Growing Sports Events, Inside and Out
25 Sep, 2017By: Peter Francesconi
What do you do if you have nearly 500 acres in Los Angeles County? You create a venue that allows entertainment and sports to thrive.
That’s what was started nearly 100 years ago when a “merchants’ exposition” was first held along the Southern Pacific Railway in downtown Pomona in 1922. Over the decades, that grew into the LA County Fair, which annually attracts 1.3 million people to the 487-acre site. (This year, the fair ran throughout almost the entire month of September.)
As the LA County Fair grew, the massive venue began to be used for other events, too, including sports competitions. Now, the site, called “Fairplex,” hosts more than three million people every year, who attend sports events, concerts, consumer and trade shows, flea markets and, of course, the centerpiece LA County Fair.
“We’re looking to bring more sports tournaments and sports events to our site,” says Fairplex CEO Miguel Santana. “We have fantastic facilities and space available to host sports events of all types, for all ages. And our staff, from maintenance to marketing, offers top-notch service.”
Investing in Fields
The Fairplex venue has long been a home to horse racing and car racing. In fact, with NHRA Auto Club Raceway at Pomona (formerly called the Pomona Raceway), Fairplex boasts one of the top drag-racing strips in the country, which annually holds the finals and Winter Nationals for the National Hot Rod Association, two of the organization’s biggest events. (The Raceway and the massive parking lot often are used for filming commercials, too.) Immediately after the LA County Fair, the grounds crew at Fairplex start transforming the site for the Lucas Oil Off-Road Expo, building dirt racetracks, banked turns and more.
Horse racing started more than 90 years ago at the site; in 1930, a 10,000-seat grandstand was built for horse-racing fans. In 2013, however, Fairplex stopped hosting horse racing, creating an opportunity for field sports events.
The massive natural grass infield of the horse-racing track was turned into four well-maintained, FIFA-regulation fields that are hosting soccer and other field events, with plans to add two more fields in the near future.
“When the horse racing interest dwindled, we were able to repurpose the space into something more beneficial to the community, year-round,” says Renee Hernandez, communications manager for Fairplex. Youth soccer programs have thrived at the site, and a semi-professional soccer team from the Southern California Sports Club played its games there this season, too. In addition, the fields have lights and bleachers.
“We’re in an area where we don’t have a lot of fields available, so this is a nice benefit for the Pomona community,” Hernandez adds. “Parents and coaches love these fields, because they’re new and very well-maintained.”
Last February, Fairplex hosted the Modern Pentathlon World Cup, an event that is part of the International Modern Pentathlon Federation. The site will again host the event March 20-23, which features competition in swimming, horsemanship, running, fencing and laser shooting.
“We use our fields to fit the running, equestrian and laser shooting events, and we transform one of our exposition halls to hold the fencing part of the competition,” Hernandez says. “We don’t yet have a pool, so we work with a local gym to hold the swimming portion of the pentathlon.”
Because of the size of the Fairplex grounds, the facility is able to hold races up to 7K without having competitors leave the grounds. “We also have a regional park right next to us,” Hernandez says, “so we’re able to host the Holiday Half Marathon every winter using both our space and the regional park space.”
The indoor space at Fairplex is impressive, with seven exhibition halls. “Our exposition halls are large, with high ceilings and are column-free,” Hernandez says. “We can handle all sorts of indoor events: cheer, wrestling, gymnastics, fencing, equestrian events and more. With our open indoor space, we’ve also had interest in drone racing.”
During the LA County Fair this year, the facility had an eSports competition in one of the exposition halls, which drew in more than 70,000 spectators. “Our Wi-Fi capabilities are very strong, so we have no problem holding events like this, or even offering live-streaming.”
Also on the Fairplex campus is the Sheraton Fairplex Hotel and Conference Center, which offers 244 two-room suites, complete with high-speed Internet access, refrigerators and microwaves. The hotel also has a fitness center, car rental service and heated outdoor pool, spa and sauna. Conference facilities can accommodate meetings and other events for up to 1,000 people.
Getting to the Fairplex campus in Pomona is easy by car, and Ontario International Airport is just 10 miles from the site. Plus, there are airport shuttles to the Sheraton Fairplex Hotel. But five other airports, including Los Angeles International, Long Beach and John Wayne, are all within 45 miles of Pomona.
Pomona has a Mediterranean climate with hot, dry summers and mild winters and a large amount of sunshine year-round. August is the warmest month with an average daytime high temperature of 92 degrees. Summers are characterized by sunny days and very little rainfall during the months of June through September (annual precipitation averages 17 inches). Fall brings cooler temperatures and occasional showers, as well as the seasonal Santa Ana winds. December is the coolest month with an average high temperature of 68 degrees.
Off the Field
When not competing, the Pomona area offers a number of attractions and activities for athletes, families and fans. Plus, the Fairplex campus is just 30 minutes from downtown Los Angeles.
For motorsports fans, the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum is housed in a 28,500-square-foot building on the edge of the Fairplex campus. With an impressive array of vintage and historical racing vehicles, the non-profit museum is the place to view and learn about hot rods, customs, race cars and speed records, as well as the West Coast’s role as the historic center for their past and present development.
Pomona also is home to the American Museum of Ceramic Art, one of the few museums in the U.S. devoted exclusively to ceramic art and historic innovations in ceramic technology. The RailGiants Train Museum on the Fairplex grounds is a journey back to the glory days of the American railroad. The museum houses some of the country’s most well-preserved locomotives, including several sole survivors of their respective classes. Fairplex also hosts the Pomona Swap Meet & Classic Car Show, with seven one-day events each year. The Swap Meet & Classic Car Show is a Southern California tradition.
Innovation Brew Works is a café and brewery located on the Cal Poly Pomona campus at the Center for Training, Technology and Incubation. Students acquire hands-on experience with brewing and brewpub operations and the establishment offers a variety of craft beer.
Fairplex, which is operated by the Los Angeles County Fair Association, can produce events of every size, and sports tournament and event owners and managers will find a staff ready to help at every turn. Tournaments coming to Fairplex benefit from an award-winning marketing and public relations staff committed to helping promote events.
Among the assistance events receive is free distribution of promotional materials to Fairplex event attendees, hotel and KOA RV guests and local businesses, along with assistance with media buys and media contacts. In addition, online exposure includes an e-blast to more than 30,000, plus exposure via Fairplex social media efforts. The public relations staff also can assist with distribution of press releases to local print and online media, and inclusion in Fairplex’s online newsroom. Fairplex also has a 90-foot-high electronic sign along the I-10 freeway, viewed by more than 2 million commuters a week, on which events and tournaments are announced.
“Tournament directors and event owners will appreciate our detail-oriented staff, facilities and services,” Hernandez says. “At Fairplex, we can provide a comprehensive, exciting experience for athletes, families and fans.” SDM