Inside Events: USA Masters Games | Sports Destination Management

Inside Events: USA Masters Games

Dec 11, 2019 | By: Mary Helen Sprecher
An Interview with Eric Engelbarts II, CSEE, CTA, Executive Director, Meijer State Games of Michigan

The USA Masters Games is a major Olympic-style, multi-sport event for athletes ages 21 and over. The 2016 USA Masters Games were held in Greensboro, North Carolina from July 21-31 and featured over 2,500 adult athletes who competed in 24 sports ranging from badminton and baseball to water polo and weightlifting. (A full listing of sports can be found here.)

Participants in 2016 came from 10 countries on six continents and 45 states. The second USA Masters Games were held in 2017 in San Diego, where 2,000 athletes from nine countries on five continents and 38 states took part. The third edition of the Games will take place in Grand Rapids, Michigan from June 19 to 28, 2020.

The USAMG lives up to its reputation as the National Sports Festival for Adult Athletes by combining a national-championships-level competitive experience in each sport with a fun and entertaining environment conducive to meeting and socializing with fellow adult athletes from across the U.S. and other countries of the world.

Those interested in learning more about hosting the 2022 Games can find an RFP here.

Eric Engelbarts, Executive Director of the State Games of Michigan, spoke about to SDM about being the host city for the Games in Grand Rapids, and to overlaying them with the State Games of Michigan, which begin a few days before the USA Masters Games.

All images courtesy of the USA Masters Games
Sports Destination Management: The 2020 USA Masters Games – and the Summer State Games of Michigan – are about six months away. Is this the first time Michigan has hosted the Masters Games?

Eric Engelbarts: Yes, although we obviously host the State Games of Michigan every year in the winter and spring, and in 2017, we hosted the State Games of America.

SDM: Is USA Masters Games a sports event for seniors?

Engelbarts: It’s for ages 21 and up right now. Something that makes this unique is the fact that we went to bid on the event with a plan of layering it over the State Games of Michigan, which are held close to the same time. In 2017, the event rode on the shirt tails of the California State Games so there is precedent.

SDM: That should help attendance within the state.

Engelbarts: We usually have great attendance with Michigan athletes. We’ll host the state games first and then allow the athletes who are coming from across the country and around the world to participate as well. All of our registrants age 21 and up are also registered for the USA Masters Games.

SDM: Are there any sports that you expect to be particularly big?

Engelbarts: Hockey is one of our bigger sports; it’s very well established around here. Also, here locally, our pickleball event is so big that we’ve been running 400 athletes over the course of four days. Our tennis is stable but pickleball is going like wildfire.

SDM: Do the sports offered fluctuate?

Engelbarts: They do. The sports that being added to the 2020 USA Masters Games include bowling, disc golf, golf, rowing, rugby, shooting sports, taekwondo, water skiing and wrestling. The ones that are being replaced, mainly because we do not offer them in the State Games of Michigan, are baseball, powerlifting, soccer, softball, table tennis, triathlon, water polo and weightlifting. We dropped racquetball about three years ago.

SDM: Any trends you’ve noticed pertaining to the sports that are added at the State Games level?

Engelbarts: We try to concentrate on individual sports. We’ve found it’s easier to get participants because they don’t have to pull together a team and then have everyone be able to travel.

SDM: Do you see a lot of senior athletes – meaning people over the age of 50 – taking part?

Engelbarts: Just in Michigan, particularly with the senior demographic, we’re seeing that people are looking for more opportunities to compete. Also, if they’re retired, they have more chances to travel. We’ve seen record numbers in that age group.

SDM: Are you already taking registration for the USA Masters Games?

Engelbarts: We’ve opened registration for the first wave of sports. Information is live on our website. We’re marketing it by encouraging people to start planning their trip now so they can get ready to experience Grand Rapids. We want to make it as much about the destination as it is about the event itself because with these athletes, you’re not just getting the participants, you’re getting the family market as well. If Dad or Grandpa is coming to compete, you’ll get a lot of the younger people who want to cheer them on and then go sightseeing and have fun.

SDM: Any idea about room nights or economic impact?

Engelbarts: From history, we know we’ll see about $1.9 million in direct visitor spending, and maybe 675 hotel room nights.

SDM: Any idea what USA Masters Games is looking for when it comes to hosting?

Engelbarts: There are certain things that a multisport event looks for: the track record for hosting other multisport events, the quality of venues, access by air and car, places to host opening and closing ceremonies – and in this case, an existing Summer Games so that the event can be built into it.

SDM: Has the USA Masters Games ever not been held in conjunction with state games?

Engelbarts: In 2016, it was a standalone event, but it has been combined with state games since then.

SDM: Do you have a sense of how big the event will be?

Engelbarts: Obviously, we have the history to look at, which tells us a lot. It’s been really exciting to see the progression of the event.

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