Combat sports remain popular among kids and adults. These sports include wrestling, mixed martial arts (MMA), karate and boxing, and extend to the unfamiliar and exotic (Capoeira war dancing, anyone?) While the numbers of kids participating in martial arts has dropped since peaking in 2009, another combat sport – wrestling – is trending upward.
According to Pete Isais, events director at USA Wrestling, participation in wrestling at the national and regional levels for school-aged children was at 35,362 in 2017, representing an eight percent uptick from 2016. Year-to-date in 2018, the growth is at 1.5 percent. Isais said much of the growth is coming from a non-traditional group.
“We have experienced an eight to 10 percent increase for female athletes in the last three years,” he said. “Currently, we are at an all-time high in total membership with 200,724 (up one percent) athletes and 32,862 (up two percent) coaches.”
Wrestling, like most combat sports, tends to be a strong team travel sport.
“With more and more clubs specializing in wrestling, travel teams continue to increase, and more teams are willing to travel to events,” said Isais.
So what makes a good combat sports facility to attract combat events? The ideal facility has floor space for a large number of mats, seating, high-speed Internet and big-screen technology. Additional areas are needed for meetings and weigh-ins. Following are some top U.S. destinations for combat sports.
Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Cedar Rapids is a mecca for youth wrestling. It has hosted the NCAA Division II Wrestling Championships twice, the Division III Wrestling Championships six times, and the Iowa USA Wrestling Youth Super State Championships every year since 2015, when it drew 4,000 people.
“The U.S. Cellular Complex works well for combat and other sporting events,” said Mary Lee Malmberg, director of sports tourism for GO Cedar Rapids. “It contains a 6,800-seat arena connected to a 28,754-square-foot exhibit hall and 267-room DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel.”
The adjacent convention center can be set up as a warm-up area. Spectator seating is in balconies. The complex is located near a walkable downtown with restaurants and shopping. According to Malmberg, both the CVB and the U.S. Cellular Complex are willing to help with planning and offer housing assistance, community liaisons, welcomes, organizing and marketing.
“Cedar Rapids is a sports-loving town,” she said. “Youth and teens and can enjoy trampoline parks, indoor go-kart racing, vintage arcade games or outdoor activities. For adult attendees, there are breweries, wineries and distilleries as well as a trendy culinary scene.”
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Colorado Springs identifies itself as the epicenter of sporting activity, and it’s no stranger to combat sports. The city has hosted USA Boxing’s National Championships and Senior National Championships, USA Taekwondo’s Rocky Mountain Open/National Team Championships, National Team Qualifiers and Olympic Team Trials and USA Karate’s All American Classic Tournament. This year, the city will see the return of the U.S. Taekwondo Center’s Annual US Open Taekwondo Hanmadang.
Recently, Colorado Springs and USA Boxing hosted the AMBC Youth Men’s and Women’s American Boxing Championships with competitors from 20 countries. The event is the final qualifying opportunity for the 2018 Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires.
Available venues include the Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center, the U.S. Air Force Academy, convention hotels and the Colorado Springs City Auditorium. For off-hours, Colorado Springs has no shortage of outdoor activities at Pike’s Peak, Garden of the Gods and other areas. Nearby is the World Figure Skating Hall of Fame and the Peterson Air and Space Museum. The region has over 14,000 hotel rooms and a variety of restaurants, bars and breweries. According to Cheryl McCullough, director of sports and special events, the Colorado Springs CVB is a one-stop shop for event services.
“Our services are free and include assistance with venue selection, housing, site inspections, customized referrals to community services and resources, PR, offsite activities and dining recommendations and promotional materials,” she said proudly.
Deschutes Fair & Expo Center, Redmond, Oregon
The Deschutes County Fair and Expo Center is a 132-acre site located in the heart of Oregon. The facility includes multi-purpose buildings designed on a circular plot of landscaped grounds. Deschutes Expo’s First Interstate Bank Center’s 40,000-square-foot arena floor is well-suited to wrestling and other combat sports tournaments and features space for up to 16 mats, according to Roxia Thornton Todoroff, sales and marketing director for Deschutes Expo. The facility, 15 minutes from the City of Bend, also offers more than 100 acres of parking.
“Deschutes Fair & Expo is the home of Oregon’s largest annual wrestling tournament, the Oregon Wrestling Classic,” said Thornton Todoroff. “We also host the Oregon Wrestling Association’s State Wrestling Championships, and 27,000 attendees come in for the Oregon Wrestling Classic over the four-day event.”
Thanks to the popularity of the region for outdoor activities, there are ample hotel rooms (nearly 7,500), restaurants and shopping. Located in the desert east of the Cascade Mountain Range, the region enjoys the dry powder for world-class snow sports at Mt. Bachelor and Hoodoo, including skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling and sled dog adventures.
The venue takes care of all onsite needs for event promoters and works closely with the region’s visitor association and CVB for lodging and recreation options.
Greenville, South Carolina
Greenville has hosted the USA Karate National Championships and Team Trials three times: in 2010, 2013 and 2017. The 2017 event set a record for the largest number of athletes.
“You could say that the third time is a charm,” said Robin Wright, senior sales manager for VisitGreenvilleSC. “We will continue to welcome USA Karate back time and time again. We are currently pursuing other ‘alike’ tournaments on a regional, state, national and international level. We have some supportive local clubs that would support not only karate, but boxing, wrestling and many other mat sport competitions.”
Greenville offers several venues for combat sports, including the Bon Secours Wellness Arena, the TD Convention Center and Timmons Arena at Furman University. All venues have been recently renovated and are in close proximately to hotels and restaurants.
VisitGreenvilleSC’s convention services department offers event planners a wide range of services, including help with promotion, community resources, collateral materials, signage, activities and tour information, dining discounts and pre-site visits. Nearby activities for off-hours include the Greenville Zoo, Lake Jocassee tours, Blue Ridge tours and the BMW Performance Driving School.
Johnstown’s Bulldog Arena is known for boxing, though it hosts other combat sports. It has hosted amateur and professional boxing events in recent years, including a Golden Gloves event. The Bulldog Brawl features both amateur and professional boxers and includes youth athletes. Professional wrestling events are a huge draw for the venue. The arena also hosts the Joe Goss Karate Invitational Tournament. The Bulldog Arena, which holds up to 1,300 people, has a concession stand, ticket counter, warm-up area, PA system, stages and other amenities. The facility can also provide a professional boxing ring, a ring doctor, seating and tables, DJ services and catering.
As an alternative venue, there is the Frank J. Pasquerilla Conference Center, which hosts boxing and other combat sport events that attract up to 900 people.
“The Greater Johnstown/Cambria County CVB provides services to incoming events that draw visitors to our community,” said Nicole L. Waligora, sports travel program coordinator for the CVB. “In the past, we’ve assisted with room blocks and securing hotel rates, welcome bags, hospitality tables, sponsorships and more.”
Close by both facilities are numerous restaurants, breweries and wineries. The region is also accessible: the Johnstown Metropolitan Statistical Area is located within 500 miles of over half of the U.S. population.
Missouri State Fair, Sedalia, Missouri
With over 20 buildings, the Missouri State Fairgrounds offer event promoters a variety of options. Most buildings are open-concept and have high ceilings to accommodate combat sports. The fairgrounds have hosted youth wrestling events sponsored by the Missouri USA Wrestling group. In addition, MMA events have been organized by a local gym. MMA events have attracted as many as 300 spectators, and youth wrestling events have brought in 2,000 people.
“The Mathewson Exhibition Center is great for the MO USA Wrestling (short for Missouri USA Wrestling) event, as it has over 20,000 square feet of mat space and 3,200 permanent seats surrounding the arena,” said Courtney Fry, off-season events manager at Missouri State Fair. “With concession stands, shower and locker rooms and an easy-to-access parking lot, the facility meets the needs of many different events.”
While the Missouri State Fairgrounds primarily offers space for rent, they do have some equipment available, including tables, chairs, risers, pipe and drape and more, and managers will work closely with local vendors to provide additional services. Local attractions include the City of Sedalia, with restaurants, family activities and cultural offerings. Both Kansas City and St. Louis are within easy drives, and the region features 1,100 miles of lake shoreline for outdoor activities.
Rocky Mount Event Center, North Carolina
North Carolina’s 165,00-square-foot Rocky Mount Event Center broke ground in 2016 and is scheduled to open late this year. The multi-use facility will be configurable for many different events, including combat sports, in an arena that holds over 4,000 spectators. The Event Center’s 75,000 square feet of court space can accommodate 32 mats for combat sports. The facility also has four locker rooms, team meeting rooms, full concessions and a two-sided observation deck.
“We will definitely be looking to attract combat sports,” said Ashley Pittman, marketing manager for Rocky Mount Event Center. “We’re a multi-use facility that’s looking to attract all indoor sports.”
Once it’s completed, the event center will feature a family entertainment center called Gameday Adventure and Arcade, a 15,000-square-foot area that includes themed rock climbing, an aerial ropes course, a soft play area for young children, an arcade and a concession area.
“The idea around Gameday Adventure and Arcade is to have an activity for everyone,” said Pittman. “For those families traveling out of town for a tournament, the center will provide entertainment for siblings who are not participating and give teams activities while they’re waiting for their next round.”
The area offers 2,500 hotel rooms, over 100 dining options and entertainment activities. It’s a flexible drive-in location situated off I-95 and US 64. The adjacent Rocky Mount Sports Complex has a park and trails for outdoor activities, a spray park and pool, as well as a golf course.
Wildwoods, New Jersey
The Greater Wildwoods Tourism Improvement and Development Authority (GWTIDA) oversees the tourism economy of three municipalities: the Borough of Wildwood Crest, the City of Wildwood and the City of North Wildwood. The area hosts a variety of combat events for both youth and adults in the Wildwoods Convention Center; these include wrestling, grappling and MMA, professional and amateur boxing and WWE wrestling.
This summer, the destination will feature events for the WWE Live Summer Slam Heatwave Tour and the Battle at the Beach Grappling Tournament, an MMA event. In November, it will become home to the “War at the Jersey Shore” National Youth Wrestling Championships. Early 2019 will bring the Wildwoods National Wrestling Team Duals.
Wildwoods’ multi-use facility can be adapted for all combat sports, from a 7,500-seat arena for boxing, MMA and professional events to large wrestling tournaments in the 75,000-square-foot exhibit hall, which accommodates 28 mats. It also features a 12,000-square-foot ballroom with space for 16 additional mats.
As a resort destination, Wildwoods has no shortage of activities for off-hours, according to Ben Rose, director of marketing and PR for the GWTIDA.
“Outside the Wildwoods Convention Center is five miles of white sand beaches, a 38-block boardwalk with three amusement piers with over 100 rides and attractions, three beachfront waterparks, arcades, shops and over 300 restaurants,” he said.
The GWTIDA offers event organizers set-up and break-down services, electrical, sound and video services, housing bureau assistance, marketing support, security and concessions and catering. SDM
Deschutes Fair & Expo:
We Really Can Do It All
Deschutes Fair & Expo hosts a variety of sporting events, from the premier wrestling tournament in North America, the Oregon Wrestling Classic, recognized with a 2017 Champions of Economic Impact in Sports Tourism Award, USA BMX’s Great Northwest Nationals, Western Middle School Basketball Association’s Oregon Basketball Championships, Oregon & Northwest High School’s Equestrian Championships, National Pro Rodeo (NPRA) Deschutes Rodeo and Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association’s (PRCA) High Desert Stampede to the next site of USA Climbing’s Bouldering Nationals contracted for 2019 and 2020. Our slogan is “We Really Can Do It All.”