Each year, thousands of athletes from all over the country pack their bags and head to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, for sporting competitions, all in pursuit of excellence.
But for Sports Milwaukee, a division of VISIT Milwaukee, the pursuit of excellence is not limited to the court, field or rink. In the eyes of Marissa Werner, director and her team at Sports Milwaukee, it is an ever-evolving mission to create a one-of-a-kind atmosphere for competition to make Milwaukee feel fresh year after year and keep athletes and their families returning to the Good Land.
Collaboration and Community Involvement at USA Triathlon
For the past three years, and six times in the past decade, Milwaukee has played host to USA Triathlon’s Age Group National Championships. Attracting the most elite athletes from all over the country, each year, the event is the most highly anticipated multisport competition in the country. But what keeps USA Triathlon, along with the 7,000 athletes and 15,000 spectators, returning to the Cream City?
From the outset, the collaboration between USA Triathlon and Sports Milwaukee has been constant. The two organizations have worked together to ensure permits are secured, key relationships with lakefront properties are maintained and, most importantly, the athlete and spectator experience is second to none.
In the world of sports, even the most minute details can make or break an event. During events like the triathlon, the Ryder Cup and the NCAA tournament, the city’s sports bureau worked with local leaders to create unique experiences and imagery to welcome these visitors.
Some of these flourishes included event-specific flags lining the bridges of the Milwaukee River, an aquatic artery that runs through the city, and illuminating the city’s skyline with red, white and blue lights for the triathlon, including on the Hoan Bridge – its brilliant, highly customizable LED lights programmed to welcome visiting athletes from countless angles around town.
“Our community partners play a major role in ensuring that our sports groups like USA Triathlon and the Professional Triathlete Organisation feel the warm welcome here in the City of Champions,” said Werner. “It also makes them feel like they are a part of something special. The city is lit up for them, and all around Milwaukee signs welcome their group. It creates this atmosphere that sets the stage for these athletes to remember their experiences in our city for the rest of their lives.”
Winter Youth Sports – Staying Social and Increased Offerings
Milwaukee in the summer is a city fully alive. The City of Festivals features a music festival or cultural festival, including the world’s largest music festival Summerfest, almost every weekend. Yet the Cream City is a four-season destination with something for every season.
During the cooler months of January through April, Milwaukee hosts many youth sports throughout the area, including eight regional youth volleyball tournaments. These events typically take place in Baird Center, the city’s convention center located in the heart of downtown.
In addition to an expanded convention center, Sports Milwaukee, with the help of local business leaders, identified a need for more youth-friendly activities and dining options near Baird Center. The 3rd Street Market Hall opened its doors in the early months of 2021, just a block away from the convention center.
A new addition to Milwaukee’s unique food hall culture, 3rd Street Market Hall offers 20 vendors with something for the whole family. From the Wisconsin staples like burgers, cheese curd and custard to pizza and Venezuelan arepas to sushi, the entire family can easily find something to suit everyone’s needs. 3rd Street Market Hall offers flexible seating perfect for large groups and features a wide selection of activities like a Nintendo wall, TopGolf Swing Suites, darts, bags, pinball machines, shuffleboard and so much more.
“New offerings like 3rd Street Market Hall, the ongoing development of Deer District and the dining, nightlife and entertainment offerings around the forthcoming Iron District have really taken Milwaukee’s downtown to another level for athletes in town for youth sports hosted at Baird Center,” says Werner. “Athletes and their families know that once their competition is complete, there is so much to do within a 30-minute walk (or less) of their hotel room. From catching a game for one of the city’s championship-caliber sports teams like the Milwaukee Bucks to roving the halls of the Milwaukee Public Museum, there’s so much to explore for families traveling for these events.”
How does Sports Milwaukee spotlight these new sports facilities, dining options, attractions and amenities to new and returning visitors?
These days, social media plays an enormous role in where visitors choose to travel and, once they have arrived, apps like TikTok and Instagram often inform their decisions in everything from where they stay to what they have for dinner. VISIT Milwaukee, the city’s destination marketing organization (DMOs), showcases the city through a wide array of content tailored to the varying audiences for each platform.
The organization tasked with driving leisure and meetings and conventions visitation to Milwaukee shares everything from POV food-driven content, lovingly referred to as FoodTok, to lists of the latest events and breaking developments around the city. Sports Milwaukee uses these channels, laced with authentic, undeniably local spirit, to help groups promoting their upcoming events in the destination.
“Our social media team really does a nice job of sharing what makes Milwaukee special,” Werner says. “Especially for Millennials and Gen Z, social media acts as a search engine, feeding the imagination and helping prospective visitors become lifelong lovers of Milwaukee. While they’re in town for the tournament, meet or competition, these social channels give athletes and their families the flavor of our destination and highlights the latest, greatest developments around town.”
An organic way to further stoke the embers of inspiration and encourage families to venture out into the destination is for DMOs and event owners to find creative ways to activate their social media with takeovers and content that aligns with the host city. Over the years, Sports Milwaukee has hosted takeovers on many social media channels, to great success, including Snapchat, Instagram and TikTok —each one proven effective. These collaborations serve as a crucial touchpoint with these future visitors and encourage them to step beyond the court, rink or field to explore the destination and sample some of what the city has to offer.
“The social media takeovers we’ve collaborated on – they’ve been fantastic,” Werner says. “They’re a great way to communicate with an audience that is coming to your city and an even better chance to highlight some of the new things they may not have been able to experience last time they were in Milwaukee.”
Beyond takeovers, Sports Milwaukee provides incoming groups with several resources designed to add even more depth to their Milwaukee experience. From a free-use online photo and video library packed with stunning still images and b-roll of the city to the brand new VISITMilwaukee.org, complete with a whole new look and feel, designed to help them get from A to B and anything they want to see.
Introducing the Cream City Convention Pass
In the spring of 2023, Sports Milwaukee added another layer to the visitor experience by launching the Cream City Convention Pass. A contemporary take on the Show Your Badge programs, the entirely digital pass offers stellar discounts and deals at businesses within a half-mile of Baird Center, available exclusively to convention attendees.
These deals motivate first-time visitors and long-time return travelers alike to delve even deeper into the offerings in the downtown area. Featuring offers from more than 30 participating local businesses on everything from free dessert at a James Beard Award-winning restaurant to discounted tickets at the world’s only Harley-Davidson Museum, the Cream City Convention Pass is a fresh take on sharing the best of MKE with athletes and attendees.
“We strive to offer sports events and attendees an experience of a lifetime,” says Werner. “Whether it’s their first time in our city or twentieth, our goal is to make their experience here unforgettable and by highlighting some of the incredible things our city has to offer with resources like social media, our website or even itineraries, visitors can learn that there’s always more to discover in Milwaukee.” SDM