When Milwaukee’s Fiserv Forum hosted the 2020 American Cup, an internationally televised event that is part of the International Gymnastics Federation’s all-around World Cup Series and an Olympic Trails qualifying event, there was no way of knowing that right after that March event, everything would grind to a halt.
But for that one glorious day, the eyes of the gymnastics universe were on Milwaukee, and Brew City soaked it up.
“Any opportunity that our city has to host a national or international event that brings television exposure will lead to future events,” says Marissa Werner, director of SPORTS Milwaukee, championed by VISIT Milwaukee. “People were watching who did not previously know about our city or know that we have a venue like the Fiserv Forum. You’re going to see an interest from both athletes and spectators, because of the success of our professional teams in tandem with our world-class facilities, that is making Milwaukee a contender in attracting more competitions, including gymnastics.”
Make no mistake: Gymnastics and Milwaukee have had a long relationship. The Midwest Twisters, a long-running gymnastics club in the area, hosts regional events, and the city previously welcomed the USA Gymnastics Championships at the Wisconsin Center convention facility and the now-demolished Bradley Center arena. But when the 17,000-seat Fiserv Forum debuted in downtown Milwaukee (it’s now also home to the 2021 NBA Champion Milwaukee Bucks), the arena opened doors for the city to host the American Cup and other high-profile gymnastics events.
These events included the “Gold Over America Tour,” starring Simone Biles, the sport’s most-decorated Olympic gymnast, and other big names including 2016 Gold and Silver medalist Laurie Hernandez and eight-time U.S. National Team member Jordan Chiles. With stops in 35 cities, the tour will land in Milwaukee in October — almost 17 months to the day after 2020 American Cup.
Meanwhile, the Wisconsin Center, which hosts gymnastics events not large enough for the Fiserv Forum, is undergoing a major expansion that will more than double its exposition hall square footage (from 112,000 to 300,000) by 2024. “It’s going to create a venue that is unlike any other in the Midwest, and it will allow us to host multiple events at the same time,” Werner says. “Plus, it will give opportunities to event owners and rights holders to expand the number of gymnasts or clubs that they currently host.”
Werner and her peers at convention and visitors’ bureaus around the country also are confident that gymnastics will receive a post-Summer Olympics boost and help sports tourism destinations continue to bounce back.
“Olympic years always provide great exposure to the sport,” says Linda McMahon, director of group sales for the Daytona Beach Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Excitement builds from the local gym level and tends to carry over into hosting more competitions.”
“We’re all looking to 2022 and beyond,” Werner adds.
Here are more gymnastics destinations to consider in your rotation.
Cedar Rapids, Iowa
The Alliant Energy PowerHouse in Cedar Rapids hosted the USA Gymnastics Xcel Regionals in April, safely welcoming thousands of participants and spectators over four days. Social distancing, vigorous sanitization protocols and other safety measures were in place, according to Erik Hudson, director of sports tourism for Cedar Rapids Tourism. All activities were held in accordance with a 44-page reopening plan created by local tourism officials that included a mask mandate, seating in every other row and a limited number of people on the floor.
For gymnastics events, the PowerHouse arena and an adjacent 60,000-square-foot exhibition hall can house four complete sets of gymnastics apparatuses, thanks to expansion and renovation work that was completed in 2013. “It really allows us to be flexible with the setup for events of all sizes,” Hudson says. “The idea was to have an all-encompassing facility for sports, entertainment and conferences. The Xcel Regionals, for example, also included a coaches symposium.”
Gymnastics is popular in Cedar Rapids, with several clubs helping bring regional and national events to the city. Hudson hopes to add college gymnastics championships to that list, too. “We’re hosting at least one large gymnastics event at the Alliant Energy PowerHouse per year, and we hope to expand on that as we move forward,” he says.
Fort Worth, Texas
The gymnastics community in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex area is a strong one, too, with no fewer than 87 gymnastics clubs, according to Jason Sands, director of the Fort Worth Sports Commission; those help to attract high-profile competitions to Dickies Arena, one of the area’s largest venues.
In June, the city welcomed the U.S. Gymnastics Championships to Dickies Arena, an event rescheduled from June 2020. The facility opened in 2019 and boasts 14,000 seats with versatile configuration possibilities, and Sands says USA Gymnastics officials were “pleasantly surprised” by the venue’s gymnastics-hosting capabilities.
Dickies Arena also hosted the 2021 NCAA National Collegiate Women’s Gymnastics Championship in April, held in partnership with Texas Women’s University; that event will remain in Fort Worth through at least 2026.
Fort Worth also plays frequent host to the USA Gymnastics Region III Trampoline & Tumbling Championships, held at the Fort Worth Convention Center. The venue also is home to the Metroplex Challenge, an annual gymnastics competition in February that includes youth and college components. This year’s event featured an additional 55,000 square feet of competition space.
“Word is starting to get out that we’ve got a great arena in an unbelievable city where the community embraces sporting events,” Sands says. “Those are three of the main things you need for a successful event, and those are here in Fort Worth.”
State College, Pennsylvania
Not only is State College home to Penn State University, it also is the site of the new Nittany Valley Sports Centre, which recently completed an expansion project and is “very accommodating” to gymnastics,” according to Danielle Vincenti, sports sales manager for the Happy Valley Adventure Bureau.
The facility offers 52,000 square feet of hard-court space that can be converted to use for gymnastics and is located less than five miles from the Penn State Campus and downtown State College. Nittany Valley Sports Centre hosted the USA Gymnastics Region 7 Level 8 Regional Championships in June; the Pennsylvania State Xcel Championships in late May and early June; and the Centre Elite Gymnastics Classic in January.
Additionally, the Penn State Rec Hall, home to the university’s men’s and women’s gymnastics teams, boasts competition space with seating for 6,500 spectators, making it ideal for college championship events. In fact, the Rec Hall will host the 2022 Big Ten Men’s Gymnastics Championships and the 2023 NCAA Men’s Gymnastics Championships, as well as several upcoming NCAA regional events.
Hickory, North Carolina
Located about one hour northwest of Charlotte, North Carolina, Hickory is a hotbed for gymnastics competitions in the southeast, according to Sarah Davis, director of sales and marketing for the Hickory Metro Convention Center & Visitors Bureau. The community has hosted dozens of gymnastics events over the years, both at the Hickory Metro Convention Center and other facilities.
The convention center is the city’s premier gymnastics venue and features more than 84,000 square feet of usable space. It will host the Camp for a Cause Invitational 2021 in November, which is a Laurie Hernandez Champions Challenge qualifier event.
“We love hosting all sporting events, but gymnastics events are wonderful because they bring in families and friends to not only compete but explore our area,” Davis says, adding that the CVB works closely with local gymnastics organizations. “We feel that the relationship we have built and maintained with local gyms has helped us to better understand the gymnastics community, so that we can better serve our visitors.”
Placer Valley, California
Placer Valley — which is located at the base of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Northern California and includes the cities of Lincoln, Rocklin and Roseville — will have hosted at least three high-profile gymnastics events by year’s end.
The 2021 Byers Gymnastics Rose Gold Classic took place in February at the Roebbelen Center in Roseville and the 2021 Surf Classic will happen in October at the Capital Sports Center in McClellan Park. Both events were hosted by the Byers Roseville Gymnastics Center, a highly regarded club that helps bring events to the area, according to Donna Dotti, director of sales for Placer Valley Tourism.
The other major gymnastics event in 2021 was the Level 3-10 and Xcel SoCal State meet hosted by American Gymnastics Academy/Poway Gymnastics in March at the Roebbelen Center, which features 108,250 square feet of hardwood space.
“The SoCal event would ordinarily be hosted in Southern California, but due to COVID-19, [event organizers] could not find a venue that would allow the event to occur and therefore took advantage of the Roebbelen Center,” Dotti says. “We implemented guidelines and safety protocols to maintain and ensure a safe environment for all.”
Florida’s Gymnastics Landings
Despite reliable warm weather that makes Florida an obvious destination for outdoor sporting events, several cities in the state also focus on hosting indoor gymnastics competitions.
Daytona Beach offers 23 miles of Atlantic Ocean coastline mere steps from the Ocean Center convention complex, site of most large-scale gymnastics events in the city. With a 42,146-square-foot arena, the venue hosted the 2021 USA Gymnastics Development Program National Championships in May. For the first time, the event previously known as the Junior Olympic National Championships featured both men’s and women’s artistic gymnastics divisions competing simultaneously in a shared venue.
Ocean Center also hosted the AAU Team Florida Spring Gymnastics State Championships in May and the Gasparilla Classic in February. That event is typically held in Tampa but was relocated to Daytona Beach for this year, according to Linda McMahon (who had previously noted the “Olympics bounce” effect, as children strive to emulate what they see on TV). Also worth noting: Daytona has hosted competitive cheer and dance events.
Orlando, located about an hour inland and south of Daytona Beach, offers several venues suitable for gymnastics events. They include the Amway Center, Addition Financial Arena, the Orange County Convention Center and ESPN Wide World of Sports, as well as Osceola Heritage Park in Kissimmee and The Big House in Tavares.
Several Orlando-area resorts also feature ballrooms and convention space that can host gymnastics events, according to Jason Siegel, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Orlando Sports Commission. “Our region has a strong history of hosting youth and amateur gymnastics events at our world-class venues,” he says.
In June, Orlando welcomed the first annual National Gymnastics Festival at the Rosen Shingle Creek Resort. Hosted by the National Gymnastics Association, the event included national championships for men and women, plus an education and wellness summit and a suppliers’ marketplace. Siegel adds that his team is working on multiple bids to bring several other national and regional gymnastics events to the Orlando region.
Head southeast from Orlando toward the coast, and you’ll find Palm Beach County, where the Palm Beach CountyConvention Center in West Palm Beach offers 100,000 square feet of open floor space ideal for gymnastics competitions. Additionally, event owners can take advantage of the Expo Center and smaller Concourse Buildings at the South Florida Fairgrounds, also in West Palm Beach. Collectively, they provide 128,000 square feet of usable floor space.
The Palm Beach area has hosted the AAU Florida Gold Championships, the USA Gymnastics Stars & Stripes Trampoline & Tumbling Championships and the Tim Rand Invite, named after the late USA Gymnastics Region 8 Hall of Fame coach.
“That event is a top competition that attracts over 1,500 gymnasts, 500 coaches, and 2,250 spectators from 18 states and several foreign countries,” says Austin Lee, marketing, communications and public relations manager for the Palm Beach County Sports Commission, adding that “our sports commission has the tools and resources to make any event a perfect 10.” SDM