West by Southwest: Great Venues and Agreeable Climates Offer Advantages for Every Sport
27 Sep, 2016By: Kathleen A. DeMarco
When regions offer great connectivity and A-plus opportunities for sports, they’re worth checking out. The Southwest and Pacific regions of the U.S., showcased here, also have welcoming climates, natural beauty and strong staff support for sports events.
2016 will be a record-breaker for sports tourism in the Wenatchee Valley after a snow-sport-friendly winter, spring’s strong showing of baseball, softball, gymnastics, tennis, ice skating and rodeo events, and ideal summer weather for outdoor race events. Fall brings cooler weather and the annual Dark Side Festival at Mission Ridge Ski & Board Resort, featuring mountain biking, trail running and hiking competitions.
“Variety is our region’s unique factor,” said Matt Kearny, Wenatchee Valley Chamber of Commerce sports tourism coordinator. “Of the top 15 events in the past year, 10 are in different sports.” For the second time, the region will host 250 competitors for October’s 2016 US Figure Skating Regionals at the 4,300-seat multi-purpose Town Toyota Center, home to Wenatchee Wild, the sole USA team in the British Columbia Ice Hockey League. The Apple Cup Soccer Tournament will draw over 100 youth teams age 6-18 to more than 20 fields in the Wenatchee Valley over the two-day event in October.
Just north of Seattle, Snohomish County attracts year-round regional, national and international volleyball, softball, ice hockey, figure skating, basketball, rowing, triathlon, wakeboard and gymnastics events. Tammy Dunn, sports development manager, notes that “the area has hosted a number of new events this year, including USA Badminton Junior Nationals, which brought 350 athletes to our area.” In addition, Dunn says, the National Field Archery Association (NFAA) held its Outdoor Field Nationals at Darrington Archers, which offers wheelchair-accessible ranges. “We had 400 senior, adult, and junior archers competing,” Dunn notes.
Central Oregon offers outdoor venues for road races, hiking, cycling and golfing in the summer, and in winter turns to snow sports with skiing, snowboarding, and ice skating. “Central Oregon is the playground of outdoor sports for the Pacific Northwest,” said Roxia Thornton Todoroff, director of sales and marketing, Deschutes Fair & Expo Center.
While Deschutes’ premier event is the County Fair & Rodeo, held each August since 1921, the Expo Center also hosts annual events including The Oregon Wrestling Classic, NW Arena Cross Motorcycle Racing, NW Basketball Championships, USA BMX Great NW Nationals, Mt. Bachelor Kennel Club AKC Regional Dog Show, the Challenge of Champions Bull Riding Tour, and the Rumble at the Rock Wrestling Tour. New to the Expo is the Elite Rodeo Association Tour featuring 87 of the world’s top rodeo athletes. The Deschutes County Expo Center is surrounded by 700 hotel rooms within seven miles, and within a 30-mile radius, over 3,600 rooms.
Ask the Eugene, Cascades & Coast Sports staff and they’ll be glad to talk about the events fall brings to the southern end of the Willamette Valley. According to Jody Jewell, “the Northwest Athletics Conference Volleyball and Soccer Fall Sports Festival 2016 will host 50 collegiate men’s and women’s soccer and 30 volleyball teams at the Willamalane Center for Sports and Recreation.”
The Trans-Cascadia Enduro, which sold out in its first hour of registration, is a four-day mountain bike race through the Cascades. Also this fall, USA BMX’s DK Gold Cup Championship Finals Northwest bicycling event will bring 1,500 riders to the Emerald Valley BMX facility in Eugene.
In October, the world’s Top 35 bull riders will converge on the Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene for the Professional Bull Riders’ Wrangler Long Live Cowboys Classic, part of the elite Built Ford Tough Series
Just 55 miles north of the Golden Gate and in the heart of northern California’ food and wine scene is Santa Rosa. With a year-round temperate climate, 6,000 hotel rooms and hundreds of wineries, “our natural beauty draws them in,” said Kim Link of Visit Santa Rosa Sports Commission. “With our great weather, we’re known for racing events, with 40 triathlon, marathon and cycling endurance races in Sonoma County each year.”
The IRONMAN Vineman triathlon recently attracted 2,300 international athletes competing over a course spanning five distinct grape growing regions. For amateur cyclists, there’s the annual Levi’s GranFondo, a mass road race founded by Levi Leipheimer, American Olympic medalist and former pro cyclist. The event attracts 7,500 cyclists and raises $250,000 for youth charities. This year, Santa Rosa also hosted Stage 7 of the Amgen Tour of California, a Tour de France-style cycling event that attracted the world's top professional cycling teams.
Indoor venues abound as well in Santa Rosa. Opening in fall 2016 is Epicenter, a 130,000 square-foot multi-tenant sports and entertainment complex. Santa Rosa-based Sports City will operate three indoor synthetic turf fields for soccer and lacrosse, a high school regulation-size basketball court and two volleyball courts.
The Redwood Empire Ice Arena, a Santa Rosa icon for over 40 years, is a world-class ice hockey and figure skating facility. Known as “Snoopy’s Home Ice” as it was designed and built by Charles Schulz, creator of the Peanuts, The Redwood has hosted US Regional figure skating championships and is the home ice for the annual Snoopy’s Senior Ice Hockey Tournament.
South of San Jose lies Morgan Hill. Surrounded by ranches, orchards, vineyards and rolling hills, the Morgan Hill Outdoor Sports Center’s 30-acre complex comprises turf and grass fields for soccer, lacrosse, football, NFL flag football, cheerleading, Ultimate and dog agility events.
Managed by the nonprofit Morgan Hill Youth Sports Alliance (MHYSA), the complex hosts the All West Lacrosse tournament, the Tenacity Project Summer Splash girls’ lacrosse tournament, and the Alianza de Futbol, Copa Univision, and Copa ESPN soccer events. Jeff Dixon, president of MHYSA, says future plans include new cricket pitches to answer the International Cricket Council’s desire to expand the sport in the USA. “Our 62,500 square yards of grass can be divided in many ways to serve a wide range of participating teams in different sports,” said Dixon.
Fifteen miles north of Austin, Round Rock bills itself as the “Sports Capital of Texas.” A strong partnership among its CVB and the city’s Parks and Recreation Department generates nearly $10 million annually in sports tourism for the local economy.
The Round Rock Sports Center, which opened in January 2014, is “the crown jewel of the Sports Capital of Texas,” according to Nancy Yawn, director of the Round Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau. The facility offers 82,800 square feet with six basketball or 12 volleyball courts and seating for up to 1,700 fans; the Center hosts over 70,000 players and 120,000 spectators annually for tournaments, league sports, and club sports. “Round Rock is expanding its outdoor venue space as well,” notes Yawn. “In 2017, the new Round Rock Multi-purpose Complex will add five natural grass fields and five synthetic turf fields to accommodate Ultimate, soccer, rugby, lacrosse and flag football.”
Round Rock’s Champion Fields at Old Settlers Park comprises 20 baseball and five softball fields with dedicated spaces for disc golf, cricket, soccer, football, tennis, sand volleyball and horseshoes. A new soccer complex, set to open in 2018, will add four additional fields. The Austin Sports Arena in Round Rock is a 20,000 square-foot facility for inline hockey, and the Clay Madsen Recreation Center offers two full-size gymnasiums, a six-lane, 25-yard lap pool and four racquetball courts.
Glendale and the West Valley is a sports Mecca. University of Phoenix Stadium has hosted Super Bowl, Fiesta Bowl and BCS Championships and is the site of the NCAA 2017 Final Four. Gila River Arena, home to the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes, has also hosted Travis Pastrana’s Nitro Circus, Smuckers Stars on Ice, Street League Skateboarding, Professional Bull Riding and World Extreme Cagefighting.
According to Danielle Dutsch, national sales manager, Glendale recently hosted the USA Baseball National Team Championships. “We also hosted the Special Olympics 2016 State Summer Games,” Dutsch notes. “That brings in more than 300 room nights. The athletes bring their families and so it’s a big impact for our city.” At the most edition of the Games, floorball was introduced as the newest team sport to join the Special Olympics’ world-wide lineup.
NASCAR, volleyball, basketball, cheerleading, tennis, archery, soccer, and flag football events also have found a home in Glendale. There are 1,500 hotel rooms in Glendale and over 8,000 rooms across the West Valley.