In the digital age, peeling young people away from screen-based entertainment and communications can be a challenge. Combat sports are a great way for parents and educators to encourage young people to interact in person, focus, gain self-discipline, reduce stress and stay fit.
The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) School Participation Survey has reported growth in several combat sports. Boys’ high school wrestling participation grew for the first time in seven years, while girls’ wrestling set new records with annual growth of 13.5 percent from 2017.
According to Pete Isais, Events Director at USA Wrestling, promotion of the sport is about providing young people with opportunities.
“We rely heavily on our USA Wrestling state leadership to promote the positive impact wrestling has on building responsibility, integrity, dedication, honesty, accountability and respect,” said Isais.
Combat sports such as wrestling, karate, boxing and mixed martial arts have unique needs when it comes to event forums, but customizable floor space is the most critical. Following are some locations experienced in hosting combat sports events.
Atlantic City, New Jersey
Atlantic City has a storied past when it comes to boxing, martial arts and MMA.
“Our venues are flexible and right on the ocean and Boardwalk,” said Daniel Gallagher, Director of Sports Sales for the Atlantic City Sports Commission. “It’s a demographic that’s primed for Atlantic City. Mixed martial arts is a great fit because it spans multiple disciplines. And Atlantic City has a lot of boxing history. We’ve hosted the greats. We call it ‘the Stage of Atlantic City.’”
In May, Atlantic City’s convention center hosted the Amerikick Internationals karate event for adult and youth participants, which attracted 3,000 competitors from all over the world. In April 2018, Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall hosted UFC Fight Night: Barboza vs. Lee, which attracted over 9,000 spectators. The same venue also hosted Shields vs. Hammer women’s boxing, which brought in about 3,000 spectators. In July and August, the Ocean Casino Resort will host Professional Fighters Leagues 4, 5 and 6.
There are a variety of venues available, including the 486,000-square-foot Convention Center and the 14,500-seat Boardwalk Hall. There are four properties with 2,000 hotel rooms onsite, and an additional 14,000 rooms in the wider area. Outside of the event schedule, there is a nearly limitless number of things to do in Atlantic City, from ocean sports to amusement parks to casinos. Event planners can find ample assistance from Atlantic City Sports.
“We have a financial incentive to help bring events to Atlantic City to offset costs, especially first-time events,” said Gallagher. “We have a great welcome program for event planners and attendees. We always want to make attendees feel welcome.”
Cedar Point Sports Center, Sandusky, Ohio
Cedar Point Sports Center is a multi-venue complex in the final stages of a major upgrade. The indoor facility, which will be complete in December, has 85,000 square feet that can be configured for most indoor sports, as well as a 75,000-square-foot championship court space. The latter will offer increased seating capacity and upscale amenities like digital scoreboards and a video wall to provide a “big game” effect. Both spaces feature mezzanine-level viewing.
“We’re wide open to host martial arts, and that’s part of what’s in our business plan,” said Steve St. John, General Manager of Cedar Point Sports Center.
Onsite, there is a family entertainment center for the off-hours or non-competing family members. The center will feature rock climbing, three Ninja courses and a full concession stand.
“Cedar Point is a destination in and of itself,” said St. John. “It’s on Lake Erie. It’s a rollercoaster destination with a large amusement park, lake attractions and water parks.”
Nearby are over 8,000 hotel rooms in the market area alone, and restaurants for all levels of dining. The Lake Erie Shores and Islands CVB has a wide variety of resources as well as connections with local clubs and leagues to help source volunteers. Located 45 minutes between Toledo and Cleveland, it’s an easy drive-in destination off the Ohio Turnpike and accessible from Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
Ocean Center, Daytona Beach, Florida
Often, beach destinations are just as much of an attraction as the venue itself. Ocean Center, which features more than 200,000 square feet of space for events, has the bonus of being just steps from Daytona Beach — as well as its many amenities — making it perfect for youth sports. In addition to its arena, which is perfect for competitions and spectators, Ocean Center has space for expos, making it a desirable location for sponsors and suppliers looking to market their products, and for organizers seeking an additional revenue stream.
Previously, Ocean Center has hosted the USA Wrestling Cadet National Duals in June of 2014, an event that brought in about 1,500 people and occupied 3,000 room nights.
“It’s a really unique venue and it’s ideal for a destination event,” said Tim Buckley, director of sales and marketing for Daytona Beach Ocean Center.
The facility has hosted mixed martial events, as well. Buckley noted that the venue has formed a strong relationship with a local MMA promoter and events have been drawing between 1,000 and 1,500 spectators per event.
Daytona Beach has around 12,000 hotel rooms, and the CVB can perform a variety of services for event planners.
Deschutes Fair and Expo Center, Redmond, Oregon
The Deschutes County Fair and Expo Center is an indoor and outdoor sporting destination. Located in Central Oregon, the site includes multi-purpose buildings designed in a circular pattern on landscaped grounds. For combat sports events, the Deschutes Expo’s First Interstate Bank Center’s 40,000-square-foot arena floor is ideal for wrestling, karate, mixed martial arts and other events. There is space for up to 16 mats. In addition, the on-site Three Sisters Conference Center has space for weigh-in rooms, as well as banquets and meetings.
According to Roxia Thornton Todoroff, sales and marketing director for Deschutes Expo, the venue is the home of multiple wrestling events.
“We’ve hosted the Oregon Middle School State Championships, Rumble at the Rock Wrestling Tournaments, as well as one of the largest wrestling tournaments in North America, The Oregon Wrestling Classic,” she said. “In addition to wrestling, we have hosted Golden Glove Boxing and mixed martial arts, and we’re planning a future Jiu Jitsu summit.”
The facility is located 15 minutes from Bend, Oregon, and features more than 100 acres of parking, a full-service RV park and customized on-site catering and concessions. Nearby are ample outdoor sports and nature activities for the off-hours, and approximately 7,000 hotel rooms.
Luzerne County, Pennsylvania
“Luzerne County is something of a wrestling mecca,” said Theodore Wampole, Jr., executive director of the Luzerne County CVB. “We have two Division III schools, Wilkes University and King’s College, and they both have wrestling programs, which is really unique.”
There are several venues available. The 8,000+ seat Mohegan Sun Arena in Wilkes-Barre has played host to the Junior Wrestling State Championships. It’s a multi-surface venue with additional space in the adjoining convention center. Also nearby is the The Scandlon Gymnasium on the campus of King’s College, which hosts the Mawa Regionals youth wrestling event for ages seven and up. It’s a two-day event that draws about 1,000 wrestlers and 2,000 spectators per day. A third venue is the Kingston Armory, which has hosted PIAA District Two championships in the past.
Luzerne County is located near the intersection of Interstates 80 and 81, with I-84 and I-380 not far away. The region has 4,000 hotel rooms, and a variety of restaurant and shopping areas in downtown Wilkes-Barre, Hazleton and Pittston. In the fall and winter months, the county is home to the AHL affiliate of the Pittsburgh Penguins, and nearby are hiking trails, bike trails, whitewater rafting and fishing as well as historical landmarks.
The local CVB can help event planners with nearly all services.
“We can help event planners with housing accommodations, but also putting them in touch with different, respective athletic organizations to get them volunteers for events,” said Wampole.
Mid-America Center – Council Bluffs, Iowa
Iowa’s Mid-America Center has hosted a variety of MMA, karate, boxing and wrestling events, including a Bellator MMA fight in 2014. The venue features a 30,000-square-foot arena as well as a 24,500-square-foot convention center. Some of the facility’s larger combat sports events have attracted up to 3,000 attendees.
The facility features flexible, customizable seating for any event from 500 to 8,000 participants and attendees, as well as free parking. It can accommodate all manner of audio/visual and broadcasting equipment.
The Mid-America Center is in Council Bluffs, Iowa, just five minutes from downtown Omaha, Nebraska. The venue is easily accessed by car along interstates I-80 and I-29, and Omaha’s Eppley Airfield is 10 minutes away. There are hotels, restaurants and after-hours activity nearby.
“Many of our guests frequent the local casinos, the Omaha Zoo and nearby shopping and dining,” said Robert McCracken, marketing entertainment manager for the Mid-America Center. “We can help with production, set-up, promotion and detailing for the event.”
The Tulsa Sports Commission has hosted many wrestling events, including the USA Wrestling Junior National Duals, Big 12 Wrestling Championship and World of Wrestling events. Events attract as many as 2,500 participants and up to 20,000 spectators.
“We have the Big 12 Conference Championship Wrestling scheduled through to 2024,” said Mark Hargis, National Sales and Development Manager for Tulsa Sports Commission. “USA Wrestling is scheduled through 2020 and we are working on trying to extend this partnership out further.”
The recently updated BOK Center is a 19,199-seat multi-purpose arena and the primary indoor sports and event venue in Tulsa. When the USA Wrestling Junior National Duals event is held, the 102,600-square-foot space is packed with mats.
For event planners, the Tulsa Sports Commission offers a variety of services.
“Our organization has an operations team, so we are a full-service event management organization,” said Hargis. “We help with everything from set-up, teardown, hospitality, volunteer management, hotel block management and event management.”
For family activities, the Gathering Place is the newest park in Tulsa. Centered on the east bank of the Arkansas River south of the downtown area, it offers 100 acres of activity space, including playgrounds, a boathouse, a splash playground, a great lawn, outdoor sports courts, a skate park, a garden and numerous walking trails.
Woodside Sports Complex, Mauston, Wisconsin
The Woodside Sports Complex in Mauston, Wisconsin, is the largest all turf, multi-sport facility in the Midwest. In addition to outdoor facilities, it features a 90,000-square-foot indoor multi-purpose dome. To date, the dome has hosted UFC mixed martial arts events, USA Wrestling, Greco-Roman and freestyle wrestling, and some events have seen 2,000 participants and 3,000 spectators. In June, the Woodside Sports Complex played host to the ASICS Kids Freestyle and Greco-Roman Nationals. The column-free facility is ideal for combat sports, as many mats can be laid down in the same space.
“With a 90,000-square-foot facility with 70-foot ceilings, the possibilities are endless,” said Hector Alcantar, Dome Director.
Mauston is located 70 miles northwest of the state capital, Madison. For off-hours, there are a variety of water parks and other activities in the Wisconsin Dells area, as well as 8,000 hotel rooms and a wide choice of dining experiences. The facility is an easy drive-in location with its proximity to interstate highways. The complex also offers event planning assistance.
“We provide setup and teardown, ticket takers, emergency personal, parking attendants and more,” said Alcantar. SDM
Pocatello’s MEC: Ready for Your Event
Pocatello, Idaho’s own Mountain View Events Center (MEC) has 28,000 square feet of open span area that can be configured to meet your needs.
Wrestling tournaments. Boxing tournaments. Volleyball tournaments. Gymnastics meets. The MEC was designed to be the perfect location for your athletic event. That’s why we’re seeing organizers book their events a full year in advance – once you’ve used The MEC, no other place will do.
Southeast Idaho’s newest indoor sports and activities center is here to accommodate you!
• Three full basketball courts
• Six volleyball courts
• Open span area can be configured to meet your needs
• Locker rooms
• Separate room for officials, food and drink
• Use of private conference room as operations center for tournament organizer
• Athletic trainer staffing events (when available)
• Climate controlled
• MEC sets up everything – scoreboards, seating, etc.
• Hotels within walking distance
• Can add a fourth court when available