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One Great Sports Destination: The Midwest

31 Oct, 2008

By: Josh Norris

A quick perusal of the country's sports map makes one thing abundantly clear to even the most casual of sports followers: For top-notch events, the Midwest is the place to go.

With events like the College World Series, this year's Men's and Women's Final Four (Detroit and St. Louis, respectively) and the athletics of the Big 10 Conference, the scope of the region's impact on the national sports scene is worth every sports planner's attention. And with a deeper look, one will find that, on a local level, sports event owners are wise to look first at the Midwest for its vast opportunities, wide variety of events and its travel-friendly location.

Where it's At
One of the biggest factors contributing to the nation's heartland's attractiveness for a current sports owner looking for an ideal venue, or perhaps even someone looking to start a sports franchise, lies in the region's centrality relative to the rest of the country. Athletes, teams, vendors and sponsors don't necessarily have to travel out of their way to attend or put on an event within the region.

"We have some great opportunities that I think, in regards to our location, being centrally located in the United States, gives it a definite advantage. It's drivable from all over the United States," says Renee Seifert, director of Nebraska's Grand Island/Hall County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Jillian Beukema, vice president of Greater Iowa City/Coralville Sports Authority, echoes that statement, also noting that the rising cost of gas has made the Midwest an enticing opportunity for sports event owners.

"I definitely think the Midwest being centrally located is a factor, especially considering gas prices being on the rise," Beukema said. "Especially when you think people who are hosting sports events will definitely benefit. I think people are going to be looking for affordable opportunities to host their sporting events."

The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) has settled on Point Lookout, Missouri and Sioux City, Iowa for the respective 2009 Division II Men's and Women's National Basketball Tournaments,and St. Peters, Missouri. is also lined up to host the Men's and Women's Swimming and Diving Championships.

Scott McClure, the NAIA's manager of Championship Sports, explains that affordable housing, along with, in some cases, an exciting away-from-the-game atmosphere makes the Midwest such an appealing region.

"We want to look at the financial aspect of how much our institutions are going to have to spend to get to the national championships," McClure said. "For these events, it helps to be centrally located so that our institutions can drive to these events."

McClure himself is in charge of the 2009 Division II Men's National Basketball Tournament, which has recently re-upped with the College of the Ozarks, which has hosted the event for the past nine years.

The main reasons the NAIA decided to stay with C of the O, according to McClure, are its proximity to Branson, Missouri and the low cost of lodging in and around the area.

"The attendance there has been very good, the facility and the fact that it's five miles from Branson. There are lots of neat things to do for our athletes when they're not playing or practicing. It's a tourist destination in that part of the season... [For] no one other event that we doing are our teams paying less in terms of housing costs. The hotel rates there are just phenomenal."

Gimme Shelter
Of course, a convenient location is nothing without a complementing venue. From the iconic - Wrigley Field, Lambeau Field and Notre Dame Stadium (all were ranked in Sports Illustrated's top 20 venues of the century) and the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, home to the Twins and the Vikings - to those that hide out of the national spotlight's reach, the Midwest has plenty.

One such setting is the 63 Sports Complex in Jefferson City, Missouri. Since its opening six years ago, the Sports Complex has hosted many tournaments for kids across the Midwest, Owner Sam Gaines explains his mission behind the Complex:

"Jefferson City needed to move forward in order to keep up with other communities that host soccer competitions. We have traveled to many different cities with our children when they have played in soccer tournaments, and, through this, realized that Jefferson City was behind in offering a nice place to play soccer."

For those looking to keep up to speed with the racing scene, Iowa's Cedar Falls Raceway may be the place.

A National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) track, Cedar Falls is the perfect place for a sports owner looking to conjure up some action.

This year alone, Cedar Falls Raceway has hosted races for giants like the NHRA and private owners, like those involved in the Terry Stumpf Memorial race.

In South Bend, Indiana, the National Golf Association's Hooters Tour has found a willing partner.

In March of this year , the Tour announced it would hold the inaugural Life Treatment Centers Golf Classic at the Blackthorn Golf Club in South Bend.

"We are very excited about bringing the Hooters Tour back to the state. The players are going to have a first-class event on a first-class golf course," NGA/Hooters Tour President Robin L. Waters said at the time.

Andrew Tschudin, who came from Melbourne, Australia for the event, topped a field of more than 150 to win the top prize.

It's that type of drawing power that, in part, makes the Midwest an attractive locale for a for a sports event owner.

Also in the region is Waterloo, Iowa, which boasts a wealth of excellent sporting venues.

Dawn Breakenridge, director of sports development at the Waterloo Convention and Visitors Bureau, points to, among other places, the 35,000 square foot Five Sullivan Brothers Convention Center as a welcome home for a variety of opportunities.

Variety
Sure, you can find the major sports in the Midwest — basketball, baseball, football, hockey — it's all there, but the region also offers some of the more unique opportunities in the country. For example, outside of Alaska, where else might you get a chance to windsurf on ice?

Each winter, Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, in conjunction with Wind Power Windsurfing and the Winnebago Association of Kiteboarding, hosts the Sturgeon Stampede, an extravaganza of ice sports held on Lake Winnebago. Featured events include ice windsurfing, ice sailing, and ice bowling.

What started as a mountain bike race has evolved into a yearly festival of all things ice, and, over the years, the festival has gained publicity and staying power.

"My business partner and I, we've been putting on this party for nearly 20 years now," says Dan Deuster, president of the Winnebago Association of Kiteboarding. "It started out as mountain bike race and a bonfire ... and over the years it's evolved to different things and different activities."

The Stampede, which is timed to coincide with the first weekend of Sturgeon spearing season, also provides Wind Power Windsurfing, a major player in the event's festivities, with a place to demo its products and introduce ice sports to a new audience.

"Kevin [Gratton, head of Wind Power Windsurfing] sets up a demo on Lake Winnebago where people can demo kites and demo windsurfing gear," Deuster said.

Along the same lines, Fond du Lac also hosts some of the best dog sledding outside of Sarah Palin's stomping grounds. The city hosts an event called "Can't Depend on Snow" that brings people from across the northern part of the region to learn about the sport or perhaps to be a musher for the first time.

The Midwest Spells Opportunity
For sports event owners looking to make their mark, the Midwest offers a plethora of opportunities. From the mainstream to the lesser-known sports, the region has opportunities for all.

About the Author

Josh Norris

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