The renowned Southern hospitality of Rome, Georgia, is only exceeded by the quality and quantity of sporting event venues. Then there's its breathtaking natural and historic beauty, and its optimal location - the geographic center between Atlanta, Ga., Chattanooga, Tenn., and Birmingham, Ala. It's no wonder that event planners come back again and again to this picturesque Southern town.
Consider NAIA Football, which will be hosting its championship in Rome for the third year in a row.
"When our teams travel to Rome for the NAIA football championships, our coaches can rest easy knowing that their football-specific needs will be taken care of," says Dennis Green, Manager of Championship Sports for the NAIA. "From the field-turf practice facility at Rome's Shorter University, an NAIA school, to the impressive facilities at the town's international boarding school, Darlington, it's clear that the city and the citizens of Rome are invested in embracing championship sports.
"What's even more impressive is how welcome they make the players feel. When they come to town, they are treated like champions from the minute they step off the plane," he continues. "They're greeted with goody bags and cheering crowds at the airport. From the time they arrive to the time they leave, it's a whirlwind of events - kick-off banquets, church dinners and fellowship breakfasts. They'll walk around town seeing people wearing team colors and are treated to a community-wide pep rally before the games begin.
"When game day arrives, and they walk into Rome's Barron Stadium, it has that big championship feel to it," says Green. "Truly, the people of Rome make them feel like this is the national championship. It's just a fantastic experience for our athletes."
Such a positive response to athletes and athletic events is typical in Rome, says Lisa Smith, Executive Director of the Greater Rome Convention and Visitors Bureau.
"Rome and Floyd County understand the value of sporting events and their benefit to our culture, lifestyle and community," she says. "Our community gets involved with the events as volunteers, pep squads, and spectators; they have parties and picnics and adopt athletes to cheer on!
"This is evidence of the powerful sense of community in Rome and the appreciation for sports and each competition. All of our civic, educational, governmental, and business organizations work together to ensure events come off perfectly. There's a tremendous sense of cooperation in event planning - everyone from public safety to parks and recreation to local media to the entire hospitality industry; it's a win-win for everyone."
The community's support moves far beyond talk into action that results in financial support. The city recently passed a Special Purpose Local Options Sales Tax (SPLOST). A penny is being taken out of the base sales tax to fund improvements to Barron Stadium, which hosts the NAIA Football National Championship, soccer tournaments, lacrosse, and track and field events. The SPLOST will fund enhancements including artificial turf, more seating, new lighting, and track & field upgrades to adhere to USA Track & Field standards. A new 10- by 22-foot high-definition video screen will replace the current scoreboard while a new press box and locker rooms will also be added.
As if that weren't enough, Rome is anticipated to be home to the nation's largest tennis center with 74 courts in one location, including six stadium style courts and seating to hold events as large as the Davis Cup. The proposed center is evidence again of how local government and businesses can work together to enhance the sports culture. Rome's Berry College donated the land to build the facility, which is a true public/private partnership.
"This will make it so much easier to organize tennis events in Rome; everything will be located at one venue," explains Chris Cannon, Director of Communication at the Greater Rome Convention & Visitors Bureau. "There's no worrying about transportation, scheduling and traveling issues that come with hosting competitions at tennis courts located all over the city. This is going to be venue that can host any tennis tournament with ease."
Already, Rome is a favorite site for tennis competitions, notes Dave Bain, Director of Leagues for USTA Georgia. "Rome has a huge tennis community and they do a very good job with logistics; there are unlimited volunteers. And the reception they give the players is impressive. For instance, the newspapers and television are second to none with the amount of articles they do and the overall coverage. It's apparent that Rome understands the positive impact our events have on their community. Businesses are eager to sponsor events.
"And, Rome is such a great little community with quaint shops, restaurants and so much history, hiking and biking;there are just a lot of fun things for players to do there outside of tennis," continues Bain. "Finally, we expect the communities to do a lot of the legwork to make an event successful and Rome is more than willing to do whatever it takes to make our events there great."
Beyond boasting state-of-the-art facilities that are surprising to find in a smaller town, Rome's natural landscape makes it the ideal location for sports events like cycling. Rome is home to the Clocktower Classic, a world-class handcycling event. In 2009, it was part of the U.S. Handcycling Series. The three days of racing includes a 13-kilometer time trial, 50-kilometer road race and 40-minute downtown criterium to challenge an elite field of athletes from as far away as South Africa and Europe. It's one of the favorite events of Ian Lawless, Executive Director of the United States Handcycling Federation.
"Rome has the optimal terrain for handcycling; it has challenging rolling hills and exceptionally smooth rural roads; it's a very safe, yet exciting, course." he explains. "Most importantly, the whole community is involved. The city, state and county police departments came to us and said whatever they needed to do to make the event happen, they'd do it. So they shut down a 15-mile loop of country road for three days of racing. That's pretty much unheard of!
"Moreover, the Greater Rome Convention and Visitors Bureau has been outstanding in securing sponsorships and uniting local businesses behind the Clocktower Classic. They were able to make coming to Rome affordable to racers,who paid a flat fee for dining and lodging - all provided at a deep discount. The level of community involvement and support is unbelievable. When we saw their level of commitment, we followed suit by making this one of our premier events. This year, in fact, the double gold medalist from the Paralympics in Beijing participated."
"One of the advantages of working with the Rome CVB is our exceptional service," says Ann Hortman, Sports Marketing and Event Coordinator for the Greater Rome Convention and Visitors Bureau. "Our services are completely free to event planners and include everything from planning your initial site visit to your red-carpet arrival.
"We invite you to come out to Rome and see what all the excitement is about. You'll be hooked and set on having your event in Rome," said Hortman.
For more information about hosting an event in Rome, go to www.romesports.org or call 1-800-444-1834.