Sports Facilities

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Sports Destinations Abound in the Northeast

31 Dec, 2008

By: Josh Norris

As far sports scenes go, there's the Northeast and there's everywhere else. From college to professional, from big sports to small, this region has it all. In addition to a plethora of major teams including the Red Sox, Celtics, Patriots and Giants, the Northeast is bursting with top college and minor league programs. The abundance of teams also means the region is flush with stadiums, arenas, fields and just about any kind of forum someone looking to hold an event could imagine.

Nothing Minor About It
New Jersey's capital city is home to Mercer County Waterfront Park and the Trenton Thunder, the Double-A affiliate of the New York Yankees. Located on the edge of the Delaware River in downtown Trenton, Waterfront has had record numbers of fans pass through its gates since its opening in 1994. The Thunder alone have drawn more than 400,000fans for 14 consecutive years, and more than six million overall.

In addition to the Thunder, Waterfront Park also hosts high school games, local recreational softball games and last year's Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference baseball tournament. The MAAC tournament was such a success at Waterfront Park in 2008 that the conference voted unanimously to bring it back there for 2009.

In keeping with the Yankees' contract with the city of Trenton, Waterfront Park may only host baseball activities.

Just down the road in Trenton is the Sovereign Bank Arena, the autumn home to the Eastern Conference Hockey League's Trenton Devils. Unlike Waterfront Park though, SBA is home to a variety of events, sports or otherwise,all year long. For example, over the next few months, SBA will see Disney on Ice and Playhouse Disney, in addition to the Harlem Globetrotters, Rutgers men's basketball, WWE wrestling and the Trenton Regional of the Women's NCAA basketball tournament.

Mika Ryan, president of Mercer County Sports and Entertainment Commission, says that SBA is an ideal place for someone looking to bring a smaller-scale event.

"It's a great venue for events [and their owners] that don't want to go to a much larger facility ... It's the perfect sized venue for the Sweet 16 or the Elite Eight, the women's game."

Why Here?
The first and most obvious reason to bring an event to the Northeast is based in its sheer numbers. In terms of population density, eight of the top ten states are found in the region. New Jersey ranks highest, with a whopping 1,171 people per square mile. Rhode Island is next with 1,012 people per square mile, followed by Massachusetts (823), Connecticut (723), Maryland (575), Delaware (473) and New York (409).

Of course, the key to the Northeast lies not only in raw numbers, but also in what type of people comprise those numbers. One key demographic - based on its fervor for athletics and surplus of disposable income - is college students, something the Northeast has in spades.

"The [Penn State] Nittany Lions utilize Beaver Stadium, the second-largest stadium in the country," says Betsey Howell, executive director of the Central Pennsylvania convention and visitors bureau."

This year, like many others, more than 100,000 fans have piled each week into their team's bowl-shaped home. While Beaver Stadium is certainly one of Pennsylvania's crown jewels, there are many other places that act as the complementary gems.

Howell describes one of those other arenas, also on the campus of Penn State, thusly: "There's the Bryce Jordan Center, which is used for trade shows, concerts, comedy performances, and THON, a student-run philanthropic dance marathon to benefit the 4-Diamonds Fund."

For someone looking to bring a sports event to the State College area, the Bryce Jordan Center might be an ideal place to hold an introductory press conference.

Penn State is just one of a multitude of colleges across the region. Other institutions, including those in the MAAC, the Atlantic 10, the Big East and the Ivy League, also dot the Northeast. While not every university may be as well-populated as Penn State, each boasts a ravenous fan base with money to burn on athletic-related entertainment.

Expect the Unexpected
Looking to the Northeast for the big four sports (baseball, basketball, football and hockey) is a no-brainer, but would you expect to find a large rowing contingency within the region?

Worcester, Massachusetts is one of the biggest rowing hubs in the country, let alone the region. One of the top areas for competitive rowers is Worcester's historic Lake Quinsigamond, which Patrick Lynch, executive director of Destination Worcester, describes as "one of the finest rowing venues in the country," also noting that it has "no current and [is] protected almost entirely from the prevailing winds in the area."

Since 1857, Lake Quinsigamond has hosted competitive rowing. Some notable races it has held include the New England Rowing Championships, the ECAC National Invitational Championship, the Eastern Sprints, the Big East Championship and the Patriot League Championship.

Mercer County Park, a more than 2,500-acre expanse of facilities and greenery located in Lawrence, New Jersey, is also a rowing hot spot. Its Mercer Lake was home to this year's NCAA Rowing Championships and was the practice facility for the U.S. Olympic team that took home the gold in Beijing this summer.

Besides rowing, Mercer County Park is also home to baseball, softball, track and field, ice skating,dog shows and countless other activities held throughout the year.

One of the other activities held at MCP is Cyclocross, a combination of bicycling and steeplechase wherein the participant must ride for a distance then carry his or her bike up a series of increasingly steep hills. MCP is home to the Mercer Cup,the second leg of the U.S. Gran Prix of Cyclocross.

Professional football can be found all across the region, with five NFL and several Arena Football teams located in the Northeast. Additionally, the region is home to two divisions of the Independent Women's Football League. The four-team Mid Atlantic division's D.C. Divas play at Prince George's Sports and Learning Complex, which this year also hosted the Nike Indoor Nationals Track & Field Championships and the Allen Iverson Celebrity Classic.

Those are just three of many lesser-known sports one can find in the Northeast.

What About the Economy?
With the nation's recent economic state filled with more valleys than peaks, event owners may wonder whether it's still safe to begin something that even in stable times could be considered a tenuous venture.

Brian Hodge, marketing coordinator of the Providence (Rhode Island) Warwick Convention and Visitors Bureau, says while he's confident about the present, his views about the near future of the industry remain tempered.

"The sports business remains consistent in Providence," Hodge said. "However, in the future, there may be increased sharing of expenses and slight dips in attendance. This could also be seen as an industry-wide trend."

A realistic view to be sure, but there are some, like Carl Smith of the Prince George's County CVB, who believe the future will continue to be strong.

"Based on our encounters with sports organizers, we are encouraged that there is still high interest in bringing events and activities to the Mid Atlantic area," Smith said. "Much of this is based on the region's strong demographic and high level of sports interest and participation. As for amateur sports and events, families continue to be committed to the pursuits of their children and will probably continue to find ways, no matter how challenging, to keep them active and engaged."

Conclusion
No matter the sport, the season or the size of the event, the Northeast is the ideal region. From minor league baseball to the Cyclocross and women's football, from massive arenas like Providence's newly renovated Dunkin Donuts Center to cozier locales like New Jersey's Sovereign Bank Arena, there's ample room for everyone in the Northeast, the most populous - and popular - region of them all.

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Josh Norris

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