Anything But Routine | Sports Destination Management

Anything But Routine

Sep 05, 2023 | By: Judy Leand

Gymnastics remains a big draw among youth athletes. As anticipation and excitement intensifies in the lead-up to the Paris 2024 Summer Olympics, the sport is again ready to bask in the international spotlight. And it certainly helps that previous gold medalists and U.S. superstars like Simone Biles, and Sunisa Lee have made big comebacks. 

The numbers back this up. More than 4.5 million people participated in gymnastics in 2022, a seven percent rise from 2021 and an 18.7 percent increase spanning the 2020-2022 timeframe, according to the SFIA’s Gymnastics Single Sport Report 2023. A total of 76 percent of participants were female and 24 percent male, with the largest cohort being in the 6-12 age group.

Going forward, as anticipation and excitement intensifies in the lead-up to the Paris 2024 Summer Olympics, gymnastics is again ready to bask in the international spotlight. And it certainly helps that previous gold medalists and U.S. superstars Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas and Sunisa Lee have announced their return to competition.

These factors are creating more opportunities for destinations to host a wide variety of gymnastics events for all ages and ability levels. Gymnastics, it appears, has stuck the landing and vaulted into medal position. Here’s a look at eight locales that are ready to get into the rotation.

Foley, Alabama

Foley, AL
Foley, AL | Photo courtesy of Courtland Richards

Foley Sports Tourism is home to the 90,000-square-foot Foley Event Center that can accommodate a range of gymnastics events. The facility provides locker rooms, restrooms, a trainer’s room, concession stand and hospitality area. The technology is also excellent and includes high-speed Wi-Fi, direct connection internet, a digital sound system, electrical outlets placed throughout the space and large screens with projectors that make it easy to share real-time scoring updates with spectators.

In 2022, Foley became the first destination in Alabama to host the USA Gymnastics Region 8 Xcel Championships. Following this successful event, Foley was awarded the bid for the 2024 Regional 8 Championships for Level 6/7/8. Foley also hosted the Alabama State Championships in March 2022, which attracted more than 3,650 visitors. Additionally, the Bounders Beach Bash, held annually in September in Foley by the Bama Bounders Gym, typically draws 500 to 800 participants and 1,500 to 2,000 spectators.

“Foley Sports Tourism hosts a select number of quality gymnastics meets throughout the year,” explains Shellie Kichler, sales and marketing director for Foley Sports Tourism. “We are always looking to expand on current partnerships and cultivate new ones with planners not only in gymnastics, but in other structured performance and routine-based sports. The Foley Event Center is a perfect venue for these events and the FST team is skilled in running an outstanding meet.”

Fort Wayne, Indiana

Fort Wayne, IN
Fort Wayne, IN | Photo courtesy of Visit Fort Wayne

Fort Wayne loves gymnastics and this family-friendly locale boasts three key venues: Allen County War Memorial Coliseum, Grand Wayne Convention Center and the Plassman Athletic Center at Turnstone.

Serving northeast Indiana, northwest Ohio and southern Michigan, ACWMC has more than one million square feet under one roof and is comprised of an arena, expo center and conference center. GWCC is the second-largest convention facility in the state, offering 225,000 square feet of event space, plus skywalk connectivity to hotels and parking garages. Plassman Athletic Center features a 75,000-square-foot field house and is one of 11 Paralympic training sites in the U.S.

Previous gymnastics competitions held in Fort Wayne include the Women’s Region 5 Level 9/10 Championships, Men’s Region 5 Championships, Region 5 Insider Classic, Region 5 Compulsory Workshop, Walk of Fame Classic, and Indiana State Championships. The majority of participants come from out of state, primarily from the Midwest region.

“We typically hold two to three larger regional/national events annually, and we’re looking to expand on USA Gymnastics sanctioned events that are operated by local gymnastics clubs,” notes Jazmin Zavala, Visit Fort Wayne’s group sales manager, sports. “Key gymnastics events attract more than 1,000 attendees and range from $150,000 to $500,000 in direct economic impact. Fort Wayne venues are always seeking growth and adapting to the needs of tournaments looking to book our destination.”

Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Gatlinburg, TN
Gatlinburg, TN | Photo courtesy of Rocky Top Sports World

New to the gymnastics scene, Gatlinburg’s Rocky Top Sports World is a premier venue that will soon start hosting gymnastics competitions. The 80-acre campus features both indoor and outdoor facilities to create a one-of-a-kind sporting event. In particular, The Rock indoor facility is an 86,000-square-foot multi-sport and event center that offers more than 60,000 square feet of hardwood floor space along with three team rooms, bleacher seating, food and beverage facilities and a medical/training room.

“We have held cheer and dance competitions and martial arts and wrestling meets, so we are familiar with the springboards, mats and other equipment,” says Andrew Capps, director of business development, Rocky Top Sports World. “RTSW is looking to host its first gymnastics event in 2024 and will continue to add new events in the coming years.” The destination would like to specifically attract K-12th grade gymnastics events of any skill set.

“We continue to actively pursue leads to host a gymnastics event at our facility,” says Capps. “We believe guests will love the facility and the opportunity to create lifelong memories in Gatlinburg. The Smokey Mountain experience is one of a kind.”

Kankakee, Illinois

Kankakee, IL
Kankakee, IL | Photo courtesy of Visit Kankakee County

Located just 50 miles south of Chicago, Kankakee County offers a wide variety of activities and amenities. For gymnastics events, the premier venue is Adventure Commons which provides a four-court gymnasium, 11,000-square-foot turf arena, upper mezzanine seating and viewing, and concessions.

“We typically hold seven to 12 gymnastics events annually. In addition to hosting women’s gymnastics, we’d like to reach further into the men’s gymnastics market and host national competitions,” says Pastor Andy Hamilton, owner of Adventure Commons. “Currently, we host approximately six to nine women’s events and one to two men’s events each year.”

Hamilton points out that the facility usually hosts regional and state gymnastics competitions and has held one national event. “Each event varies in size and most events [attract] between 400 to 1,400 individuals competing throughout a two- to three-day competition. As far as economic impact, it fills our hotels and restaurants and brings retail volume to our market,” he says. While most participants come from throughout Illinois, several events also draw attendees from Indiana, Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan.

Rocky Mount, North Carolina

Rocky Mount, NC
Rocky Mount, NC | Photo courtesy of Gerry Brabham

The hub for gymnastics action in this locale is the Rocky Mount Event Center, a 165,000-square-foot multi-use venue located in Downtown Rocky Mount, within walking distance of restaurants, shops and entertainment. The facility has a 75,000-square-foot field house that is ideal for meets, and the floor layout can be converted into a 50-foot x 94-foot master event space and/or three full gymnastics or cheer floors with stadium seating for 4,000 spectators. There are also four locker rooms plus a mezzanine on the second floor for observing the competition.

Previous events held at Rocky Mount Event Center include the 2019 NC AUU State Championship that drew 865 participants from 29 gymnastics clubs and more than 2,200 spectators. In January 2020, the venue held the Rocky Mount Rumble Gymnastics Challenge that was hosted by Myrtle Beach-based Thomas Gymnastics Meet Supply.

“After having such a successful tournament season this year bringing in over $14 million in economic impact with volleyball and basketball tournaments and cheer and dance competitions, we are looking forward to adding gymnastics to our schedule in the future and welcome those sports event holders to contact us,” says Ashley Pittman, marketing manager, Rocky Mount Event Center.

Springfield, Illinois

Springfield, IL | Photos courtesy of Visit Springfield
Springfield, IL | Photos courtesy of Visit Springfield

Regional and national youth gymnastics competitions generate plenty of enthusiasm in this centrally located city and meets are held at the Bank of Springfield (BOS) Center, located in the heart of Springfield’s historic district. The facility’s main hall provides 40,000 square feet of column-free space, with an additional 25,000 square feet of space for awards, meetings and vendors. Other amenities include 4,300 permanent seats, four locker rooms, two concessions areas, full catering service, free Wi-Fi in public areas, and AV service. Two trauma-level hospitals are within five minutes of the venue.

Previous gymnastics events held at the BOS Center include USA Gymnastics-GFA (Gymnastics For All) National Championship (600 competitors and 1,200 spectators); AAU National Age Group Championships (1,700 competitors and 3,000 spectators); and USTA Tumbling and Trampoline National Championships (1,800 competitors and 3,000 spectators).

“Springfield has been proud to host multiple national and regional USA, AAU and USTA events,” says Terry Truman, sales manager, Visit Springfield. “Our central location paired with family-friendly, economical activities has helped these events achieve some of their highest attendance. Numerous Abraham Lincoln and Route 66 sites, along with entertainment such as Knight’s Action Park (water and amusement park) and SCHEELS sports mall provide long-lasting memories that extend well beyond the competition.”

Wildwood, New Jersey

Wildwoods, NJ | Photo courtesy of the Greater Wildwoods Tourism Authority
Wildwoods, NJ | Photo courtesy of the Greater Wildwoods Tourism Authority

Located in Wildwood, directly on the beach and Boardwalk overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, the Wildwoods Convention Center offers a multitude of amenities, including dining, entertainment and amusement piers, for visitors of all ages to enjoy. The Oceanfront Arena inside the convention center has 75,000 square feet of unobstructed space with 30-foot-high ceilings and floor-to-ceiling glass walls overlooking the beach and Atlantic Ocean. Bleacher seating for 3,000, plus two large concession stands are also on offer, and eight loading docks with direct access to the arena floor make load-in/load-out a breeze.

The venue so far hosts one gymnastics event annually, the United States Association of Independent Gymnastics Regional Championship, held each May over Memorial Day weekend and drawing more than 3,000 youth participants and fans.

“Youth sporting events are our prime focus and strategy in marketing the Convention Center and introducing new visitors to The Wildwoods,” says Ben Rose, director of marketing and public relations for the Greater Wildwoods Tourism Authority. “Many of the participants and their families have never been to the Wildwoods and are introduced to the many attractors that have made the Wildwoods the number one family destination at the New Jersey Shore.”

Wilson County, Tennessee

Wilson County, TN
Wilson County, TN | Photo courtesy of Farm Bureau Expo Center

For gymnastics events, the main facility is the Farm Bureau Exposition Center (formerly known as Wilson County Expo), located at the James E. Ward Agricultural Center. The municipally owned, 275-acre venue is nestled in the rolling hills of Middle Tennessee and encompasses three flexible-use properties that host more than one million visitors annually for both indoor and outdoor events.

The 79,000-square-foot Farm Bureau Exposition Center provides a 45,000-square-foot Main Hall, a 7,000-square-foot South Hall and a 7,000-square-foot Main Corridor. Other facilities that can accommodate gymnastics competitions include the Made in Tennessee Building (located on the James E. Ward Agricultural Center grounds), Tuckers Gap event venue, Capitol Theatre, and The Mill at Lebanon.

“Meet Authority holds two gymnastics events per year with the Farm Bureau Expo, and we [typically] hold two to four events depending on the year,” says Gayle Hellemn, director of marketing and events, Farm Bureau Exposition Center. “We are always open to identifying new events where our space is an ideal match. Our overall objective is to create opportunities for all ages to utilize our spaces.”

Hellemn reports that the latest gymnastics event drew more than 7,000 attendees to the Farm Bureau Expo. “We are an excellent fit for gymnastics, dance and cheer regional events,” she says. SDM

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