Northeastern Exposure: Big Events and Bigger Facilities are Driving Resurgence in Sports from Delaware North to the Cape
23 Dec, 2015By: Andrew Cohen
The populous Northeast comes with a host of built-in advantages to people working in sports tourism, including access both to bunched, multiple markets and to heightened media exposure. Accordingly, many CVBs are taking advantage of all their advantages:
Dunkin’ Donuts Park, home of the class-AA Hartford Yard Goats, opens this spring as the new digs for the relocated New Britain Rock Cats. The new downtown stadium will play host to college sports, festivals, concerts, corporate gatherings, weddings, reunions and more. A new independent Atlantic League team, the New Britain Bees, will renovate New Britain Stadium after this coming season, while both the Yale Bowl in New Haven and Municipal Stadium in Waterbury are getting facelifts.
“Connecticut is the gateway to New England, and the state offers a diverse variety of championship venues located in scenic communities that range from coastal towns on the Long Island Sound, to fields located near rolling hills and fresh waterways, to exciting, contemporary cities,” says Bob Murdock, director of sports marketing for the Connecticut Convention & Sports Bureau. “More than 23.5 million people live within a two-hour drive to Hartford, the state’s capital, a major selling point for sports events and major meetings.”
“Things are moving in Delaware,” reports Chris Giacomucci, executive director of the Delaware Sports Commission, and he really means it: Two new sports complexes are in the works that will sit just 40 miles apart. The privately-funded Delaware Sports Complex in Middletown (which is just 20 miles north of the Kirkwood Soccer Club's existing 60-acre complex near New Castle) and the publicly-funded Kent County Regional Sports Complex in Frederica will each come online in the next year. The Middletown facility will comprise more than 20 grass fields and 16 baseball diamonds on 170 acres of town-owned land, while the Kent County facility will feature 13 synthetic turf fields fully outfitted with lights and a concessions operation.
““We have grown immensely as an attractive location for sporting events,” Giacomucci says, noting events such as the Slam Dunk to the Beach, a national high school basketball showcase that takes place in late December, and the Amateur Softball Association (ASA) Eastern Nationals, which the DSC just secured for July 2016. “From our standpoint at the sports commission, we think that the two new facilities are really going to help position Delaware as the ideal destination in the middle Atlantic market given our prime location with easy access to major highways, airports and affordable hotels.”
New hotels and new transportation infrastructure are helping Worcester, New England’s second largest city, become a magnet for sports events large and small. It doesn’t hurt that a number of local colleges — there are more than 10 in the city, and the majority of the sporting events that come to Worcester utilize campus facilities — are putting serious dollars into an effort to transform their sports and recreation infrastructure. College of the Holy Cross has plans to renovate and expand the Hart Recreation Center, built in 1975. Worcester State University, meanwhile, is building a 101,000-square-foot wellness center to replace a gymnasium facility constructed in 1958.
“Central Massachusetts, and Worcester in particular, are fortunate to have many unique sporting venues with a variety of NCAA institutions, the DCU Center and Arena, and Lake Quinsigamond, just to name a few,” says Tim Murray, president and CEO of the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce. “Worcester has long attracted signature sporting events, and now with the influx of new hotels, investments in transportation, and unique cultural venues and restaurants, is positioned to be the ideal northeast host for a wide array of sporting events.”
Launched a year ago, the Atlantic City Sports Commission is making serious headway in leveraging Atlantic City’s unique appeal as a resort destination for sporting events, having drawn the IRONMAN® 70.3® Atlantic City triathlon in September 2016.
Farther north, enthusiasm over the first cold-weather Super Bowl held outdoors has barely dimmed, and while the focus continues on bringing extremely high-profile events to MetLife Stadium, there’s growing excitement over a new facility that is going to make the Secaucus region an even more desirable destination in the years to come. American Dream Meadowlands, a retail and entertainment complex set to open in 2017, will include all of the things you would expect, plus a few you wouldn’t, such as a regulation NHL ice rink, a water park, an amusement park and an indoor ski slope.
“We see the importance and recognize the economic impact of major sporting events, and even amateur events, and we see the new facility as vital in making us more desirable for all levels of sports,” says Judy Ross, senior director of operations for the Meadowlands Liberty Convention & Visitors Bureau. “We cannot wait for it to open — it will definitely catapult this region as a destination of choice for all future events.”
Out on Long Island, a $130 million renovation of Nassau County Coliseum, former home of the New York Islanders, is causing some excitement in the offices of the Long Island Convention and Visitors Bureau, which sees the facility as of great importance to luring events — and, in fact, an even greater asset now that the NHL plays in Brooklyn.
“We’ve opened up a lot for the CVB and sports commission to bring in more sporting events and corporate meetings and conventions, because now we’re not fighting the NHL schedule from October to April,” says Jennifer Rothman, the group’s sales manager. “It gives us a huge opportunity to bring in indoor events, particularly in March and April. We’re really concentrating on gymnastics and basketball, from high schools to colleges to NGBs.” The region already boasts a first-class aquatics venue, the 80,000-square-foot Nassau County Aquatic Center, which among other events hosts the ECAC men’s and women’s championships in December and USA Synchronized Swimming events throughout the calendar — such as its Junior Olympics, which is scheduled for this July.
Upstate, the focus is less on new facilities and more on bringing in popular, well-attended events such as The Greater Binghamton Bridge Run (USATF-certified half marathon and 5K race), which annually showcases the neighborhoods in the City of Binghamton to nearly 2,500 runners and thousands of spectators. The Binghamton region is also the longtime site of the Dick’s Sporting Goods Open Golf Tournament, the Levene Gouldin & Thompson Tennis Challenger (an ATP tour event) and the Chris Thater Memorial Races (a world-class cycling event and 5K run). “Hosting sporting events is a major economic impact driver for Greater Binghamton,” says Judi Hess, manager of tourism and special events.
Saratoga Springs is well known as a summer destination, but the winter calendar is well-stocked, too. February 2016 marks the third year of the Saratoga Frozen Springs Pond Hockey Tournament at the Saratoga Spa State Park, which celebrates the roots of hometown, backyard 3-on-3 hockey and is contested by teams from throughout the Northeast and Canada. In July, the Saratoga Lacrosse Shootout celebrates its fourth year — a premier youth lacrosse tournament, jointly run by Summit Lacrosse Ventures and Rhino Lacrosse. “Once known as ‘the August place to be,’ Saratoga has grown into a year-round destination, thanks in large part to the robust sports market here,” says Todd Garofano, president of the Saratoga Convention & Tourism Bureau.
“Kicking butt!” is Jack Cohen’s concise description of Butler County, Pennsylvania’s sports efforts of late, and the president of the Butler County Tourism & Convention Bureau credits the Pittsburgh Penguins for helping expand the region’s event capabilities. The NHL team’s UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex, which opened last summer, features two full-size hockey rinks with 1,500 seats, served by 14 team locker rooms; 1,500 square feet of hockey skills training space; 54,000 square feet of clinical space; a Sports Performance Center and a research arm for hockey studying concussions as well as new treatments and surgeries.
“They believe the facility will bring between 400,000 and 500,000 people this year; it’s a phenomenal facility that serves youth teams up to the pros,” says Cohen. “Within a half-hour drive, we have 13 ice sheets now. We’ve become a hockey mecca, and that’s a cool piece of business for us.”