Northeast: Abundance of Riches
31 Dec, 2012By: Peter Francesconi
When it comes to sports destinations, the Northeast has a lot to offer. The geographic region encompasses the nine states from Maine to Pennsylvania, and includes not only some of the country’s most interesting and vibrant metropolitan areas, but also vast areas of undisturbed nature and incredible beauty.
The Northeast also is home to some of the top sports venues in the country, which bring in all types of sports, for participants at all levels. And while Hurricane Sandy wrought havoc on much of the coastline in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut in October, the area was quickly back in business after the storm.
The Maine Sports Commission was created in February 2012 to promote the state as a four-season destination for sports events. “We’re focusing on sports we think do really well here,” says Kerry Hoey, the executive director of the new sports commission. “Outdoor activities are very big here, and we’re really proud of our natural venues that we can use for events like cycling, running, fishing, boating, kayaking, triathlons and more.”
Maine’s abundant natural resources allow for a wide range of sporting events all year round. In winter, skiing, snowboarding and other winter sports are big, including two premier international biathlon venues. The state also has great hockey facilities. In warmer weather, venues that support baseball, softball, soccer, lacrosse, field hockey and more take center stage.
“I think there’s a lot of interest in coming to Maine, because we haven’t really been out there and asking for the sports travel business before,” adds Barbara Whitten, president of the Portland Convention & Visitors Bureau, who worked to help start the Maine Sports Commission.
Traveling south, Vermont also focuses on its many excellent outdoor spaces. “In winter, we do a lot of high school and college-level ski races and other snow sports,” says Eliza Graves of the Vermont Convention Bureau. There are, of course, several indoor ice arenas—including two in Leddy Park and two at the C. Douglas Cairns Recreation Arena, both in Burlington—so hockey and other skating events can be hosted easily. In April, Vermont hosted the 2012 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championships, at both Cairns Arena and the University of Vermont’s Gutterson Fieldhouse.
USA Triathlon holds events in Vermont, and the Green Mountain State also hosts a number of marathons and challenge races, including a “Tough Mudder” event. Soccer and other field sports are big, too. “There are tons of soccer fields statewide,” Graves says. And, of course, Lake Champlain is a premier destination for fishing events.
The Worcester area in central Massachusetts hosts many types of events, including sports that make use of the DCU Center Arena & Convention Center. “We have a lot of sports in the DCU Arena,” says Bob Murdock of Destination Worcester, “including NCAA basketball and ice hockey, professional bull riding, high school basketball championships, synchronized swimming and more.” Coming up in March is USA Gymnastics, held at the Convention Center. The DCU Center Arena itself can seat nearly 15,000, says Murdock, but it is also flexible enough to handle all sizes of events.
The 25-acre Lake Quinsigamond hosts many rowing and other water sports competitions, including high school, college and national events, such as the New England Rowing Championships and the National Invitational Rowing Championships. In Worcester, Commerce Bank Field at Foley Stadium, which seats 3,500, is home to a number of high school events, including football, field hockey and soccer. There are also major soccer complexes in the area, too. “We’ve also expanded the last few years into more road-racing events,” says Murdock, “and we’d love to do more cycling and triathlon, too.”
Cape Cod, Massachusetts
What happens when a world-renowned destination also happens to have premier sports venues, along with 19,000 hotel rooms and 1,500 restaurants? You get an ideal location that accommodates groups and tournaments of all sizes and budgets. Cape Cod, with 559 miles of coastline, is capable of hosting baseball, softball, soccer, tennis, golf, equestrian, swimming, boating, sailing, volleyball, boxing, triathlons, road racing, hockey, figure skating, curling and more.
“We have many types of fields in the 15 towns of Cape Cod,” says Patti Lloyd of the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce. Cape Cod boasts the premier NCAA-sanctioned summer baseball league in the country—the Cape Cod Baseball League. In addition, the region is home to the New England Intercollegiate Golf Championship, the annual Figawi Sailboat Race, Falmouth Road Race and more. The 105,000-square-foot Hyannis Youth & Community Center offers two NHL-size rinks, a 12,500-square-foot wood-floor gymnasium, volleyball courts and more. New facilities include the 49,000-square-foot Falmouth Ice Arena, with 1-1/2 ice surfaces, 11 locker rooms and dedicated figure skating room.
Connecticut Convention Center
Overlooking the Connecticut River in downtown Hartford is the state-of-the-art Connecticut Convention Center, an ideal location for indoor sporting events. “We’ve handled volleyball, cheerleading, fencing, boxing events and more,” says the center’s Anissa Ladd. The award-winning convention center, which opened in 2005, offers 140,000 square feet of exhibit space and is connected to the Marriott Hartford Downtown Hotel. It’s the largest convention facility between New York and Boston, and is convenient to reach—four major interstate highways converge on Hartford, and Bradley International Airport is just 15 minutes away.
The convention center also works with nearby venues, too. “USA Gymnastics had its convention here,” says Ladd, “and its competition was held nearby at the XL Center. We work in conjunction with events that take place outside of the building that would need a convention component.” And Ladd is looking to bring in more sports events to the Convention Center. “We’d love to add 3-on-3 basketball or a martial arts event, for instance.”
Binghamton, New York
“We host a huge variety of events in Binghamton,” says Judi Hess of the Greater Binghamton CVB. “And we have a great location here, with affordable first-class accommodations.” The area has seen a lot of softball tournaments, utilizing the four-field BAGSAI Complex along with many other fields, including three indoor and two outdoor fields at the Greater Binghamton Sports Complex, the largest indoor sports facility in the Northeast.
Other sports and events that Binghamton hosts include ice hockey, USA Wrestling, soccer, basketball, lacrosse, tennis, cycling, golf, hockey and more. Binghamton University recently unveiled new softball and baseball fields and upgraded its tennis facilities. There also are facilities for field sports at local high schools, many of which have upgraded to turf fields.
“With all the professional events we’ve done, we’ve developed a great volunteer pool, and our community really rallies behind sports events,” says Hess.
Buffalo, New York
Farther west, the city of Buffalo is bringing in all types of events. “We’re a sports-driven town, from amateur to professional,” says Chuck Giglio, director of sport sales for the Buffalo Niagara Sports Commission. “Our community wraps its arms around sports at all levels. And the way we service events sets us apart from others.”
Hockey is big—there are a number of rinks available, including the Northtown Center at Amherst Recreation Complex, which features three NHL rinks and an Olympic rink, and has played host to multiple USA Hockey National Championships. In summer, soccer, softball and baseball are big; there are numerous parks and complexes that offer multiple fields and excellent amenities, including the seven-field Sunshine Park and the seven-field Amherst Audubon Recreation Complex. Buffalo also is a big destination for swimming events, including regional and national competition. One of the premier aquatic venues is the Burt Flickinger Center Natatorium at Erie Community College, which was built for the World University Games.
Long Island, New York
Despite being slammed by Hurricane Sandy in October, Jennifer Rothman of the Long Island CVB & Sports Commission says it hasn’t slowed the area down when it comes to sports event planning and hosting in Nassau and Suffolk counties.
In fact, just a few weeks after the hurricane, the 49-acre Mitchel Athletic Complex in Nassau hosted the USA Track and Field–Long Island Junior Olympics Championships. Mitchel has a multipurpose turf stadium that can seat 10,000 and a nine-lane 400-meter synthetic track. The 930-acre Eisenhower Park has three 18-hole golf courses and 17 ball fields, along with the Nassau County Aquatic Center, which has hosted premier swimming and diving events, including Big East and ECAC competition.
Suffolk County has a number of parks that can accommodate baseball, soccer and other field events, including the 6,000-seat Bethpage Ball Park, which is the home of the Long Island Ducks of the Atlantic League. The U.S. Open Golf Championships has come to the area numerous times; at the five-course Bethpage State Park and at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club. In June, the women’s U.S. Open is set for Sebonack Golf Club in Southampton.
“We also use facilities that people may not be aware of, including our universities and colleges,” says Rothman. Hofstra University is the largest, with a gymnasium that holds 5,000 and a football stadium that can hold 13,000 fans. “Often, event owners prefer that because they don’t have to pay the union fees often associated with a convention center.”
Meadowlands/Liberty, New Jersey
New Jersey also was hit hard by Hurricane Sandy, but Judy Ross, the director of the Meadowlands Liberty Convention and Visitors Bureau in the northern part of the state, says the area is definitely open for business. “We’re targeting the sports travel market,” she says. “It’s definitely more of a focus for us.” When we talked to Ross in early November, the CVB was preparing to relaunch its updated website.
The Meadowlands/Liberty area has many larger facilities which accommodate professional sports. There’s also the 61,000-square-foot Meadowlands Exposition Center in Secaucus. “But we also have many other areas and outdoor fields well-suited for youth field events, such as soccer,” Ross says. One of the newest facilities is the Lyndhurst Recreation Center, and the Ice House in Hackensack offers four indoor, NHL-regulation ice rinks.
“In addition to connecting sports event to venues, we help events with all types of services,” says Ross, “including marketing assistance, accommodations, transportation, and more.”