Northeast: Small Towns with Big Sports Potential
14 Jan, 2014By: Jenny Wierschem
The Northeast United States is densely populated with over 55 million people. For some sports event organizers—particularly for youth sports—the athletes, family, staff and guests may prefer a location with many of the benefits of a major city, but without the hustle and bustle of the region’s biggest cities. Smaller- to mid-sized markets in the Northeast with established or emerging reputations are becoming major players in sports event tourism.
Binghamton, New York
Binghamton, in Upstate New York, is scenically situated among rolling hills at the confluence of two rivers—the Chenango and Susquehanna—and easily accessible by three highways and by airport. The beauty, ease of reach, and facilities in the area position the Greater Binghamton region to host to a range of sports from golf to BMX and beyond.
“We host softball tournaments all summer long, starting in late April/May up through October,” says Judi Hess, manager of tourism and special events for the Greater Binghamton Convention and Visitors Bureau. “The other sport that is really coming on strong is lacrosse. We have the largest indoor lacrosse tournament in the country.”
Binghamton’s Greater Binghamton Sports Complex is an enclosed air-supported dome that is the largest of its kind in the country. The complex accommodates all types of field sports—from softball to lacrosse to field hockey—indoors or on one of its new outdoor fields.
Binghamton University, a Division I school, is another of the region’s popular locations for sports tournaments. Hess notes that in summer, teams can use the on-campus dormitories for housing.
Hartford, Connecticut, has secured large conferences and tournaments based on the strength of its Connecticut Convention Center. The US Gymnastics National Congress and Trade Show recently held at the Center is a high-profile event that brought in about 6,750 people. The 2013 New England Regional Volleyball Tournament had 16,300 attendees and required 27 volleyball courts to accommodate play over three days.
“We host volleyball, cheerleading, dance,” says Anissa Ladd, senior national sales manager for the Connecticut Convention Center. “We’ve held fencing tournaments and boxing matches, and we’ve held a bass fishing tournament. The river is less than a mile away, and so they go and fish, and then they come back to the center.”
The convention center’s location, across from entertainment and dining options in the Front Street District, makes it easy to get from tournament to dinner. The Center is attached to a four-diamond Marriott, and five other hotels are within a short walk. The free Dash shuttle links downtown locations for visitors.
“We look for the groups that want to take over our town and be the big fish in the small pond,” says Ladd.
Hershey and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
Hershey, Pennsylvania—best known as the home of the Hershey Company, Hershey’s Chocolate World and Hersheypark —is a short drive from the state’s capital, Harrisburg. Combined, the two create a full-service sports destination capable of hosting baseball, soccer, lacrosse, hockey and more.
“People like the geographic location because there are millions who can drive here in three hours, but for the people who need to fly, they have the beauty of Harrisburg International Airport, which is not intimidating,” says Gregg Cook, sports marketing manager for the Hershey Harrisburg Regional Visitors Bureau.
Last year, the region hosted the State Games of America, a national Olympics-style event that includes competition in over 25 different sports. The region is also hosting this year’s Keystone State Games.
The Giant Center, which is the site of the 2014 US Eastern Synchronized Skating Sectional Championships, is a top facility in the area, with the suites and amenities of major market arenas. The minor league Metro Bank Park is a popular baseball tournament site and the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex and Expo Center holds everything from equestrian events to football.
Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania
The Lehigh Valley region of Pennsylvania includes the cities of Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton. The region, once a center for industry, is now a hub for sports tourism, restaurants and entertainment.
The region uses partnerships among facilities, hotels and vendors to create successful sports events. “We do a lot of different stuff,” says Michael “Kuzy” Kusmuk, director of sports marketing for Discover Lehigh Valley Sports. “We do everything from bowling to speed skating or rugby. We also do the sports conference business as well. Our biggest sports are probably lacrosse, soccer and softball. Basically, we have good partners here in Lehigh Valley to host whatever we are going after.”
The region leverages local universities, such as Lehigh University, and local high schools and community centers to come up with the right mix of playing fields and facilities. The addition of the Phantoms Arena for hockey in Allentown in 2014 will expand the region’s capabilities.
Long Island, New York
The Long Island area is rich in universities with top-notch facilities.
“My three main colleges are Hoftstra, Long Island University and Stony Brook University,” says Jennifer Rothman, sales manager for the Long Island Convention and Visitors Bureau and Sports Commission. “Stony Brook is undergoing renovations and the new arena will be up in 2014. I’m noticing a lot of pick-up on our community college, Suffolk County Community College.”
The area has hosted soccer, lacrosse, rugby and other sports. Mud runs and obstacles races are an emerging area for the region.
“Our hotels are not that expensive,” adds Rothman. “It’s not that difficult to get to Long Island, even if you are driving in or flying in.”
Meadowlands, New Jersey
The Meadowlands encompasses a number of towns in New Jersey near New York City. It is home to the Meadowlands Sports Complex, which includes MetLife Stadium, the Izod Center and the Meadowlands Racetrack. The racetrack has a new $100 million grandstand and MetLife Stadium will host this year’s Super Bowl.
“The complex has hosted Final Four; they’ve had men’s NCAA championships,” says Judy Ross, director of the Meadowlands Liberty Convention and Visitors Bureau. “They’ve had all types of hockey events at the arena, collegiate basketball, professional basketball. We’ve even done some marching band competitions at the stadium.”
While sports in the Meadowlands are big business, the towns within the region such as East Rutherford, Jersey City, and Seacaucus have their own hosting capabilities and amenities.
“We acknowledge that New York City is a draw, but certainly there is plenty to do in the Meadowlands area,” says Ross.“
Rhode Island is the smallest state in the nation, but it takes advantage of its four seasons and coastline to host field sports, winter sports and water sports.
“One of the great selling features of our area is that New England is a place people like to visit,” says Jim Gibbons, executive director of the Rhode Island Sports Commission. “People want to bring events to places where there is a dense population base. That helps them attract bigger numbers of people to events when they host them in this region.”
Each year, Rhode Island is home to the John W. Kennedy Jr. Hockey Tournament, which requires coordination across facilities in the state since, according to Gibbons, it attracts approximately 200 teams from 15 states.
The Northeast has an edge when it comes to winter sports, and this is certainly true of Worcester.
“The Northeast in general is very good with winter sports,” says Bob Murdock, director of sales for Destination Worcester. “We had the 2012 US Synchronized Skating Championships. We have been getting the NCAA Division I Men’s Ice Hockey Northeast Regionals every even year.”
That doesn’t mean that other sports aren’t powerhouses in the region. Gymnastics and rowing are also big in Worcester. The city hosted the 2012 USRowing Masters National Championships, which was the largest event in USRowing’s history.
The area’s largest arena is the 14,800-seat DCU Center, which just received $23 million in renovations.
“The city widened the concourse,” says Murdock. “The renovations included the addition of windows to let in more light and installation of more bathrooms. The field of play hasn’t changed, but the focus was on creating a better fan experience.”