If you doubt the allure of the Northeast for sporting events, take a look at the number of destinations in this region that the NCAA designated as host cities for Division I, II and III preliminary rounds and championships between 2018 and 2022.
Pittsburgh received 22 events, the most of any city in the United States. In 2018 alone, the city will host seven championships. “We took a unique approach,” explains Jennifer Hawkins, executive director of sports development for VisitPITTSBURGH. “Instead of putting in 70 bids, we combined them all in one bid that included nine host institutions, nine venues and two athletic conferences.”
That approach is indicative of the way officials from multiple entities in Northeastern cities team up for the greater good of their communities. From welcoming elite college athletes to hosting a marathon that helps a small mill town thrive, this corner of the country is open for business.
What follows are profiles of eight destinations that deserve your attention.
The Boston Celtics call the TD Garden home, the Boston Red Sox play at Fenway Park, and Foxborough’s Gillette Stadium, home of the New England Patriots, will host the 2018 NCAA Divisions I, II and III men’s lacrosse national championships.
Meanwhile, the DCU Center in downtown Worcester and the Mass Mutual Center in downtown Springfield are both multi-purpose arena and convention center complexes, and other high-profile venues include Roxbury Community College’s Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center and Brighton’s Warrior Ice Arena — the new training facility for the Boston Bruins that also hosts hockey tournaments.
“Each region harbors dedicated athletes and enthusiastic fans, so we strive to ensure that the entire state is represented in the events process,” says Ricardo Guillaume, marketing manager in the Massachusetts Sports Marketing Office. “Sports are a deep component of our identity. Amateur, high school and collegiate sports are championed with the same passion as professional sports.”
Another state with a deep history of sports is Connecticut, which along with Fairfield and Yale universities, will welcome one of the 2018 Division I NCAA men’s ice hockey regionals to Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport. And almost 500 participants are expected to compete in the 2018 USA Pickleball Association’s Atlantic Regional Pickleball Tournament at the Governor William O’Neill State Armory in Hartford.
Meanwhile, the Connecticut Convention Center in downtown Hartford recently completed a $2.5 million update and hosts various competitions ranging from cheerleading and boxing to the annual New England Regional Volleyball Association Winterfest, which takes up two full weekends. Hartford’s recently opened Dunkin’ Donuts Park (home of the Class AA Colorado Rockies affiliate Hartford Yard Goats) also accommodates other events, including a 2017 stop on the USA vs. Japan Collegiate All-Star Series.
“As long as you have the right venues, people are going to come,” says Bob Murdock, director of national accounts and sports marketing for the Connecticut Convention & Sports Bureau. “That’s what convinces a lot of people to give us a try. And then they stay with us.”
“There is an allure to Maine, with its sense of small community in a large state,” says Sheila Brennan Nee, director of the Maine Sports Commission. “We have a small population, but Maine’s geography is immense, and we’re not as far away as we appear on the map.”
A variety of nontraditional events make Maine even more appealing, beginning with the Millinocket Marathon — a free event held in a mill town that asks participants to support the local economy via lodging and dining in the area; affiliated fundraisers also benefit local organizations. The Lobster Dip, the state’s first and largest New Year’s Day ocean plunge in Old Orchard Beach, boasts a philanthropic connection, too, with proceeds going to Special Olympics Maine.
Other distinctly Maine events include the Maine Pond Hockey Classic at Snow Pond in Sidney and the U.S. National Toboggan Championships in Camden.
“We consider anything that requires you to keep score a sport,” laughs John Gibbons, executive director of the Rhode Island Sports Commission. “Even spelling bees!”
To that end, the country’s smallest state will welcome the 2018 USA Gymnastics National Congress and Trade Show to Providence — an event that will generate 3,000 hotel room nights, proving that hosting sports-related meetings can be just as lucrative as hosting competitions.
Providence also is home to the annual Rhode Island Invitational gymnastics meet, which brings in participants from as far away as Brazil and is hosted by Aim High Academy, a popular gymnastics club. Major hockey tournaments are held at multiple ice rinks (including those at Providence College, Brown University and the University of Rhode Island), and Rhode Island also will host several NCAA championships (including the first and second rounds of the 2021 Division I men’s basketball tournament).
“There are more options for sporting events here than people think,” says Susan Smith, vice president of visitor services for the Vermont Convention Bureau, which is working on its first-ever sports guide, scheduled for release later in 2018. “We want to get the word out that we have really great facilities — and not just ski resorts.”
Vermont has hosted USA Triathlon and USA Hockey events, as well as soccer and fishing tournaments. Smith emphasizes the personalized service organizers receive from her staff and venue operators, including those at the University of Vermont’s Gutterson Fieldhouse and the C. Douglas Cairns Recreation Arena in South Burlington. “That’s the thing about Vermont,” Smith says. “We’re not a big-box state.”
The Wildwoods, New Jersey
While many destinations above are noted for their winter sports opportunities, The Wildwoods Convention Center likes to promote itself as a warmer-weather destination. After all, the facility is located on the famous Wildwoods Boardwalk, and its large windows overlook the Atlantic Ocean. Gymnastics and wrestling events are among the facility’s top draws, according to John Lynch, director of sales and entertainment for the facility, but it also attracts less-conventional events such as the South Jersey Roller Derby Championships.
Lynch and his staff encourage organizations to book events outside the facility, too. Everything from beach soccer and ultimate disc events to sand baseball tournaments keep the beach busy. The local chamber of commerce even hosts bonfires on the beach. “The Wildwoods is a very unique seashore resort,” Lynch says. “It’s a very mom-and-pop community, and we take great pride in that. When you stay here, there’s no corporate feeling whatsoever.”
Albany, New York
The Albany Capital Center exhibit and convention hall opened in March 2017 and includes 26,000 square feet of space unobstructed by pillars. The facility, which complements the adjacent Times Union Center arena, will welcome the New York State Public High School Athletic Association boys’ volleyball championships for the next three years and also has hosted roller derby, karate and cheer. “Sports is near the top of our priority lists, right after convention business,” says Doug McClaine, general manager of the SMG-operated Albany Capital Center.
Meanwhile, the Times Union Center will welcome the first and second rounds of the Division I NCAA men’s basketball tournament in 2020, as well as the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight rounds of the Division I women’s basketball tournament in 2019. The last time Albany hosted men’s NCAA tournament action was 2003.
As Pittsburgh prepares to welcome the many NCAA tournaments it was awarded, Jennifer Hawkins likes to refer to the big city’s small-town feel; downtown Pittsburgh — where many sports events are held — measures just one square mile, she says.
“We want our athletes to stay in downtown hotels and eat at world-class restaurants while still having the ability to walk everywhere,” Hawkins concludes. “A lot of people say, “Wow, I had no idea how pretty of a city this is!’ People still think Pittsburgh is a smoky, dirty steel town.” SDM