Scoring Big With Gymnastics
27 Sep, 2016By: Peter Francesconi
Aly Raisman’s floor routine in Rio wasn’t the only way gymnastics leaped to new heights this summer. USA Gymnastics, the national governing body for the sport, also scored big time.
USA Gymnastics, which selects and trains the U.S. Gymnastics Team for the Olympics and World Championships, actually encompasses six disciplines: Women’s Gymnastics, Men’s Gymnastics, Trampoline and Tumbling, Rhythmic Gymnastics, Acrobatic Gymnastics, and Gymnastics for All. There are more than 174,000 athletes and professionals who are members of USA Gymnastics, with nearly 150,000 registered in competitive programs.
USA Gymnastics divides the country into eight regions, and all of them hold meets that end up sending the top seven gymnasts in various age groups from Regional Championships to the Nationals. In 2017, the women’s U.S. Junior Olympic National Championships will be held at the Indiana Convention Center May 6 and 7 and is expected to showcase more than 675 gymnasts.
“We sanction over 4,000 events a year,” says Ron Galimore, the chief operating officer for USA Gymnastics. “Our national office oversees and runs six to eight high-level, high-volume events every year. For these high-profile events, it really matters where we put them; the market has a lot to do with it. We really like our big events to be in areas that have a lot of gymnastics clubs—there are some areas in the U.S. that really support that level of event well. We also have partners in these areas that we like working with and know what we’re looking for, along with the local engagement that makes it important for the city.”
Some of these large meets can bring upwards of 1,600 competitors, Galimore says. “We have to look at the hotel rooms in the area, what features does the arena have, how high is the ceiling, do the seats push back, what sort of technology do they have inside the building. Do they have features and amenities that allow us to present the sport at a high level? Most of the arenas that we’ll put our premier events in have sports lighting, then our TV partners will often bring in special lights to light the equipment for television.”
For other events, adds Galimore, “We have state and regional chairs partner with CVBs and sports commissions to allow other areas to host events, maybe below our big televised events, that may be regionally-based but then grow to a national event.
“When I talk to a CVB or sports commission, I always ask, what do you have? Then let’s see what fits what we need for that event,” he says. After figuring out the details and whether a gymnastics event will work, “then we can focus on other pieces, things that go beyond the event and spill out into the streets of that city. And that really makes rights-holders feel good about being in that location.”
For cities looking to bring a gymnastics event to their location, but may not quite have all the goods to do so, Galimore says he and his team will often make suggestions. “A city may come to us and say, ‘We want this level of event.’ If we can’t find an event that fits, we’ll tell them what they may have to do to get the type of event they’re looking for, to take them to that level.”
While Anaheim, California, is synonymous with Disneyland, the city is increasingly becoming a sports and entertainment destination.
In a star-studded ceremony in March, USA Gymnastics and Sports Anaheim (a division of Visit Anaheim) announced that the 2017 P&G Gymnastics Championships will visit Anaheim for the first time. The four-day competition will take place next August in the Honda Center while the USA Gymnastics National Congress and Trade Show runs simultaneously at the Anaheim Convention Center.
“This is a big deal for us,” says Visit Anaheim Senior Vice President of Marketing Charles Harris, noting that the city’s 22.5 million visitors last year represent a 3.5 percent increase over 2014. “It’s also an opportunity to tell our story to those who don’t know about all the amazing things happening here.”
According to Harris, those include 27 development projects; a $1 billion investment by Disneyland for new park attractions and infrastructure improvements; a 200,000-square-foot expansion at the Anaheim Convention Center totaling 1.8 million square feet, 1 million of which is exhibit space; ongoing downtown revitalization; and an emerging food and craft beer scene.
“Between our pro and collegiate teams, and all the top athletes who train here, how can you not love being in Anaheim and Orange County?” Harris asks. “It’s an ideal destination that sells itself.”
Greensboro, North Carolina
With more than 9,500 hotel rooms, 135 attractions and 500 restaurants, the city of Greensboro, North Carolina, is a family-friendly destination with a proven track record of hosting gymnastics events from grassroots to Olympic-caliber.
The 2015 USA Gymnastics Championships showcased more than 1,600 Junior Olympic and elite gymnasts in acrobatic gymnastics, rhythmic gymnastics, trampoline and tumbling. The event took place at the 22,000-seat Greensboro Coliseum Complex, which features an adjacent 150,000 square feet of exhibit space within its Special Events Center.
In 2014, the Nastia Liukin Cup set an all-time attendance record in Greensboro, and the AT&T American Cup—the country’s premiere international event—recorded the highest attendance in a non-Olympic year since 2000. In addition, the city annually hosts the Greensboro Gymnastics Invitational, which has more than doubled in size to 1,500 athletes since its inaugural year in 2010.
According to Brian Ambuehl, sports sales manager for the Greensboro Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, the city’s success in hosting sports events is due to the combination of great facilities, hospitality, community support and location convenient to an international airport, three major interstates and trains. “There’s a real passion for the sport of gymnastics in Greensboro,” he says.
The XL Center in Hartford, Conn., did more than host a new USA Gymnastics combination event, the Secret U.S. Classic and Men’s P&G Gymnastics Championships, this past June. It also broke a one-day attendance record for USA Gymnastics in Hartford, with 11,771 fans during the Saturday night session of the three-day competition.
According to Robert Murdock, director of sports marketing for the Connecticut Convention & Sports Bureau, the impact went beyond $1.5 million in business sales and $50,000 in local taxes. Hosting major gymnastics events for the first time in an Olympic year also generated priceless publicity.
“Having national television broadcasters say, ‘Live from Hartford!’ was great exposure for us and our sponsors,” he says. “We look at USA Gymnastics and the City of Hartford as our partners. It’s a great opportunity for everybody to work together to be successful.”
To generate awareness and excitement for the new event, a USA Gymnastics Ninja Challenge was held nearby for ages 6 to 11 using AAI gymnastics equipment. Past events have featured the Capital City’s Taste of the Championship, VISA Fan Fest and Pathway of Champions linking the XL Center, Old State House and the 540,000-square-foot Connecticut Convention Center showcasing the USA Gymnastics National Congress and Trade Show.
The goal, according to Murdock, is to unify efforts by businesses, institutions and nonprofit organizations to market all of the state’s venues, hotels, attractions and conventions. “If they’re happy and successful,” Murdock says, “then we are, too.”
Greater Lansing, Michigan
With all the attention being paid to gymnastics recently, there probably has never been a better time for the Greater Lansing Sports Authority to announce it would be the host of one of USA Gymnastics’ three Women’s Junior Olympic Championship events, the 2017 Junior Olympic Level 9 Eastern Championships.
Slated for April 28-30 at the Summit Sports and Ice Complex, the event will encompass four regions bringing nearly 500 athletes to the community for three days of top competition. The Twistars USA will be the partnering local club for the event, something USA Gymnastics points out is an essential aspect of hosting.
“The Greater Lansing gymnastics community is proud to be a part of this high-profile tournament,” said John Geddert, President and Head Coach of Twistars Gymnastics Club. “Twistars, the Summit and the GLSA will work together to deliver a quality event for USA Gymnastics and the top gymnasts in the country.”
“Gymnastics is huge in Lubbock, and support for the sport in the community is big,” says Scott Harrison, the sports director for Visit Lubbock. In fact, in October the Kellogg’s Tour of Gymnastics Champions returns to Lubbock, featuring Olympians Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas, Aly Raisman, Nastia Liukin, Jordyn Wieber and more. The event will be at the 15,000-seat United Supermarkets Arena, which is on the campus of Texas Tech University. “It will be sold out,” Harrison adds. (The area is also building a new gymnastics facility.)
But one of the main venues for gymnastics events is the Lubbock Memorial Civic Center. “The more space you can get that’s column-free and wide open, and the closer the fans are to the arena floor, the better it is,” Harrison says. It’s also about easy access to the site for competitors, and how easy it is to set up and take down equipment, which are supplied by the local clubs. “Most of the events we go after, the local organizer is the one that basically runs it, and we’re the facilitator.”
Lubbock hosts a USA Gymnastics Regional event every January, too. “We’ve started what’s called the Texas Games,” Harrison says. “It originated locally, but now it’s just grown and grown.”
It’s easy to see why so many gymnastics events are booked year after year in Sevierville, Tennessee. Kelly DeBord, marketing, sales and PR team member at the Sevierville Convention Center, says it best: “We are tourism.”
While the city is best known for the majestic Great Smoky Mountains National Park as its backdrop, visitors also enjoy the Tanger Five Oaks Outlet Center, NASCAR Speedpark, Tennessee Museum of Aviation, Thunder Road Distillery and Dollywood theme park honoring Sevierville as the birthplace of Dolly Parton.
The Sevierville Convention Center, which hosted the 2016 USA Gymnastics for All Nationals Championships & GymFest, is a popular destination in its own right. Featuring two exhibit halls with a terrace overlooking a golf club and two 18-hole championship courses, the center exceeds 184,000 square feet—all on one level—that can be configured for practice, performance and exhibit areas.
Easily accessible from the airport and highway, the facility also boasts 1,500 parking spaces, a 10-bay loading dock and a distinctive water fountain, which frames countless fan photos.
“It’s all about turning an event into a vacation with memories that last a lifetime,” DeBord says. “That’s Sevierville.”
Virginia Beach, Virginia
Most of the large gymnastics events in the Virginia Beach area find a home at the Virginia Beach Convention Center.
“We have three very large gymnastics organizations here—Ex Calibre, Gym Strada and Ocean Tumblers,” says Nancy Helman, director of sports marketing for the Virginia Beach CVB. “They all partner with us to host large events. Having this local base of sports-specific expertise really makes our gymnastics event so much better. There’s so much support in the community, and we’re able to bring in a lot of volunteers to help, and a ton of spectators.”
In fact, when the Virginia Beach Convention Center first opened in 2005, the first thing the facility hosted was USA Gymnastics’ 2005 U.S. Classic. The venue has also played host to the AAU Junior Olympic Games and Gymnastics, and recently the 2016 USA Gymnastics Level 9 Easterns. In January, the VBCC will host the 2017 National Judges Cup.
The VBCC has 150,000 square feet of column-free space, which “we can turn into just about anything,” Helman says. “With our flexible space and seating, and being just six blocks from the oceanfront in a very active and fun area, it’s been really successful hosting youth events.”