Wide open spaces, miles of agriculture and thousands of lakes. Not to mention numerous legendary sports venues.
The Midwest has something for everyone and has long been a hotbed for sports. Some of the nation's most notable athletes and coaches hail from this region, such as the NBA's Larry Bird, Notre Dame's Lou Holtz, NASCAR's Tony Stewart, NFL's Tony Romo, and countless names from the baseball fields.
No stranger to sports, this area boasts several NBA, NFL, NHL and Major League Baseball teams. Dotted throughout the region are the Chicago Bulls, Detroit Tigers and Minnesota Twins. The Green Bay Packers brag about the die hard Cheeseheads rooting for them at Lambeau Field. The Minnesota Wild recently joined the professional ranks in the NHL. And the Indy 500 is no longer the only race in town with the Kansas Speedway attracting thousands of NASCAR fans annually since 2001.
Known as the "Breadbasket of the Nation," this area is ideal for any sports event planner looking to accommodate athletes and their families from all over the country. Centrally located, getting to the Midwest is a piece of cake.
Getting There is Half the Fun
There are numerous destinations throughout the Midwest that are easily accessible. Topeka, Kansas is one of those locations. The capital city of Kansas has been hosting notable sporting events for years,and their location has something to do with it.
"We always like to think it's because we're in the middle of everything," said Linda Briden, secretary/treasurer of the Topeka-Shawnee County Sports Council. "You can drive or fly into the area and be within one hour of a major city."
"We are affordable with our hotels and there is plenty of great dining at reasonable prices,"she continued. "You can bring the whole family for a three- to four-day tournament without having to take a loan out."
Renee Seifert, executive director of the Greater Grand Island Nebraska Sports Council agrees. "We are actually pretty centrally located in the United States," Seifert explains. "There is easy access from all points, east, west, north and south and it makes us an easy venue for national competitions. Even within the Midwest, we are a great location."
According to Kelly Filla, sales manager for the St. Cloud Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, location is key. "St Cloud is centrally located, we have major freeways that go right by (us)," she explained. "We also have a lot of the amenities that a lot of larger towns also have, but with a small town feel. There are so many unique things here in St. Cloud and it's so easy to get here."
Venues to Choose
Location and accessibility aren't the only factors driving the sports market to the Midwest, the emergence of multi-use facilities popping up throughout the region are making this area an easy choice for event planners.
"We are known for putting a lot of attention on our facilities," said William Knox of the Hamilton County Sports Authority in Indiana. "We always try to focus on quality facilities and if they are of the caliber to host national events, they are also great for smaller events."
In 2009, Hamilton County hosted the U.S. Senior Open Golf Tournament, Continental Amateur Baseball Association World Series and Indiana Senior Games, to name a few.
"We try to market our tournament facilities (to sports event planners)," continued Knox. "We expect our facilities to hold themselves to a higher caliber because we don't want to sell something that doesn't meet their expectations."
The same can be said of the Heartland Events Center in Grand Island, Nebraska which opened in 2007. This facility offers 6,000 permanent seats and can hold 7,500 with floor seating. "It's a great medium-sized event venue," said Seifert. "Every conceivable sport that you can imagine can be done in that venue."
And it has.
So far, the Heartland Events Center has hosted Golden Glove Boxing, Cheer & Dance Competitions, Basketball, Wrestling, Bull Riding and most recently, the Super Retrievers Series.
But their staple is the Heartland Public Shooting Park. "We're still relatively new to the sports market," explained Seifert. "Our shooting sports are one of our niche markets that is still developing.The facilities lend themselves to that particular niche market."
That facility has bode well for the Greater Grand Island area; they were recently named the new home of the Nebraska State Fair and will be developing several new venues in anticipation of the event. "We will have an indoor arena, more for agricultural events, as well as another 70,000 square feet of sporting event venues by the summer of 2010."
Topeka has the Kansas Expocentre, Sunflower Soccer Complex and its crowned jewel, the Hummer Sports Park (which will be receiving a $2 million expansion to the Natatorium, adding a press and observation deck between the warmup/cooldown pool and the Olympic size competition pool. There will also be additional locker rooms and an expanded warmup/cooldown area.)
But that's not all the Hummer Sports Park hosts, "We are excited about a new event that we came up with - The Kanza Bowl," said Briden. "The event is a Division 2 Football Game on December 5th that will involve the MIAA Football Conference and the Lone Star Conference. We are hoping for 4,500 fans for our inaugural event."
St. Cloud University is one of the biggest supporters of bringing in tournaments to the area. Paired with the community support and smaller venues, St. Cloud has seen a surge in events.
"We have a great relationship with St. Cloud State University," said Filla. "It's the main facility to host the events. We are known for our excellent sports facilities and the experience we have in hosting a multi-sport event."
"I really think the accessibility of St. Cloud, the great partnerships of the facilities, CVB, business and hotels make us a great destination," Filla continued. "It makes it easier to work in a community where everyone sees the opportunities in hosting a sporting event."
St. Cloud also partners with Minnesota Sports, a conglomerate of Convention & Visitors Bureaus that are focusing on the sports market and bringing attention to Minnesota. "Helping the state's economy is important," said Filla. "We do realize the importance of sporting events."
Being a county run organization isn't the only way to attract the sports market according to the Hamilton County Sports Authority. They understand the importance of partnering with state and regional organizations, "We also partner with the Indiana Sports Organization," said Knox. "We are able to market the state of Indiana to the sports market as well as the Indianapolis region."
What is on the Horizon?
The Midwest has always embraced the sports market. The Super Bowl was held in Detroit in 2006. More recently, both Detroit and St. Louis hosted the Men's and Women's NCAA Final Four in 2009. In June of 2008, the NCAA and College World Series of Omaha, Inc announced a new 2-year contract - keeping the CWS in Omaha until 2035.
To continue attracting sports events planners, the Midwest not only brings in new venues and hotels, but focuses on improving existing facilities as well.
The National Hockey Center in St. Cloud is undergoing renovations and slated to be complete by 2012. That same year, the Civic Center is also completing expansion to allow for more events.
The Capital Building in Topeka is getting a much needed facelift with $200 million in renovations and restoration, providing another scene for families during downtime.
Westfield, Indiana is part of Hamilton County and has taken the initiative to create a sports complex that will have a major impact on the entire area, "Their goal is to become the Family Sports Capital of America," said Knox. "It will be a 250 acre complex that will house numerous sports fields. That project will change the landscape regionally for us; it will really boost the economy of the whole area."
Hotels are popping up everywhere, Best Western Inn and Suites, Holiday Inn, and Fairfield Inn and Suites has committed Grand Island giving them an additional 2,000 rooms in the immediate area. The Hampton Inn and Suites and Homewood Suites both opened in October 2009 in St. Cloud.
Past, Present and Future
Legendary sports traditions from the past.
Growth and partnerships for the present.
Progress and development in the future.
The Midwest is a 'can't miss' destination for any sports event.