College towns will always have a special place in Americaís heart. Thereís hope and optimism, promise and learning, pep rallies, big rivalries and an atmosphere like no other on game day.
When class is not in session, these towns offer some excellent sports venues, ready-made to host competition and spectators. Here is an armchair tour of just a few of those. Want more? Sports commissions are only too happy to let you know what’s available and how it can fit into your game plan.
More than 125 years ago, business leaders in Conway, Arkansas, wanted to grow the local economy, so they created a strategy to attract institutions of higher learning to the central Arkansas town. Now, Conway is home to the University of Central Arkansas, Hendrix College and Central Baptist College, earning the nickname the “City of Colleges — as well as countless dividends from that century-old decision.
Today, Conway’s population of about 65,000 is young (with a median age of 27.3) and educated (nearly 40 percent of residents have at least a bachelor’s degree). And for many of the city’s residents, the role of sports and sports facilities continues to be important because, at its heart, Conway is a sports town.
Not only do all three colleges have their own athletic facilities, but the city and its residents realize the need for top-notch sports amenities for all ages, and those facilities continue to attract organizers who are looking to find a welcoming home for their tournaments and events.
Conway also has dozens of hotels to suit all budgets, and most were built within the last eight years. Restaurants abound, with more than 200 in the area, offering all types of cuisine at all price points.
Indiana: South Bend
Sports often serve as an introduction to South Bend Mishawaka through its most iconic attraction: The University of Notre Dame. Images of the Golden Dome and the historic football program resonate with many, especially during fall Saturdays when they appear on national television.
Visiting campus isn’t just for spectators. Notre Dame regularly opens its doors to outside events. Compton Family Ice Arena, for example, bustles with activity during hockey season.
There’s nothing quite like bringing an event to elite facilities on one of the world’s most beautiful and well-known campuses. It makes for an experience that competitors won’t soon forget.
Notre Dame, however, is just one piece of the larger puzzle. It anchors a collegiate community that includes Saint Mary’s College, Holy Cross College, Indiana University South Bend and Bethel University. All these local institutions offer access to top-notch facilities on campus settings, whether the sport to be hosted is gymnastics, basketball, pickleball or table tennis.
South Bend Mishawaka’s sterling relationship with Notre Dame and other area colleges and universities makes it an exception sports destination. Event owners can ask themselves: Are you ready to add your event to this tradition?
Missouri: Saint Charles
Lindenwood University, located in Saint Charles, Missouri is a historic gem, founded in 1827. Saint Charles, founded in 1769, is rooted in American History. In 2018, Money Magazine listed Saint Charles as the 18th best city to live in the United States.
Lindenwood boasts one of the largest, most successful athletic programs in the country, claiming numerous NCAA championships and churning out world-class athletes, including 2018 Olympic Gold Medalist Nicole Hensley of USA Women’s Hockey and Pierre Desir of the Indianapolis Colts.
In 2018, the organizations partnered and submitted the winning the bid for the 2018 Missouri Cheerleading Coaches Association State Championship. The event generated 400+ room nights, producing a $250,000 economic impact. In 2020, Lindenwood plays host to the NCAA Spring Festival.
“Lindenwood is a tremendous community partner,” said Chris Wilson, Saint Charles CVB sports sales manager.
Joe Ward, Saint Charles CVB director, agreed, “Lindenwood athletics simply gets it; administrators, coaches and student-athletes contribute daily to our city’s success.”
Brad Wachler, Lindenwood’s Vice President of Athletics added, “We look forward to building upon our current partnership with the St. Charles Conventions and Visitor’s Bureau in effort to secure first-rate events that add great value to the St. Charles community, the region and our university.”
Tennessee: Johnson City
Located in the Northeastern corner of Tennessee, Johnson City is where event owners can find big-city amenities, small town southern charm, and world-class outdoor recreation. The historic downtown district is home to locally owned restaurants, breweries, retail shops, parks, public art and 360-degree mountain views. While also being within a day’s drive of more than half of the United States population, Johnson City has something for everyone.
East Tennessee State University (ETSU) is the academic anchor for the region, providing extraordinary facilities to support large-scale sporting events. The Ballad Health Athletic Center (Mini Dome) features an 80,000-square-foot, uninterrupted arena floor. With 10,000 permanent seats, several breakout rooms, and locker rooms, the Mini Dome has the capability to host even the largest events. Adjacent facilities include Brooks Gym, Thomas Stadium, Summers-Taylor Stadium and more, providing the perfect space for competition of any size.
Event owners whose athletes enjoy the outdoors, food, and culture should be looking closely at Johnson City. The community is ready to welcome any and all visitors with unmatched hospitality, and to prove how much fun the next sporting event can be when it comes to the Appalachian Mountains. Learn more at VisitJohnsonCityTN.com or by calling 423-461-8012.
To many, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville is revered in college athletics and around the world for its very distinct shade of orange, a way-too-catchy fight song, and fans as passionate as you’ll find anywhere in the country. But in Knoxville, the University is so much more.
With a rapidly growing student body and construction extending past all parts of campus, the line between where the campus ends and downtown Knoxville begins is more ambiguous than ever. This partnership makes Knoxville much more than a small-town college town from which students leave after four years, but rather a college city with opportunities for long-term success across various industries, including sports tourism.
Knoxville itself is home to a wide variety of quality sporting venues, yet the Visit Knoxville Sports Commission team has found a great deal of success partnering with the University of Tennessee and their athletic venues. “Our partnership with the University of Tennessee has opened the door for marquee sporting events in Knoxville,” says Chad Culver, Senior Director of Sports & Convention Sales at Visit Knoxville. “We would not be able to recruit events like the Bassmaster Classic, NCAA Women’s Basketball Opening Rounds and the USA Diving Olympic Trials without the relationship we have with UT.”
Event owners are encouraged to take the trip to Knoxville, wear some Tennessee orange, and experience this beloved college city first-hand with their next sporting event. Learn more at VisitKnoxville.com.
Texas: College Station
College Station is the home of Texas A&M University, one of the largest universities in the U.S. with 70,000-plus students. The community is vibrant and welcoming to visitors, including the more than 100,000 fans that flock to Kyle Field to watch Aggie Football several weekends each fall.
Texas A&M is also known for its top-ranked programs in academics, a vibrant campus life with over 1,000 student organizations and its strong military tradition and ROTC program. Steady growth in entertainment, retail and restaurants, as well as industries that add jobs to the area, complement the already exceptional quality of life.
There are also excellent recreational facilities and parks in the area that allow a variety of sporting events to take place throughout the year. The team is ready to welcome event owners to compete in College Station and experience the heart of Aggieland. To learn more about hosting an event in College Station, please visit the website: visit.cstx.gov/compete
Virginia: Virginia Beach
Virginia Beach, Virginia is a central location for the college communities in the region. There are several private and public colleges that breathe life into the Virginia Beach region, including Virginia Wesleyan University, Old Dominion University, Norfolk State University, Hampton University, Christopher Newport University and the College of William & Mary. There’s simply an electrifying energy in Virginia Beach, one that compels athletes to move, do and be a part of the action. Bringing its unique coastal spirit together with its state-of-the-art facilities, Virginia Beach is the ideal place to host an unforgettable sporting event.
Maybe it’s the miles of sandy beaches, or the sparkling waters. Maybe it’s the welcoming sunshine, or the year-round activities that offer endless possibilities for adventure. From indoor to outdoor sports, and friendly games to massive tournaments, Virginia Beach is a prime setting for competition. In addition to modern complexes ready to host all types of sports and capacities, Virginia Beach offers a vibrant, diverse atmosphere that athletes and event attendees won’t soon forget.
Virginia Beach may be famous for its gorgeous outdoor spaces, but the city’s newest sports facility makes it a pleasure to be indoors. Opened in October 2020, the Virginia Beach Sports Center is a state-of-the-art facility that stands ready to host a wide variety of indoor sports, including basketball, volleyball and indoor track and field, as well as indoor field hockey. Its 285,000 square feet of convertible space can accommodate 12 basketball courts, 24 volleyball courts, nine field hockey courts and a 200-meter hydraulically banked track. Additionally, it can hold up to 5,000 spectators to watch the action. SDM