Sports event planners know it takes more than one “wow” factor to make them deem a sports venue “outstanding.” Truly outstanding sports venues are the result of a confluence of disparate factors that affect everyone — the athletes, the spectators and the organizers, including the budget mavens.
While some may dispute that statement, saying the choice of venue really lies primarily in the hands of those who control the budget/money, the reality is the value for the money will earn the venue an outstanding rating and produce the most sway in the hearts and minds of the venue location decision makers.
Planners looking for an outstanding venue often take into consideration simple things like settings that are inspiring or are known to attract a large number of spectators, whether it is because of the venue’s reputation/history in the sports world or more concrete things like its storied architecture.
The venue’s surroundings — including the region’s climate, and the "welcome" or enthusiasm with which the surrounding community greets its events — will impress event planners. “Down-time” options, i.e., culture, shopping, activities, also carry considerable weight.
Likewise, a venue is bound to gain points as 'outstanding' if it is close to transportation — air and ground — and has plenty of hotels and food outlets appropriate to the demographics of the event’s participants and spectators.
Of course, the venue itself must sport outstanding qualities — is the staff professional and accommodating, is the facility clean, have safety concerns been addressed, is there adequate parking, does it have the necessary seating capacity for spectators, and is spectator seating comfortable and inviting?
Then there are the obvious factors: does it meet the standards and specs for the individual sport’s needs, i.e., sports surfaces, field, track, ceiling height if indoors, the latest technologies, loudspeakers, lighting, changing facilities , showers, rest rooms, etc., and are they reasonably modern or new?
Sports event planners need more than a checklist of what constitutes an outstanding venue, however — they need to know where to find the spots close to home or away from home. The good news is throughout the country there are many really terrific sports venues, and even better, the ones featured here have provided a snapshot of their “wow” factors and are among those you will certainly deem outstanding.
Butler County, Ohio
Corwin M. Nixon Aquatic Center
In Ohio, people refer to the state’s Butler County as “The BC” and they’ll tell you to “Get to The BC” and find one of Ohio’s most exceptional aquatic facilities: the Corwin M. Nixon Aquatic Center, located on the campus of Miami University (MU) in Oxford, Ohio.
Home to the MU RedHawks aquatic sports, this world-class facility boasts a separate 25-meter diving well containing one-, five-, seven- and 10-meter platforms, in addition to an eight-lane, 50-meter main pool.
Ample seating is available for more than 750 and the center includes multiple areas for meetings, dry land activities, men’s and women’s locker rooms and hospitality, making the Corwin M. Nixon Aquatic Center an exceptional host for events.
The facility has hosted not only local meets and competitions, but has also welcomed many prestigious organizations and events. These include USA Swimming, USA Diving and USA Synchronized Swimming, Mid-American Conference Championships, Ohio State events and NCAA Diving. For more information, visit www.GetToTheBC.com.
The Elizabethtown Sports Park
The Elizabethtown Sports Park gates have opened! This world-class, tournament-quality venue in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, spans 160 acres and includes 25 total sports fields.
Features include 12 diamonds, nine natural grass sports fields, two full-size synthetic fields and a Miracle Field. The park is designed for baseball, softball, soccer, lacrosse, football, field hockey, disc golf, cross-country — the sky is the limit.
The grounds include large pavilions, tournament director meeting spaces, official locker rooms, family restrooms, six full-service concession operations, a three-mile walking/jogging path, a Wi-Fi tower and four playgrounds with cool water misters.
The diamonds have a professional look and feel with warning tracks, bullpens, brick dugouts with helmet boxes, wireless scoreboards and covered seating. With technology playing a big role in the future of the travel sports market, this park is equipped to live-stream games on the Internet from every field simultaneously.
Elizabethtown is family-friendly, convenient and full of charm. Located only 45 minutes south of Louisville and just two hours north of Nashville, the park is five minutes from I-65. For more information, visit www.elizabethtownsportspark.com.
Eau Claire, Wisconsin
Eau Claire, Wisconsin, is home to Carson Park – a multi-sport outdoor facility including a 5,000-seat football stadium, an historic 3,800-seat baseball stadium, a 2,500-seat softball field and an 18-court horseshoe facility along with full-service concessions, media/press box areas, easy-access parking, children’s play areas and ample athlete/official locker rooms.
Carson Park Baseball Stadium has been home to Eau Claire baseball for over 75 years. The stadium hosted professional baseball for the Eau Claire Bears and Eau Claire Braves from 1937-1962. Many future major league players got their start in Eau Claire, including Hank Aaron, Joe Torre and Bob Uecker.
In 1994, Hank Aaron Plaza was dedicated and serves as a gathering area for fans during pre- and post-game celebrations.
Gelein Field has been noted as one of the finest softball facilities in the Midwest and has hosted numerous national tournaments including the North American Fastpitch Association World Series, the International Softball Congress World Tournament and the NCAA Division III National Championships.
Eau Claire is the “Unexpected Wisconsin” because it offers big-time tournament facilities in the heart of the Midwest. Carson Park is just one example of the fine facilities you can find there. For more information, visit www.visiteauclaire.com.
Grand Island, Nebraska
Heartland Public Shooting Park (HPSP)
The largest public shooting facility in the Midwest is located in the center of Nebraska in Grand Island. The Heartland Public Shooting Park (HPSP) stretches out over 420 prairie acres.
Load up your shotgun shells at one of six lighted skeet ranges, four lighted trap ranges or the 10-station sporting clay range.
The park also offers a variety of rifle and pistol ranges, and its 12 action-shooting bays allow for United States Practical Shooting Association (USPSA) events in action handgun and multi-gun events – as well as Single Action Shooting Society (SASS)-affiliated cowboy action shooting events.
Opportunities for muzzleloading and archery are plentiful, including a top-of-the-line Rinehart 3D archery range.
An activity center with a classroom for 50, a seven-acre lake for retriever training and youth fishing and an RV park round out the HPSP’s facilities.
Sustainable wildlife areas make up over 50 percent of the park, allowing for incredible wildlife viewing. Future developments will include up to 25 miles of equestrian and pedestrian trails.
“We like to say Grand Island is halfway to everywhere in the U.S., which makes Heartland Public Shooting Park convenient for shooting events of all kinds,” said Bill Starkey, superintendent at the park. “And with an army of staffing available, we have the manpower to make any shooting event succeed beyond your wildest expectations.” For more information, visit www.VisitGrandIsland.com.
Greensboro, North Carolina
Greensboro Aquatic Center
Greensboro Coliseum Complex
Greensboro, North Carolina, known as “Tournament Town,” offers exceptional athletic venues, quality and affordable accommodations and recreational opportunities. These all make Greensboro a winning sports city.
The 78,323-square-foot Greensboro Aquatic Center (GAC) is a state-of-the-art facility featuring leading-edge concepts in aquatic design. The GAC brings together all major aquatic sports – competitive swimming and diving, water polo, synchronized swimming and other unique sports all in one venue.
Featuring three bodies of water — a competition pool, warm-up pool and diving well — the GAC has seating capacity for 2,500. The GAC fully meets NCAA and FINA standards and stands adjacent to an abundance of pre-function meeting space and parking at the Greensboro Coliseum Complex.
The Greensboro Coliseum Complex offers 23,500 arena seats, over 150,000 square feet of exhibit and meeting space and a 5,000-seat general setup for basketball, wrestling and other sporting events.
The Irwin Belk Track at North Carolina A&T State University seats 20,000 and is noted for its Mondo surface and IAAF certification. It hosted the USA Track & Field Junior Olympics in 2009.
The Bryan Park Soccer Complex MacPherson Stadium seats 2,000 and features 18 additional fields directly adjacent to it. For more information, visit www.visitgreensboronc.com.
Lake County, Illinois
Lake County, Illinois, is located halfway between Chicago, Illinois, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and is home to the new Waukegan SportsPark.
The park has 14 full-size soccer/football fields (smaller size fields are also available), four lighted softball/baseball fields, championship synthetic lighted turf field, rentals for games and tournaments, parking, playground, on-site concessions and rest room facilities.
The Waukegan SportsPark welcomed over 18,000 participants at recent events including the ECNL National Championships, National Premier League Championship and US Club Soccer National Championships.
Between games participants will enjoy Six Flags Great America and its Hurricane Harbor as well as many other nearby attractions. More than 60 group-friendly hotels and hundreds of affordable dining options make Lake County, Illinois, and the Waukegan SportsPark an ideal sports event location.
The friendly Visitors Bureau staff will help gather proposals, arrange site inspections and provide free information to participants, including maps and visitor guides. For more information, please visit www.sportslakecounty.com.
Max A. Mandel Municipal Golf Course
Opening just this fall, the Max A. Mandel Municipal Golf Course is strategically situated on 270 acres of atypical South Texas brush country land and designed by Landscapes Unlimited in coordination with famed architect Robert Trent Jones II.
It is a par 72 golf course that, according to consultants and lease operators, Foresight Golf, has an excellent balance of drama, playability, risk and reward that will make for exciting golf for players of all skill levels.
The site boasts Rio Grande frontage, with the clubhouse and holes 8, 9, 15 and 16 playing directly alongside and overlooking the river. The man-made contours delicately frame the native vegetation, highlighting the 100-year-old mesquite trees bringing abundant wildlife within ample view of the cart path.
The highly anticipated project opened on October 19, 2012 for public play and will celebrate its grand opening in 2013.
While it is a municipal project, it is projected to be one of the best courses in the entire United States. Experienced golfers who have had the opportunity to experience a sneak-peek round rave about its challenges, scenic vistas and overall playability. For more information, visit www.foresightgolf.net.
KFC Yum! Center
Outstanding venues should be state-of-the-art and that is exactly what they had in mind when building Kentucky’s newest multi-purpose arena, the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Kentucky.
The downtown arena boasts more than 22,000 seats, 72 suites, 62 premium boxes, six lounges and four meeting rooms. It is also the first college arena offering VenueNet+, which reduces broadcast delays and eliminates the need for satellite trucks.
The facility’s location puts it within walking distance to hotels and a variety of restaurants and attractions including the city’s entertainment district, Fourth Street Live!
The arena is not only the official home of the University of Louisville men's and women's basketball programs, its versatility makes it an ideal venue for a variety of events. Since opening in late 2010, it has hosted sold-out concerts for some of the biggest names in music, the first round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament and conventions with thousands of attendees.
In October, the KFC Yum! Center welcomed the US Women's Olympic gymnastics team as part of The Kellogg's Tour of Gymnastics Champions and is rounding out the year with the NCAA DI Women's Volleyball National Championship in December. For more information, visit www.louisvillesports.org.
Lubbock Youth Sports Complex
Located in the booming area of southwest Lubbock, Texas, the Lubbock Youth Sports Complex offers 16 natural grass fields for softball and baseball use.
The fields are situated in four groups of four fields, with enough seating to host 250 spectators at each field. Twelve of the fields are dedicated to softball and four are dedicated to baseball. All fields are equipped with 200-foot-long fences, with the exception of one baseball field, which is 300 feet long.
Each group of fields has its own pavilion housing concession stands, umpire locker rooms and bathrooms. To top it all off, the Lubbock Youth Sports Complex features ample parking and state-of-the-art lighting.
The $11.6 million complex was constructed to host baseball and softball leagues as well as sanctioned tournaments. Completed in 2009, the complex has hosted numerous tournaments attracting hundreds of teams and thousands of players to west Texas.
The added benefit of 263 days of sunshine per year makes Lubbock, Texas, a great choice to host sporting events. For more information, visit www.VisitLubbock.org.
The Delta Center complex
Milwaukee’s reputation as an attractive, affordable, sports-friendly city continues to grow. The city’s downtown convention center complex, consisting of The Delta Center, U.S. Cellular Arena and Milwaukee Theatre, is sought after by both professional and amateur sports competitions.
With 189,000 square feet of space and a 37,506-square-foot ballroom, The Delta Center is ideally suited for a wide range of configurations for sporting events. The center has played host to US Fencing, US Table Tennis, USA Volleyball and numerous gymnastics events.
Skywalks to the Hilton Milwaukee City Center and Hyatt Regency Milwaukee hotels link some 1,200 rooms to The Delta Center.
The adjacent U.S. Cellular Arena, Milwaukee’s 12,700-seat sports arena, is home to the Milwaukee Wave professional indoor soccer team, and has also been host to national gymnastics, basketball and hockey tournaments.
And while a theater isn’t always top of mind for a sporting event, the distinctive 5,000-seat Milwaukee Theatre completes the package as an impressive venue for opening and closing ceremonies.
Within easy walking distance of hotels, shopping, dining, nightlife, festivals and attractions, The Delta Center complex connects events to Milwaukee's flourishing downtown and will send sports enthusiasts home with great memories of a great sports town. For more information, visit www.wcd.org.
Oak Ridge, Tennessee
Melton Hill Lake
Oak Ridge, Tennessee, is best known for its role in developing the atomic bomb that ended WWII, but the Secret City is also filled with scenic beauty and natural outdoor venues.
With 173 miles of shoreline, Melton Hill Lake is a popular spot for water recreation activities including boating, fishing, paddle boarding and rowing.
The Oak Ridge Rowing Association (ORRA) and City of Oak Ridge have developed Melton Hill Lake into one of the best rowing venues in the U.S, with national regattas held annually plus collegiate spring training. ORRA offers rowing instruction to athletes of all ages and skill levels, from the recreational athlete to high-level competitive pursuits.
Access to the lake is free to the public, so adventurers can bring their own skid, kayak or other watercraft for recreational use. Along the lake’s shoreline are county parks, a marina, several public-access areas, beaches and campgrounds.
Oak Ridge offers accommodations for all sports travel needs including first-class hotels, area maps, visitor guides, welcome packets, suggested itineraries and group tour planning assistance. For more information, visit www.oakridgevisitor.com.
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Wake Zone Cable Park
New to Oklahoma City in April 2012, Wake Zone Cable Wakeboard Park, located in Wake Zone Cable Park, is a unique water sports park designed for wakeboarding, waterskiing, kneeboarding and wakeskating that offers a different experience for water sport enthusiasts.
Up to seven riders are pulled around the course via an overhead cable system running in a continuous counterclockwise direction — no boat necessary. Upon completion of the complex, a lake for traditional boat-towed water sports will be available.
Oklahoma City hosted the 2012 USA Cable Wakeboard National Championships with more than 35 of the nation’s top cable wakeboard riders. In 2011, Oklahoma City hosted the USA Wakeboard Nationals, National Wakesurf Championships and USA Wakeboard Cable Nationals. For more information, visit www.visitokc.com.
Carnie Smith Stadium
Located in Pittsburg, Kansas, Carnie Smith Stadium is the home of the Pittsburg State University (PSU) Gorillas and is recognized as one of the premier venues in NCAA Division II.
Known as “The Pitt” or “The Jungle,” Carnie Smith Stadium provides one of the strongest home field advantages in college football with seating for 8,343 and a capacity for more than 10,000.
A $5.7 million expansion in 2001 added 16 luxury sky boxes to the east side. In 2006, a $2.5 million project added eight more luxury sky boxes to the west side of the stadium. Then, in 2008, PSU unveiled the $1.7 million “Jungletron” video scoreboard — the largest replay board in Division II — in the south end zone of the stadium.
In addition to numerous NCAA Division II regular season and playoff games, Carnie Smith Stadium has been the home to Kansas High School state championships, the Kansas Shrine Bowl All-Star game, the National Junior College Athletic Association’s premier bowl game and the Citizen’s Bank Bowl, including the NJCAA’s National Championship in 2009 and 2010.
In 2011, Bleacher Report listed Carnie Smith Stadium as one of the “Top 50 Stadiums to See Before You Die” and one of the “Top 20 College Football Atmospheres in the Country.” For more information, visit www.visitcrawfordcounty.com/football.
Providence, Rhode Island
Dunkin’ Donuts Center
Rhode Island may be small in size, but it's big on sports. The capital city of Providence is home to the 13,000-seat Dunkin’ Donuts Center (known as "the Dunk"), a modern indoor sports and entertainment venue.
The Dunk is part of the Rhode Island Convention & Entertainment Complex, which also includes the Rhode Island Convention Center (RICC) and the Veterans Memorial Auditorium.
Home to the AHL Providence Bruins and the Big East Providence College Men’s Basketball Team, the Dunk also plays host to other sporting events, major concerts, family shows and trade shows.
The arena features 31,000 square feet of arena space, a ceiling height of 90 feet, a 25,000-square-foot concourse, a new 12,000-square-foot lobby, two party suites, two lodges, a new restaurant and five renovated meeting/hospitality rooms.
The Dunk is conveniently connected via skybridge to the RICC, and in turn to the 564-room Westin Hotel and Providence Place, a downtown mall offering more than 170 shopping, dining and entertainment options.
Additional venues featuring top-notch skating and basketball, and other athletic facilities are located just minutes from downtown. For more information, visit www.GoSportsRI.com.
The Rome, Georgia, community understands sports tourism and is embracing the industry whole-heartedly. In fact, joint partnerships between the local governments and private entities have taken improvements and enhancements to their facilities beyond talk and into action that results in financial support.
The community recently passed a Special Purpose Local Options Sales Tax (SPLOST) to fund multi-million-dollar improvements to Barron Stadium, which hosts the NAIA Football National Championship, football, soccer, lacrosse, and track and field events.
The SPLOST has funded enhancements including artificial turf, new lighting, and track and field upgrades to adhere to USA Track & Field standards.
A new 10-by-22- foot high-definition video screen replaced the outdated traditional scoreboard. Most recently, a new entrance plaza, concessions and rest rooms were added for spectators while new locker rooms make the players feel more comfortable and pumped for their games.
With the support of the Rome community, Barron Stadium has been transformed into a modern, 21st century facility while still retaining the charm of its century-old character. For more information, visit www.RomeSports.org.
Round Rock, Texas
Old Settlers Park
In Round Rock, Texas, it’s sports all year long. The community holds the distinct title of “The Sports Capital of Texas” for good reason. It has invested seriously in the infrastructure needed to support any number of events.
Bolstered by an economic base that includes the headquarters of Dell, Round Rock has invested millions in its sports facilities, including $18.2 million in the most recent renovations at Old Settlers Park. This vast 570-acre sports complex is the crown jewel of Round Rock.
Included in Old Settlers Park are Champion Fields with 20 baseball fields and five softball fields, two fully lighted football fields, seven soccer fields, sand volleyball courts, 12 lighted tennis courts and pro shop, cross-country courses, a professionally designed disc golf course and multi-purpose courts.
For post-game fun, Old Settlers Park boasts the Rock'n River Family Aquatic Center, a new 40,481-square-foot facility complete with lazy river, crazy slides and water playground, along with an 18-acre lake with two pavilions, playgrounds and more. For more information, visit www.sportscapitaloftexas.com.
Savannah Civic Center
Savannah International Trade & Convention Center
Savannah, Georgia, offers two accommodating, large, indoor venues: the Savannah Civic Center, located in the heart of the Historic District, and the Savannah International Trade & Convention Center, just across the Savannah River overlooking the elegant downtown skyline.
Sports planners will find Savannah is chic and sophisticated with plenty of stories to tell. Its food, art and music — mixed with its hospitable yet playful personality — make visiting the city a unique experience.
The best part of hosting sports events in Savannah is its promise of fun for everyone both on and off the field.
Much more than a tourism sweet spot, Savannah is a leading destination capable of hosting high-level meetings, conventions and events. With the capacity to accommodate large groups, Savannah is an ideal choice for major sports events.
Savannah has hosted events in tennis, running, golf, softball, soccer and baseball, as well as championship gymnastics, baton twirling and cheerleading. It features a variety of fields and facilities from tennis courts to soccer fields. Only 20 minutes away, Tybee Island provides a sandy beach for volleyball.
For high-stakes competition or a leisurely stroll through its shady squares, Savannah is sure to offer something for every need. For more information, visit www.visitsavannah.com.
Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Denny Sanford PREMIER Center
Sanford Sports Complex
Sioux Falls, South Dakota, provides groups with state-of-the-art sports facilities, including a new $115 million events center scheduled for completion in the fall of 2014.
Officially named Denny Sanford PREMIER Center, the new events center will be a multipurpose arena adjacent to the current convention center and 8,000-seat arena, adding 30,000 square feet of flat floor space for a combined total of 132,000 square feet within the entire complex.
Seating for the facility will be 12,000 for basketball, 10,450 for hockey, 13,000 for a concert, 5,750 for rodeo and 180 standard booths for a tradeshow.
Also new is the Sanford Sports Complex, a game-changing destination. The cornerstone of the complex will be the Sanford Pentagon — 160,000 square feet with nine basketball and volleyball courts and The Heritage Court that will seat 3,100 and have 18 suites (open fall 2013).
The Pentagon will also include locker rooms, concession areas, meeting and activity rooms, lounge areas, team store and athletic training rooms.
Additional facilities include an 85,000-square-foot indoor Fieldturf facility (opening September 2013), nine outdoor football fields (opening August 2013), seven indoor tennis courts (opening fall 2013) and Scheels Iceplex with three indoor ice hockey sheets (opening fall 2014). Retail and hospitality will also be a part of the complex (opening fall 2013). For more information, visit www.siouxfallscvb.com.
Virginia Beach, Virginia
Virginia Beach Convention Center
Virginia Beach has mild year-round weather, 12,000 hotel rooms and countless restaurants and shops, but this beach-front destination also has something else that sets it apart: outstanding, affordable facilities.
The Virginia Beach Convention Center — the first of its kind in the country to be certified as LEED® Gold for Existing Buildings — is a prime example of the exceptional class of facilities found in the resort city.
Capturing the true essence of the coastal destination with its innovative design, the facility features over 500,000 square feet of flexible meeting space, including a 150,000-square-foot, column-free exhibit hall, a 31,000-square-foot ballroom and 2,230 free parking spaces.
It offers competitive rates and is situated just blocks from one of the Mid-Atlantic’s most beautiful beaches. And with each event, the dedicated Sports Marketing staff guarantees athletes a memorable experience.
The Convention Center has hosted numerous major sporting events including the USA Field Hockey National Indoor Tournament, USA Table Tennis, USA Fencing and USA Gymnastics, among others.
The venue has been hosting National High School Coaches Association Wrestling Championships since 2005 and will continue to host the events through 2019. For more information, visit www.VisitVirginiaBeach.com/sports.