Cheeseheads and Cornhuskers
Nicknames in sports are commonplace, but the Midwest has some of the better known ones and shows this region's passion for sports.
Comprised of 12 states: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin, this area is home to more than 33 professional sports teams as well as the Big Twelve, Big Ten and Missouri Valley football conferences.
What's Happening? Everything, Everywhere
The Midwest is located smack-dab in the middle of the United States and is no stranger to hosting numerous events. From football to hockey, wrestling to karate, softball to kickball, there’s no event that won’t find a perfect destination and venue in this area.
“I think the biggest thing that most people think is that it’s a regional destination,” says Chuck Martin, executive director of the Cape Girardeau Convention & Visitors Bureau. The Cape area in Missouri recently hosted the NCAA Women’s Final Four Division II Championship as well as the American Junior Golf Association tournaments.
But the Midwest is far from a regional stopover. Its many attractions are nationally known, bringing high-profile events to an area rich with Middle America's charm.
Kankakee, Illinois is located just outside Chicago, and has a strong appreciation of its own resources.
“We have the advantage that we are just outside of Chicago,” explains Melissa Nymeyer, marketing manager with the Kankakee County Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Our message is we are affordable and convenient for both athletes and fans. We're a skip, hop and jump from everything that Chicago offers, as well as what we have to offer.”
The Kankakee River, for example, is the annual home of the American Power Boat Association (APBA) Outboard Performance Craft (OPC) National Championship races, where approximately 130 racers in 10 classes will be competing for national recognition.
Just one state over is Missouri, where the city of Saint Joseph not only acts as home to the Kansas City Chiefs Training Camp but recently hosted the NCAA Division II Women’s Elite 8 Basketball Tournament and Women’s Softball Championships.
“We are right along the Missouri River,” explains Lindsay Bernard with the St. Joseph Convention & Visitors Bureau. "We are easy to get to and there is a lot of history and architecture here.”
In Independence, Missouri, the USSSA Girls Fastpitch World Series was held at Adair Park Softball Complex in July with 1,200 athletes in attendance. The Brute adidas Nationals wrestling tournament was held at Independence Events Center in April and hosted over 1,000 athletes from 24 different states.
Go north and you find still other dedicated professionals and excellent facilities. The West Michigan Sports Commission works to bring sporting events to its area. The 2011 Tae Park World Class Championships in Tae Kwon Do were held in Grand Rapids in November and several USTA national tennis tournaments for juniors are slated for 2012.
Then there's Missouri, known as the Show Me state. This fall, St. Louis hosted the 2011 US Speedskating American Cup at Hardee’s Iceplex and the NCAA Division III Women’s Volleyball Championship at Washington University Field House. The year 2012 looks to be equally busy with events including the USA Cross Country Championships, NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships, NCAA Men’s Basketball Midwest Regional and the 2012 Visa Championships in Women’s Gymnastics.
An impressive events resume is nice but let’s face it, events of this caliber must be held in world class facilities, and those are peppered throughout the Midwest. There are also a number of multi-use facilities being developed, and existing facilities are constantly being upgraded.
The Show Me Center in Cape Girardeau, Missouri is a 32,000 foot multi-purpose venue that seats 7,177 and acts as home to the Southeast Missouri State University men’s and women’s basketball teams. The facility also boasts two indoor soccer and two indoor volleyball courts as well as wrestling arena and portable stage.
Inclement weather doesn’t pose an issue for water sports in Cape Girardeau. The Central Municipal Pool is an Olympic-size aquatic facility that converts to an indoor venue during winter months with an insulated bubble. A.C. Brase Arena and Arena park offer ample options for basketball, volleyball, tennis, rugby and youth baseball and softball.
“I really do think it might be a bit cliché but it fits. We have so many different things, there really is something here for everyone,” says Chuck Martin.
Another Missouri highlight is the Independence Events Center, which opened three years ago to great success. The 131,972-square-foot facility seats 5,800 and has a 75,000-square-foot arena bowl.
“There are close to 100 events that utilize the ice on an annual basis including the Independence Mavericks, the CHL hockey team,” explains Cori Day, tourism director of the Independence Department of Tourism. “The ice really give us our edge. We host every hockey league in the area and have had a big figure skating following. It’s one of those things that once it came online, it became popular pretty quickly.”
The Leafs Ice Center in Elgin, Illinois is a brand-new hockey and skate facility. The center has four sheets of ice, three of which are NFL regulation size and one specifically designed for sled hockey, a sport designed so that athletes with disabilities can play hockey. Sled hockey is one of the most popular sports in the Winter Paralympic Games.
The nearby Elgin Sports Complex boasts 10 lighted softball fields, 10 full-size soccer fields, a BMX track and two sand volleyball courts. “It’s really become a great place for folks to host their tournaments,” says Pete Garlock, director of sales with the Elgin Area Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Then there's Ohio, where the Emory Adams Park in Findlay-Hancock County hosted the Flag City Soccer Classic, drawing 100 teams in its inaugural year. The Marathon Diamond at the University of Findlay is not only home to the Oilers baseball but hosted the Ohio ASA Youth 16 Girls State Tournament which started with 30 teams and has doubled in the past year. The university recently developed the Center for Equine and Pre-Veterinary Sciences facilities which has hosted several equine events and shows.
“I think for a community our size, we have great facilities,” says Angela Crist with the Findlay-Hancock Convention & Visitors Bureau. “We have great facilities and are fortunate that we have a collaborative community that put together a great softball and soccer facility and some other specialty areas.”
Resources and Marketing
Partnerships, advertising and trade shows remain staples in destination selection, and social media is certainly playing a growing role in promoting events, but remaining creative is key.
Sports Illinois is comprised of representatives of the state's convention and visitors bureaus and is funded through the state to present a unified front in promoting the area at trade shows. In 2009, Sports Illinois hosted The Huddle, a small familiarization trip to allow national governing bodies and events rights holders to interact with the Illinois destinations. They expect to host the event again in June 2012.
Greg Mihalich with the Illinois Office of Tourism works closely with Garlock. “Our primary role is to provide the group with resources for sport tourism initiatives that maximize economic opportunities for Illinois communities," says Mihalich. Resources currently offered include marketing platforms, media exposure, website publicity at www.sportsillinois.com and funding assistance for conference sponsorship opportunities.
Findlay-Hancock County works with local government in securing and growing new business. “We were able to help groups with grant offerings and they were able to take those funds and subsidize those top clubs coming to tournament,” explains Crist. “It has proven to be an invaluable tool and we’ve had some really cool special events.”
With ample resources, world class facilities, successful event resumes and community support, choosing the Midwest for your event will make you proud to be an honorary Cornhusker.