As if its cultural stereotype “Midwest Nice” isn’t enough, the region sets the bar with its affordability, picturesque open spaces and relaxed pace. When it comes to sports, however, athletes and fans are laser-focused. Following is a round-up of some of the most satisfying sports destinations in America’s Heartland.
Shores & Islands Ohio
With its convenient location and state-of-the art facilities, Shores & Islands Ohio – consisting of Cedar Point, Sandusky and Put-in-Bay – is the premier destination for competitions, entertainment and charitable events in the Midwest.
The 145,000-square-foot Cedar Point Sports Center offers 10 hardwood basketball courts that can be converted into 20 volleyball courts, plus a championship arena with retractable seating. Sports Force Parks features 10 multi-purpose, outdoor synthetic turf fields – including five fields with lights.
Lake Erie provides a natural venue for fishing tournaments, sailing regattas and events such as IRONMAN 70.3 Ohio. The region is also a year-round mecca for futsal, gymnastics, dance, cheer, bowling and billiards competitions, while its scenic outdoor green spaces draw seasonal sports like baseball, softball, lacrosse, football, lacrosse and soccer.
According to Cody Carson, sports tourism manager of Shores & Islands Ohio, families are further supported by more than 8,000 hotel rooms.
“This is ‘America’s Sports and Family Fun Capital’ where every tournament becomes a vacation,” he says.
Hamilton County, Indiana
A memorable experience awaits on or off the field, just north of Indianapolis in Hamilton County, Indiana.
Known as a golf mecca, Hamilton County boasts Pete Dye’s legendary Crooked Stick and other championship courses for easy stay and play, as well as collegiate and professional tournaments.
More than two million visitors attend tournaments and events annually at Grand Park Sports Campus, home of the Indianapolis Colts training camp as well as youth baseball, softball, soccer, NCAA Division I and Olympic-level national championships.
The 400-acre sports campus features 26 baseball and softball diamonds; 31 multi-purpose fields for soccer, football and lacrosse; eight basketball courts; three multi-purpose indoor fields; and additional indoor facilities for basketball/volleyball and one-on-one athlete training. The abundance of green space includes more than 10 miles of pedestrian/bicycle trails, including the largest trailhead on the Monon Corridor.
“With affordable hotels and exciting attractions to complement our premier facilities for every event, it’s easy to vacation with the whole family,” says Karen Radcliff, director of the Hamilton County Sports Authority.
Kansas City, Kansas
Located in the heart of America, Kansas City, Kansas is a sports destination regardless of the season.
Its reputation as the Soccer Capital of America comes from Sporting KC, a charter member of MLS soccer, as well as Kansas City Current, which competes at Children’s Mercy Park. Nearby is the 52-acre Compass Minerals Sporting Fields, a world-class sports complex located minutes from Village West Shopping Entertainment District.
The Kansas City Monarchs play at Legends Field, while the Kansas Speedway offers high-octane excitement with NASCAR racing.
In summer of 2024, Homefield will open its doors to a 150,000 square-foot multi-purpose indoor facility plus outdoor fields spanning 400 acres for baseball, football, lacrosse, soccer, basketball, volleyball, pickleball and more.
“Kansas City is a winning location for any sports event,” says Mindy Lallier, meetings and sports sales manager for Visit Kansas City Kansas.
Twin Cities Gateway, Minneapolis
The Twin Cities Gateway, located minutes from downtown Minneapolis or Saint Paul and the MSP International Airport, is the premier destination for youth and amateur sports with a variety of venues ideal for hosting virtually any event, tournament or competition.
The National Sports Center is the world’s largest and most diverse amateur sports facility, offering golf, lacrosse, ultimate, rugby, football, broomball, basketball and volleyball. Boasting 60 soccer fields, the venue has been recognized by Guinness World Records as the largest soccer complex in the world. Its Super Rink, the world’s largest ice arena, is home to the U.S. Women’s Olympic hockey team and major tournaments such as the Herb Brooks Holiday Classic.
“Our goal is to make sure that your event is front and center for the 30 million visitors that come to the Minneapolis region each and every year,” said Al Stauffacher, executive director of the Twin Cities Gateway Visitors Bureau.
Kalamazoo attracts players from coast to coast for sports events of all sizes.
The region is home of the Kalamazoo Growlers Northwoods League, Kalamazoo Wings Eastern Conference, Kalamazoo FC, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo College, Kalamazoo Roller Derby, Kalamazoo Curling Club and more.
First-class facilities include Wings Event Center, which hosts professional hockey, concerts, family shows, conferences and recreational activities in three 17,000-square-foot arenas. The 240,000-square-foot Western Michigan University Recreation Center includes eight basketball courts, eight racquetball courts, outdoor intramural fields and numerous multi-purpose gyms.
Outdoor adventures abound along trails and waterways, along with family-friendly attractions featuring walking tours, historic automobiles and revolutionary planes. The experience is rounded out by decadent farm-to-table culinary delights, a craft beer trail, wineries and distilleries all within walking distance of downtown.
“When it comes to sports events planning, Kalamazoo is big league all the way,” says Brian Persky, director of sports event development at Discover Kalamazoo.
As the state’s official sports event planner, Sports Illinois coordinates hundreds of amateur tournaments, regionals, qualifiers, championships and professional championships annually.
With reserved seating for 18,500 plus 48 luxury boxes, the Allstate Arena is one of the largest indoor entertainment facilities in the Chicago area. The fan experience is further enhanced by excellent sightlines, plentiful onsite parking and convenient public transportation.
The Libertyville Sports Complex is an open gym for youth sports with more than 3,500 square feet of flexible space for events, trade shows and meetings. The Vaughan Athletic Center offers 225,000 square feet of athletic and fitness space, including an aquatic center with three indoor pools. The Louisville Slugger Sports Complex makes kids feel like pros, with major league-style dugouts, electronic scoreboards, elevated press boxes and stadium-style championship fields.
“In the middle of everything, Illinois is a premier location for any sports event,” says Greg Mihalich, manager of the Local Tourism and Convention Bureau program of the Illinois Office of Tourism.
Ann Arbor, Michigan
The Ann Arbor region is a favorite of sporting event organizers due to its easy accessibility, world-class facilities and variety of options for dining and entertainment.
The rich history of hosting major sporting events includes Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) Junior Olympic Games, field hockey events, AAU Junior Olympic Games swimming events, the NHL Winter Classic, International Champions Cup (ICC) soccer matches and NCAA tournaments, regionals and championships.
Its renowned venues include Michigan Stadium, the largest stadium in the U.S. and the third largest in the world. While “The Big House” hosts the University of Michigan football team, the Crisler Center provides home team advantage to the men’s and women’s basketball teams. The facility has also staged University of Michigan wrestling and gymnastics, as well as numerous concerts and campus events.
“You will never experience anything like game day in Ann Arbor,” says Mike Malach, executive director of the Ann Arbor Sports Commission.
Cape Girardeau, Missouri
Located on the Mighty Mississippi River, Cape Girardeau offers a blend of warmth and hospitality to match its family-friendly sports events.
Capaha Field, just blocks from Southeast Missouri State University, is home to Southeast Missouri Baseball and wood bat Prospect League member Cape Catfish. Prior to the 2020 season, an adjacent 4,000-square-foot indoor baseball training facility was added with four batting cages, portable pitching mounds and HitTrax and Rapsodo technology to improve overall player performance.
The Cape Girardeau SportsPlex, a 121,000 square-foot facility located along Interstate 55, features two regulation indoor turf fields and six high school regulation hardwood basketball courts which convert to 12 regulation volleyball courts.
Brenda Newbern, executive director of the Cape Girardeau Convention and Visitors Bureau, says the region is also popular with cyclists, kayakers and visitors to the historic Trail of Tears State Park.
“Cape Girardeau is more than just a destination,” she says. “It’s an experience.” SDM