Louisville, Kentucky: Welcome to Championship City
29 Feb, 2012By: Juli Anne Patty
Some destinations truly love their sports events. They live for their sports events. Those are the destinations that really knock their events out of the park. When they give you that kind of dedication with some Southern hospitality to boot, you might be tempted to put down some roots. Welcome home to Louisville, Kentucky.
A True Original
Very few cities merge the old and new like Louisville. The Kentucky Bourbon Country gateway and home to the Kentucky Derby and iconic Churchill Downs, Louisville is also a foodie haven, on the cutting edge of the American culinary stage.
Louisville is a self-defined and self-made city, and what better partners to have when bringing a new sports event to life? Always forging its unique way forward, Louisville is attracting more world-class sports events than ever with its showcase facility, the KFC Yum! Center.
The KFC Yum! Center, Louisville’s newest multi-purpose arena, opened in October 2010, offering 721,762 square feet that includes 22,000-plus seats, seven levels, 72 suites, 62 premium boxes, six lounges, four meeting rooms and a 1.5-acre landscaped entry plaza. The facility connects to Louisville’s 300,000-square-foot convention center, as well as thousands of hotel rooms, via enclosed walkway.
It’s a remarkable venue with an even more remarkable story. The idea for the KFC Yum! Center emerged with the creation of the Louisville Arena Task Force in 2005 under the direction of then Kentucky Governor Ernie Fletcher. In 2006, the task force formed the Louisville Arena Authority, which owns the facility.
The Arena Authority guided the development, financing and construction process of the $238 million arena, a process that continued even though a recession. The Arena Authority selected the Kentucky State Fair Board, an agency of the Kentucky Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet, to manage and operate the KFC Yum! Center.
Home to the University of Louisville men’s and women’s basketball programs, the KFC Yum! Center is also an ideal venue for concerts, family shows, conventions, corporate gatherings and various sporting events. The facility’s first year exemplifies exactly how ideal the KFC Yum! Center can be. In its mid-year 2011 rankings, Pollstar named the KFC Yum! Center one of the Top 100 Worldwide Arena Venues for Entertainment Ticket Sales.
Hitting No. 24 worldwide and No. 10 in the United States for overall entertainment ticket sales for Jan. 1 through June 30, 2011, the KFC Yum! Center surpassed venues throughout Europe, Australia and South America as well as facilities in Chicago, Phoenix, Boston, Las Vegas and Orlando.
“It’s been amazing for the city, especially for event organizers to see that they can have as much success here – even more success – as they can in a market like Chicago or other major metros,” says Gathan Borden, marketing manager, Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Event organizers are certainly taking notice: the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championships arrives at the KFC Yum! Center in March 2012. For the first time since 1991, Louisville is playing host to the first and second rounds of the 2012 NCAA Men’s Championships.
Even more impressive: the NCAA chose Louisville in September 2009, while the KFC Yum! Center was still being built, a full year before the Center’s on-time opening.
"The KFC Yum! Center will be a powerful magnet that draws basketball fans and concert goers, conventioneers and tourists to Kentucky," said Lt. Governor Jerry Abramson, former Louisville mayor. "This new centerpiece of Louisville's downtown will be much more than an entertainment venue. It will be an economic development driver for the Commonwealth for decades to come."
The New Southern Sports Capital
Basketball has a distinguished heritage in Kentucky, and Louisville is no exception, but this Southern city also has a handle on sports of all kinds. Volleyball has found enormous success in Derby City, an achievement that is once again underscored by the NCAA, which will bring its Division I Women's Volleyball Championship, slated for December 2012, to the KFC Yum! Center.
In fact, it’s no surprise how Louisville got its “Championship City” nickname: this May, the NCAA will bring male and female student-athletes from around the country to Louisville for the Division II 2012 National Championships Festival, which will decide the Division II National Champion in golf, tennis and lacrosse.
Cyclocross, a sport that is gaining phenomenal popularity across the globe, has a special place —and home—in the heart of Louisville. In October 2010, the city opened a new state-of-the-art cyclocross track at the 59-acre Eva Bandman Park. The park, which has been renamed Eva Bandman Park and Cyclocross Venue, is America’s first permanent, major-city cyclocross facility.
Working with local cyclocross enthusiasts, Louisville Metro Government envisioned a location that could support local races and youth riding programs, while also hosting national and international races, a vision that resulted in a huge win for the city: the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), cycling's international governing body, chose Bandman Park to host the 2013 Elite Cyclocross World Championships and the 2012 and 2013 Masters Cyclocross World Championships – the first time those races have ever been held outside of Europe.
Another showcase Louisville event, Ironman Louisville, is larger than any other Ironman event besides the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii. Each year, thousands of triathletes tackle the city’s unique all-urban 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and 26.2-mile course.
“It’s a popular race because we’ve got such an interesting urban dynamic,” says Borden. “The swim is in the Ohio River, and much of the race takes place downtown. The community’s enthusiasm is also a big draw. The running portion of the race takes the competitors through the University of Louisville campus, where there are huge crowds cheering like crazy. Everyone really embraces the Ironman.”
You get the idea: Louisville loves its sports. But Louisville also just loves to celebrate, and whatever they do, they do big. Take the Derby Festival for example. A celebration that started with just one event in 1956, the Derby Festival today comprises 70 events ranging from one of the country's largest half-marathons to an old-fashioned steamboat race and draws more than 1.5 million people of all ages.
Two weeks before the Derby, the festival's opening ceremonies kick off at the Ohio River with Thunder Over Louisville, the largest annual fireworks show in North America. The massive pyrotechnic spectacular and air show kicks off two weeks of events that not only provide a huge economic impact on the community, but also help define the city's character and traditions.
Something for Everyone
Louisville’s sports-hosting skills are legendary, but it’s also a destination with universal appeal. With a deep and rich heritage enriching a vibrant contemporary community, Louisville truly has something for everyone, including plenty to do when the game clock runs out.
Arts fans are delighted to find a diverse cultural scene in Louisville, rivaling those of much larger metropolitan centers, and history buffs flock to Old Louisville, home to one of the nation’s largest historic preservation districts. Boxing devotees will head to the Muhammad Ali Center to learn the life story of Louisville’s most famous native son.
And while the city’s urban attractions, distinct culinary scene and more than 17,000 hotel rooms make a great home base, the area’s outdoor recreation is just as magnificent. The 6,000-acre Jefferson Memorial Forest in south Louisville is the nation’s largest urban forest with more than 30 miles of hiking trails. E. P. "Tom" Sawyer State Park is a 369-acre oasis, offering an award-winning nature trail, a permanent BMX track and one of America’s best cross country courses.
With all that and more to offer, the city with something for everyone has just one last question: what can Louisville do for you? Find out how to bring your event to the South’s new sports capital at www.gotolouisville.com.