– Spurred on by a bevy of new sports venues that confirm the famous Iowa adage, “If you build it, they will come,” 2023 is shaping up to be a banner year for sports in Greater Des Moines. Highlighted by the return of marquee events like the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament and the AAU Junior Olympic Games, along with highly anticipated stops by the Savannah Bananas and RAGBRAI, it’s the most diverse and lucrative slate of events the region has ever seen.
“In my 20 plus years, this is the busiest and most exciting it’s ever been,” says Catch Des Moines President and CEO Greg Edwards. “The population boom in our region has helped fuel these great new facilities, which have expanded our footprint and afforded us the opportunity to host new tournaments and events. These are transformative projects and venues that spur not only visitation, but new attractions, restaurants, hotels, and housing.”
Edwards cites the success of the 300,000-square-foot MidAmerican Energy Company RecPlex in West Des Moines and the in-progress 50-acre Grimesplex as gamechangers, making the region more attractive to large amateur tournaments that can mean a financial windfall for communities. For instance, the AAU Junior Olympics brings in 14,000 participants and has a total economic impact of $44 million. Being able to use the RecPlex in addition to Drake Stadium was a catalyst for the JO Games to sign on to return in 2026 and 2030 as well.
“It’s one thing to have the venues, but we also have the tremendous fan support to make it all work, no matter the sport,” says Trina Flack, vice president of sales at Catch Des Moines, citing huge turnouts last summer for the Red Bull Soapbox Race, IRONMAN, and Dew Tour. According to Sports Business Journal, Des Moines drew 3.91 million fans to their collective minor league games last year, placing it second in the country among all 195 minor league markets. Annual events like the Drake Relays and Principal Charity Classic have become signature events, with loyal fanbases that travel to Des Moines every year.
Recognizing that you can’t have a worthy sports movement without a good hype video, Catch Des Moines just released “Believe the Hype.” The spot that paints Des Moines as an unexpected sports mecca, home to events big and small, and with fans like NBA Hall of Famer Reggie Miller and world champion skateboarder Nyjah Huston. Voiced by Cory Williams of The Isiserettes, a 30-second broadcast spot will air during the NCAA Tournament. Additionally, Catch Des Moines produced a video called “Your Starting Lineup,” which targets sports planners by showcasing some of top facilities in the region.
“I’m so excited for all that’s on deck,” says Flack. “Who would have guessed 10 years ago that we’d be hosting sporting events like the NCAA Tournament, Dew Tour, and IRONMAN? With the addition of all these new facilities, the sky is the limit. Our underdog story is still being told.”
A sample of the 2023 sporting events we are hosting include:
- NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, First and Second Rounds (March 16 and 18) – Third time hosting college basketball’s Big Dance and first since 2019.
- National Veterans Golden Age Games (May 20 – 25) – 400 55+ athletes compete in 18 sports ranging from cycling and golf to swimming and track and field.
- IRONMAN 70.3 (June 11) – Returns as a 70.3 after last year’s IRONMAN North American Championship.
- Junior Olympic Archery Development National Championships (July 12 – 16) – More than 700 archers aged 8 – 20 take their shot at James Cownie Sports Complex.
- Speedo Summer Sectionals (July 13 –16) – USA Swimming returns to Wellmark YMCA pool after the success of TYR Pro Swim Series.
- Hy-Vee INDYCAR Race Weekend (July 21 – 23) – Three-day race series returned with a bang last year with more than 80,000 attendees in Newton.
- RAGBRAI (July 26 overnight) – Celebrating its 50th year and expecting record numbers.
- AAU Junior Olympic Games (July 26 – August 5) – The largest youth multi-sports event in the country returns to Des Moines for the sixth time, with some events moving to the MidAmerican Energy Company RecPlex.
- Savannah Bananas (August 25 and 26) – Popular traveling baseball team added a second game at Principal Park due to high demand.
- Major League Quadball (August 26 – 28) – Formerly known as Major League Quidditch (the sport popularized by the Harry Potter series); the championship will be held at MidAmerican Energy Company RecPlex.
And a quick update on new sports venues in the metro:
- Grimesplex – Sprawling 50-acre outdoor complex aims for a fall of 2023 opening.
- Ignite Johnston – Slated to open in 2023, it will have the state’s largest indoor track and soccer field.
- Prairie Trail Sports Complex – Stage 2 to open in October 2023.
- DMPS Community Stadium – Future home to four Des Moines High School football teams and Drake soccer games, it is slated for an August 2023 open date.
- Pro Iowa Stadium – Iowa's first professional soccer stadium (home to a USL Championship team) aims to transform a long-dormant section of downtown Des Moines into a bustling 65-acre development project.
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