Nor’easters are those legendary squalls that everyone attributes to this particular segment of the country, but it’s fair to say sports tourism also has taken the Northeast by storm. A variety of venues and the local sports commission and CVB personnel are welcoming in the events.
Butler County established a dedicated sports sales team in 2016 to meet growing demand for international, national and statewide events.
“We offer amazing versatility for both indoor and outdoor sports,” said Amy Pack, director of tourism development. “Our wide range of private, public and university-owned facilities can be customized, and our location, within 500 miles of half the U.S. population, ensures accessibility and attendance.”
UPMC Lemiuex Sports Complex, a 185,000-square-foot facility with two rinks and 1,500 seats, hosts the US Hockey Fall Classic’s 25-team tournaments, and the U10 to U19 Pens Elite Thanksgiving Classic women’s tournament, as well as sled hockey events.
Dick’s Sporting Goods Sportsplex at Graham Park’s versatile facilities can host a range of field events, including baseball, field hockey, football, lacrosse, rugby and more. The Pirates Charities Miracle League Field, meanwhile, serves athletes with disabilities. There’s also Cooper’s Lake Campground for obstacle races, dogsledding and more.
Connecticut draws on the 23.5 million regional population to generate attendance for sports events. “Sports tends to be a stable event market for us, even in a bad economy,” says Bob Murdock, director of sports marketing for the Connecticut Convention & Sports Bureau. “Our population density and proximity to major cities and transportation hubs translates to strong attendance.”
Gymnastics and college basketball lead the list of sports that call Connecticut home. Every three years, The Secret U.S. Classic and Men’s P&G Gymnastics Championships are held at the 16,000-seat XL Center in Hartford, which will host the 2017 AAC Men’s Basketball Championship, with the Women’s Championship Tournament being held at the nearby 10,000-seat Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville. The 540,000-square-foot Connecticut Convention Center in downtown Hartford is the largest event facility between Boston and New York, hosting a variety of indoor events.
Squash also has a home here. The XIV Pan American Squash Championships were recently held at Trinity College’s Kellner Squash Center in Hartford, and the Chelsea Piers Athletic Club in Stamford is home to the largest squash facility in the Northeast.
“We have found our niche in youth sports,” says Ben Rose, director of marketing and public relations for Greater Wildwoods Tourism Improvement and Development Authority. “We have facilities, accommodations and attractions for the entire family that accompanies the competing youth athlete.”
The Wildwoods Convention Center is a 260,000-square-foot facility with seating for 7,000. Its entire east wall is oceanfront glass, and the facility features a unique Teflon-coated fabric roof that allows natural sunlight into the 75,000 square feet of unobstructed floor space in the exhibit hall. In 2017, it will host the Spirit Brands National Championships cheerleading competition, as well as youth gymnastics, wrestling, band competitions and the Boardwalk Basketball Classic.
The northern end of the state, meanwhile, offers its own advantages. MetLife Stadium, home of Super Bowl XLVIII, also hosted pivotal matches in the Copa America Centenario this past summer. North Jersey also boasts the Meadowlands Exposition Center at Harmon Meadow, a 61,000-square-foot facility in Secaucus with versatile space able to host anything from wrestling tournaments to table tennis championships.
Maine’s 6,000 lakes, 32,000 miles of rivers and 5,000 miles of coastline provide the variety that makes it a sought-after destination for both traditional and not-so-traditional sports events.
“People sometimes think of Maine as a vacation destination,” says Sheila Brennan Nee, executive director of the Maine Sports Commission, “but they’re pleasantly surprised to learn about all the sports we can host.”
The Nordic Heritage Center in Presque Isle hosts the Olympic-qualifying IBU World Cup Biathlon. Numerous road races, swim-run events and triathlons are also held, as is the Farm to Fork Fondo, a cycle ride through Maine’s farmlands featuring end-of-ride meals sourced from the farms. In Sabattus, the 2016 Professional Disc Golf Association Women’s Championship was the first PDGA major held in New England. And – a new one for many – the North American Wife Carrying Championship is held annually in Newry, Maine. Even pickleball has found a home there, with the 2016 Atlantic Regional Pickleball Tournament at the Racket & Fitness Center in Portland attracting over 400 players, making it the largest pickleball event in New England.
Binghamton sits at the intersection of three major interstates, within three hours’ drive of New York City, Philadelphia and the Canadian border.
“With over 2,500 affordable hotel rooms, state-of-the-art, multi-use facilities within a 15-minute drive, and significant volunteer support, the small community of Greater Binghamton has much to offer as a destination for sports events,” says Judi Hess, tourism and special events manager for Greater Binghamton Convention & Visitors Bureau.
The Greater Binghamton Sports Complex, the largest domed facility of its kind in the U.S., has 124,000 feet of competition space and hosts the John Mack Memorial Lacrosse tournament and numerous soccer tournaments throughout the year.
Binghamton University’s Events Center has 156,000 square feet of indoor space that can seat 6,000 for basketball and features an indoor track. Two all-weather outdoor fields with stadium seating for 2,500 and 1,000 add to recently upgraded baseball and softball fields and tennis courts. SUNY Broome offers an ice rink and the Floyd L. Maines Veterans Memorial Arena accommodates hockey, basketball and gymnastics. In addition, the BAGSAI Complex in the 1980s and is a nationally recognized softball venue, while the Grippen Park BMX facility is the only covered racing facility in the northeast.
New York: Saratoga Springs
Sports Illustrated named the Saratoga Race Course one of the Top Ten Sports & Attractions Sporting Venues in the world, and Golf Digest recognized Saratoga Spa Golf Course as one of the top 10 places to play under $55. The Saratoga County area, however, offers much more.
“Water sports, ice sports, cycling, field sports, running — Saratoga County offers natural resources, nationally acclaimed venues and partnerships to handle any sports event,” Saratoga Convention & Visitors Bureau’s Director for Group Tours, Sports and Convention Sales Heather McElhiney, says.
The Saratoga Springs Recreational Center has 33,500 square feet to accommodate high school or college basketball, volleyball and even a court that converts from hosting racquetball to squash. Gavin Park in Wilton offers an additional nine soccer and multi-use fields, six baseball and softball fields, two multi-purpose gymnasiums and outdoor tennis courts. Saratoga Lake hosts national, regional and local regattas.
Rhode Island is also coming to prominence in sports hosting. John Gibbons, executive director of Rhode Island Sports Commission, says, “We are a desirable sports destination because we tap into the dense population base, and can offer better affordability over other major Northeast markets.”
The 2016 USA Gymnastics National Championships, an Olympic qualifying event, took over Providence’s Dunkin’ Donuts Center and the adjacent Rhode Island Convention Center in June, drawing over 7,000 fans. The Center will also host the 2017 NCAA Men’s Hockey East Regional tournament.
USA Ultimate and the World Flying Disc Federation selected University of Rhode Island in Kingston for the 2016 U.S. Open Ultimate Championships, and following a successful 2014-2015 event attended by over 130,000 fans, the Volvo Ocean Race 2017-2018 will return to Newport, making Rhode Island the only North American stopover port.
Vermont is known for ski areas, lakes and trails, “and we offer a welcoming attitude, world-class sports facilities, and partnerships with our universities and Parks and Recreation Department to make our state a great destination for sports,” says Susan Smith, executive director of Vermont Convention Bureau.
The Vermont Convention Bureau lists a number of successful events, including World Cup Series ski events, USA Triathlon, USA Hockey, National Street Rod Association and the Green Mountain Stage Race, the largest Pro/Am cycling road stage race east of the Mississippi.
In Burlington, the Gordon H. Paquette Ice Arena will host the 2017 New England Regional Figure Skating Championships. Additional ice can be found at University of Vermont and Champlain College in Burlington, and St. Michael’s College in Colchester.
Vermont’s famed ski and resort areas host year-round events. Triathlons, duathlons, obstacle races and cycling events play there, and the annual Green Mountain Iron Dog, held at Camp Dudley at Kiniya in Colchester, is a 1.5-mile obstacle course where handler and dog compete based on what police K-9 teams experience, with a mix of police, military and civilian opponents.