The Southwest: A Sports Utopia
31 Aug, 2010By: Amy Henderson
Webster's dictionary defines Utopia as "a place of ideal perfection," but a sports event planner might simply label it "The Southwest."
Why? Simple. The ability to play sports year around with little chance of being rained out, snowed in or postponed due to inclement weather.
Not only are sports played 365 days a year in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Texas and Utah,but these Southwestern states are also idyllic in distinct ways.
Great Weather, Big Smiles
The weather isn't the only attraction for sports events in the Southwest, it's also the hospitality.
"You couldn't find a friendlier place and the weather is amazing," said Judy Skowron, director of Mesquite Convention & Visitors Bureau. "There are certainly parts of Texas where you can play sports year ‘round and I think that's attractive. There is not as much rainfall so there is less chances to get rained out."
Down the road, James Kunke with the Lewisville Convention & Visitors Bureau agrees. "We have a longer window of weather that is palatable," said Kunke. "You can always go inside if it's too hot. We welcome visitors with open arms, it's not just dollar signs, it's that we love having company – in our families, churches and communities."
"Historically we've had facilities that are above average but our real hallmark has been service to the groups that come in," Kunke continued. "We make sure the participants and fans are happy. Bringing a tournament to town is nice but getting them a second time is great."
The same holds true in Arizona. "When we solicit business we come from a pretty strong perspective," said Jon Schmeider, president of the Phoenix Regional Sports Commission. "They know our destination and they know our weather and that can be a big advantage for us. You don't have to worry about inclement weather and our facilities are just awesome. Once we get people out here, they see what we have to offer beyond the weather, we have great success."
Arenas, Fields and Parks
World class facilities are scattered throughout this region. The newest asset to Lewisville, TX, is Railroad Park featuring multiple baseball diamonds, football and soccer fields. Open since 2009, they have secured several multi-year tournaments including the Panda Cup Soccer Tournament.
"The facility is top-of-the-line," said Kunke. "We are now able to offer outstanding service but also high quality fields and facilities. We are making good use of that park to bring in sports tourism but also offer recreation to our residents."
Round Rock, Texas, features Champion Fields at Old Settlers Park and Dell Diamond. "Our facilities are truly tournament class facilities," said Nancy Yawn, director of Round Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau. "I would venture that ours are second to none and that's not just in Texas. We are spending $20 million on renovating our baseball/softball complex and there is a 570 acre sports complex close by. We are just crazy about sports. That's what we do here."
The BOK Center is the home of the Tulsa Shock, CHL Tulsa Oilers and future Af2 Tulsa Talons and has acted as a springboard for change.
"We completed a multi-million dollar renovation on the Convention Center in January," said Kathy Tinker, director of sales & marketing for the Tulsa Convention Center. "We added the state's largest ballroom and have given a face lift to the facility. The Arena, which seats 8,900, was renovated with upgraded dressing rooms, green room, video boards and six suites for VIP and sponsors."
In Arizona, Reach 11 has nine international soccer fields and championship fields – not only making it Arizona's largest soccer facility but one of the biggest in the western states.
"For an event operator it's so much easier to have all of that in one place," said Schmeider. "When they are spread out it's hard for the planner and with the lighting they can play as late as they want."
Frisco, Texas, also offers major conveniences for the planner as well as world class venues including Pizza Hut Park, Dr. Pepper Ballpark and Dr. Pepper Star Center.
"The facilities tend to be high caliber," said Marla Roe, executive director of the Frisco Convention & Visitors Bureau. "They are run by professional sports teams so you've got the staff that are used to running their own events. It makes it that much easier when an event planner comes in because they are talking the same language. They get it all, from an operational and marketing standpoint."
The Integrated Athletic Development (IAD) in Carollton, TX, is one of the first certified Performance Training Centers for athletes of all levels.
"We are a facility which holds 50 volleyball and/or basketball tournaments a year," said Dan Frid, executive vice president of IAD. "We offer skills training in basketball, volleyball and football, and performance training for youth, elite and executive athletes."
Since the early 1900's, the southwestern United States has acted as home for major league baseball's Spring Training and this has become a great regional revenue source.
"March is one of the busiest times of year for our hoteliers," explains Schmeider. "Spring training is huge for us and we have new facilities coming online for the Diamondbacks & Rockies. Last year they opened a new facility for the Dodgers and White Sox. And the year before was the Reds & Indians."
"In the last 5 years we have built so many facilities. With so many tools in our tool kit it allows us to be successful," he continued.
But baseball isn't the only pastime that has seen a surge of success in the Southwest.
The rodeo has been a staple of the Southwest since the early 1900's and offers a different type of sports venue.
"The rodeo has been here since 1958," said Skowron. "Recent owners added jumbo video boards to catch instant replays and they have rock and rolled it up a bit. They have livened things up and the rodeo itself was nominated for the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association for Rodeo of the Year in 2009."
The Southwest is also a niche for non-traditional sports. Round Rock is hosting the Independent Women's Football League, Ultimate Frisbee and Flag Football National Tournament.
Tulsa had great success with Cheer & Dance competitions and is bidding on the U.S. Bowling Congress for 2013-2015. Both Round Rock and Lewisville were stops on the 20th Annual Spikefest Tour – the largest 3 on 3 and 5 on 5 volleyball tournament in the world.
The Dr. Pepper Star Center in Frisco is hosting the Ice Skating Institute Worlds in 2012 with an expected draw of 1,200 participants and an economic impact of approximately $1.9 million. Frisco will also be home to the 2010 USA Cycling Master Track Nationals, 2011's NCAA Division 1 Football Championships, and Prime Time Sports National Basketball Tournament through 2012.
Great facilities and weather aren't the only ingredients that make the Southwest desirable; it also capitalizes on strategic partnerships.
The Arizona Sports Alliance is an excellent example of combined resources. As one of the oldest sports commissions in the U.S., they market Scottsdale, Tempe, Phoenix, Mesa and Tucson to help generate over $93 million in sports tourism alone for the area.
"I think the cost saving is huge, purely in sharing expenses on exhibits and we are sharing that with everyone," said Schmeider "The best thing is we communicate on a regular basis because of the partnership. It's not a cold call thing, it's a relationship call. We measure the ROI and are able to get things done quickly."
Similarly, Mesquite believes in working with neighbors, "We work with the Dallas Fort Worth Sports Alliance," added Skowron. "It's a great group, we aren't able to participate at the level that some of the larger cities do, but we are part of the conversation."
Whether it's climate, hospitality or top-of-the-line venues, the Southwest can certainly be your utopia.