The motto of USA Gymnastics, the sport’s national governing body, is “Begin Here. Go Anywhere.” While the slogan is inspiring for gymnasts, the truth is event owners know there’s both an art and a science to finding locations for competitions in their sport.
With regional events that can attract hundreds of participants and thousands of attendees, organizers are looking for certainty that the locations they choose have the infrastructure and commitment to support events and an appeal for participants and their families. And with six disciplines: women’s gymnastics, men’s gymnastics, trampoline and tumbling, rhythmic gymnastics, acrobatic gymnastics and Gymnastics For All), and approximately 4,000 nationally sanctioned events each year, it’s essential to find the right cities and the right venues.
In general, the wish list includes a modern, multi-purpose facility located close to family entertainment, availability of a variety of lodging options and proximity to national or regional airports as well as safe downtown walking areas with shopping and restaurants. Here are some jumping-off points.
Jim Mahon, VP of marketing and brand management for the Akron/Summit CVB and Sports Alliance of Greater Akron, credits Steve Glenn of Perfect Balance Athletics with creating the lion’s share of momentum for gymnastics events in Akron.
“Steve is growing the reach and caliber of the events he’s organizing in Greater Akron,” he says. “He’s also leveraging venues aside from his own with events being hosted at the recently reclaimed and reimagined Goodyear Theater and Hall complex and expansive structures on the Summit County Fairgrounds campus.”
The new Goodyear Theater and Hall is built around the historic Goodyear building in downtown Akron. The theater seats 1,458 attendees, and the hall offers seating space for 3,500. Akron, once a manufacturing hub now in the process of diversifying and raising its high-tech profile, offers a choice of family activities in the downtown area (the Akron Zoo and the Akron Art Museum) as well as outdoor activities in Cascade Valley Park and Canal Park.
In 2016, Akron hosted the USAG’s Monkey Madness Gymnastics Meet at the Perfect Balance Athletics Complex. In 2017, the Summit County Fairgrounds was the chosen site for the USAG Blizzard Beach Invitational. The largest event, the Ohio USA Gymnastics’ 2017 XCEL State Championships, was held at the Goodyear facility. Mahon emphasizes that other facility options exist, including the John S. Knight Convention Center and The University of Akron, two venues that are actively pursuing gymnastics events.
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Colorado Springs, nicknamed “The Olympic City,” holds a special place in American gymnastics. It’s the home of USA Gymnastics’ Olympic Training Center as well as the Colorado Aerials, a club which annually hosts the Pikes Peak Cup at the Broadmoor World Resort. The event attracts rising stars of the junior and senior high school level nationwide. The 2018 event, held in February, is expected to attract 1,300 athletes to the 59,000-square-foot Broadmoor, with two multi-purpose gyms as well as meeting and function rooms.
Colorado Springs has often played host to USA Gymnastics’ Region 8 championships as well as the Colorado State Championships. In addition to the Broadmoor resort, downtown Colorado Springs offers the Broadmoor World Arena, an 8,000 seat multi-purpose arena, and the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs’ 1,200-seat Gallogly Events Center.
The presence of the Olympic Training Center is a big draw for gymnastics, according to Cheryl McCullough, director of sports and special events for the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors’ Bureau. The Center, just east of downtown Colorado Springs, has residence halls, meal facilities, sports training, nutrition and medical resources as well.
“With the multitude of amateur, grassroots events that we host every year, we are very familiar with the process of taking an event to the next level by being the event organizer’s go-to person on the ground and providing an experience that creates lasting memories for the athletes,” says McCullough. “We understand the drill and are well aware of what to expect and what to take into consideration that may not have ever crossed the organizers’ minds.”
Davis County, Utah
Davis County, north of Salt Lake City and close to its airport, offers the benefits of a large urban area and the appeal of outdoor activities in areas of natural beauty. The region has played host to five USAG-sanctioned events in recent years: Rocky Mountain Tumbling in 2015, Edge Sports Tumbling and Cheer in 2016 and 2017, Wasatch Trampoline and Tumbling in January of this year, and the 2017 Trampoline and Tumbling State Championships in April.
The region’s venue, the Legacy Events Center in Farmington, is spread over two buildings and has permanent seating for 2,200 as well as 38,000 square feet of floor space for competitions and ancillary events. According to Mike Moake, marketing and events coordinator for the Legacy Events Center, all gymnastics competitions hosted in the county have averaged between 600 and 700 participants and 1,500 to 2,000 spectators.
“We have space not only for competitions, but also for collocated expos, trade shows or other events,” says Moake, who notes the region also has 1,800 hotel rooms at 20 hotels and more than 400 restaurants.
Erie is home to the second-largest gymnastics competition in Pennsylvania, the annual co-ed Stars and Stripes Gymnastics Invitational, now in its sixteenth year. The charity event, founded after September 11, 2001, to raise money for fire, police and rescue organizations, is a highlight of Erie’s sports calendar. In 2017, it attracted more than 1,700 athletes and 4,200 attendees, and its host, Erie Gymnastics Center, donated more than $14,000 to two local volunteer fire departments.
Additionally, the Erie Sports Commission has twice hosted the Xcel State Gymnastics Championships, also in conjunction with Erie Gymnastics Center. In May 2015, the event attracted 400 participants, and in 2017, it grew to more than 700 athletes and 1,800 spectators. Both events use the 100,000-square-foot multi-use Bayfront Convention Center. For larger events, the Erie Insurance Arena has seating for 6,900. Both facilities are within an easy drive of 4,500 hotel rooms as well as Erie International Airport. The vast Lake Erie Waterfront features water sports and hiking, as well as casinos and water parks.
“Erie is only two hours away from Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Buffalo; its central location between these three cities makes it perfect for travelers,” says Emily Biddle, communications manager for the sports commission. “In addition, ESC offers each of our events volunteer assistance, including local operators, connecting events to a local charity, and general volunteer help.”
Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania
The Lehigh Valley area is home to Parkettes National Gymnastics Center. Located in Allentown, the 750-seat facility provides training to 1,200 local students and has played host to large regional events, including the three-day Parkette Invitational. Nearly 1,200 gymnasts compete from all over the U.S, Canada and abroad. Parkettes also hosts the Brian Babcock Invitational each year, and the January 2018 event is expected to attract about 900 competitors from around the country.
Lehigh Valley boasts more than 6,000 hotel rooms, a number of colonial American history sites, canal boat tours, a vibrant live music scene and outdoor activities such as kayaking on the Lehigh or Delaware Rivers or hiking and biking on miles of Appalachian trails.
Discover Lehigh Valley (DLV) is available to help event planners with welcome packages and public relations. Alicia Quinn, strategic brand manager for DLV, notes the area is particularly compelling for its accessibility.
“Our location in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast Region of the U.S. allows us access to millions of families, teams, coaches, organizations, tournament directors and rights holders who are involved with sports,” she says. “Discover Lehigh Valley Sports is very fortunate in that our hospitality infrastructure is tremendous. It has allowed us to keep pace with larger destinations for business in the very competitive sports travel market.”
The Mobile Sports Authority has seen a variety of high-profile gymnastics events in the city, including four major USA gymnastics events: the Alabama State Compulsory Championships in 2014, USA Gymnastics Region 8 championships for levels 7 and 8 in 2015, USA Gymnastics Alabama optional and XCEL in March of this year, and USA Gymnastics Region 8 for level 6, 7 and 8 in April. Both the 2014 event and the 2017 USA Gymnastics Region 8 event attracted more than 1,000 competitors and more than 5,000 attendees.
Mobile has even bigger ambitions, according to Danny Corte, executive director of Mobile Sports Authority.
“We want to bet on both the Easterns and the Nationals,” he says. “We’ve already been awarded the Alabama Optional XCEL Championship, which will take place in March of 2018.”
While previous events have all been held at the Mobile Convention Center, a 1,500-seat venue, the XCEL Championship will be held at the 100,000-square-foot Mobile Civic Center, located in downtown Mobile on the river with seating for more than 10,000. The city has 1,400 hotel rooms within walking distance of the two event forums and more than 7,000 within a short drive.
“With our sub-tropical year-round climate by being located on the northern Gulf of Mexico coast as well as enjoying some good ole southern hospitality, Mobile County has a lot to offer the guests who make the trip,” says Corte.
Each winter, Sevierville plays host to the Smoky Mountain Gymnastics Vacation Classic at the Sevierville Convention Center, a 240,000-square-foot facility designed to host competitive events, entertainment and trade shows. The region boasts more than 10,000 hotel rooms, and the Sevierville Convention Center itself is collocated with the Wilderness at the Smokies Water Park Resort. The region is also home to the Sevierville Civic Center, an 11,000-square-foot multi-purpose meeting facility with portable seating for up to 300 people.
Sevierville, located 30 minutes from Knoxville’s McGhee Tyson Airport, is nestled in the foothills of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, one of the U.S.’s most visited parks, and is also convenient to Dollywood, NASCAR SpeedPark and the Tennessee Museum of Aviation.
“Sevierville is a great destination for sporting events,” says Amanda Marr, director of marketing and communications for the Sevierville Chamber of Commerce. “We’re within a day’s drive of over half the nation’s population, so it’s easy to get here, and we’re a value destination with reasonably priced lodging and attractions. A tournament here can also serve as a vacation for the whole family.”
Snohomish County, Washington
In 2012 and 2016, Snohomish County hosted the Pacific Rim Gymnastics Championships, an international competition that brought in competitors from nations that border the Pacific. Both years, the event attracted over 400 competitors and, in 2012, over 20,000 attendees during three days of competition. The events were held at the Xfinity Arena, an NHL-size hockey arena that was altered for the Pacific Rim event to hold 7,000 attendees. (The arena also features 5,200 square feet in trade show space and a 13,000-square-foot conference center.) The region has also hosted five state women’s championships since 2014. In 2017, Snohomish County hosted two USA Gymnastics Men’s competitions for Region 2.
Everett is 45 minutes from Seattle’s Sea-Tac International Airport, and offers shopping, museums and restaurants. It’s also in close proximity to outdoor activities on Puget Sound and in the Cascade Mountains. The region’s CVB, the Snohomish County Sports Commission (SCSC), helps find volunteers, secure hotel rates and blocks, promote events and make hotel
information available to attendees.
“Snohomish County’s visibility in the sports tourism industry is helping us attract sporting events to the county,” says Tammy Dunn, sports development director of SCSC. “We have great partnerships throughout our communities, from the facility owners to the local sports organizations and from government to the business community. These partnerships provide us with the opportunity to bring sporting events to communities and ensure the sporting event will be a huge success.” SDM