or kick — in the offseason.
"People play their sport year-round. In the winter, all these athletes want to continue their involvement of their sport," said Don Cragg, who has operated indoor soccer and sports facilities on the North Shore since 1987. His family and developer Mark Mscisz built Danvers Indoor Sports.
Soccer was the driving force, because of the demand for field space and playing time, Cragg said. Many towns can't afford to build more fields, and others are running out of appropriate space.
But Cragg and his son, Kelly, said there's also increasing demand for other sports.
"We have a very large component of field hockey ... of lacrosse," Don Cragg said. "We do baseball. We do flag football. We do basketball. We have high school athletic teams come in here in the fall and the spring."
"The demand is different among different sports," said Kelly Cragg, who sees soccer continuing to remain popular as kids grow and want to play in adult leagues.
They hope to nurture that growth by not only catering children's birthday parties but adding programs for seniors.
In fact, the facility is part of a $620 million-a-year industry in the United States, said Don Shapero, president of the U.S. Indoor Sports Association, based in Virginia Beach, Va., a trade association that provides resources for those in the industry. There are an estimated 750 indoor soccer facilities in the United States.
The industry was growing at a 10 percent annual clip before the recession hit, Shapero said. They average 70,000 square feet in size with annual revenue in the neighborhood of $1.5 million, he said.
"It is a growth industry," Shapero said, though the pace of that growth has slackened. The growth is coming not so much from soccer but from facilities that can cater to many sports.
The North Shore Indoor Arena is focused on soccer, but it also accommodates lacrosse and baseball, said Steven Gloria, the arena's manager. The Cragg family formerly operated this arena.
Despite the competition, "our leagues are still full," Gloria said. The arena's business is steady, but it has not been growing. However, it has been drawing teams from outside the North Shore: North Reading, Melrose and Winchester.
"We don't use boards," Gloria said about the difference between his facility and others indoor soccer facilities in the area. "A lot of indoor facilities use boards."
Without boards, the arena in Topsfield replicates the outdoor game, forcing players to be more accurate with their passes, he said.
Many indoor sport facilities started as cavernous indoor tennis centers in the 1980s when the sport saw enormous growth, Shapero said. When the fervor for tennis died down, many tennis centers converted to indoor soccer facilities.
"It's indoor soccer that picked up the slack over the last 20 years," said Shapero, who said few new facilities were developed during the economic slowdown.
One indoor facility that started as a tennis facility and has stayed that way is the Bass River Tennis Club on Tozer Road in Beverly. The 10-court indoor facility is a pure tennis play.
General manager Michael LaPierre said there is real interest in indoor tennis, but like any other recreational activity, the slow economy proved a challenge. However, the club was able to hang onto its members, and now it's seeing some new ones.
"Within the last six months to a year, we've seen our numbers come back," LaPierre said. This includes recreational players who want to pick up the game they started as a kid.
LaPierre has seen facilities come and go. The former Strike One Sports, now the Route 1 Sportsplex, in Danvers, used to be an indoor tennis club.
"They all sort of find their way" and adapt to changing times, he said.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @DanverSalemNews.
Where to play indoors
Bass River Tennis Club, 31 Tozer Road, Beverly. Ten courts are dedicated to tennis only, instruction, bar and cafe, shop.
Danvers Indoor Sports, 150 Andover St. (Route 114), Danvers, 80,000 square feet with four soccer and multisport fields, plus basketball and other sports. Snack bar, training center.
Extra Innings Indoor Training Center, 264 S. Main St. (Route 114), Middleton. Indoor batting cages, instruction, mobile instruction app, pro shop.
North Shore Indoor Arena, Topsfield Fairgrounds, 207 Boston St. Three small, Italian-style soccer fields without walls, lacrosse, training camps and clinics.
North Shore Tennis and Squash Club, 98 Swampscott Road, Salem. Two indoor and two outdoor courts, instruction, pro shop, exercise room.
OptiGolf, 220 S. Main St., Middleton. Nine golf simulators, full bar and pizza restaurant, instruction.
Route 1 Sportsplex, 99 Newbury St. (Route 1), Danvers, 40,000 square feet with indoor turf field, batting cages, indoor winter softball leagues, function rooms.
Soccer Etc., 130 Sohier Road, Beverly. Main field and practice field for indoor soccer, lacrosse, football, kickball; snack bar; leagues.