Picking Up the Pace | Sports Destination Management

Picking Up the Pace

New, Renovated or Rebranded, These Facilities Are Ready for the Starting Gun
May 12, 2022 | By: Michael Popke

Now that all levels of track and field events are back on the schedules of venues around the country (including the adidas Outdoor Nationals in Greensboro, North Carolina, in June and the World Athletics Championships Oregon22 in Eugene, Oregon, in July), it’s worth looking at what’s been happening in some of the sport’s leading destinations.

Both Columbia, South Carolina, and Virginia Beach, Virginia, boast new-ish facilities; popular venues in Mobile, Alabama, and Eugene have undergone pre-pandemic renovations; and the top track and field venue in Greensboro, North Carolina, was rechristened/rebranded.

All of which means that track is, indeed, back. To bring you up to speed, here is a rundown of the latest updates from eight destinations.

Eugene, Oregon

Eugene, Ore.
Eugene, Ore.  |  Photo courtesy of Andy Vobora / Eugene, Cascades & Coast

Let’s begin in the city known as TrackTown USA, home to the University of Oregon’s Hayward Field — site of seven U.S. Olympic Track and Field Team Trials and now the beneficiary of a reported $270 million renovation project that added a new nine-lane track with 12,650 permanent seats (and is expandable to almost 25,000 seats).

The revamped facility made its debut last summer with the 2021 NCAA Division I Men’s and Women’s Outdoor Track & Field Championships, and it’s hosting more than a dozen major track events this year, including the 2022 USA Track & Field National Outdoor Championships in June. 

But the biggest dates on the track and field schedule are July 15-24, when Eugene will become the first U.S. city to ever host the World Athletics Championships. An estimated 2,000 athletes from 200 countries and territories are slated to participate in front of an expected 50,000 fans over the course of 10 days at Hayward Field.

The city has embraced the event (originally scheduled for August 2021 but postponed because of COVID-19) by putting on a festival, inviting international artists to create murals, launching a Youth Engagement Program and more, according to Joey Jewell, senior director of the Eugene, Cascades & Coast Sports Commission.

“It’s like a mini-Olympics,” he says, adding that city officials estimate an economic impact of $60 million from the Championships (compared to about $40 million from the Olympic Trials). “This event strengthens our reputation not only as a track and field destination but also as a small- to mid-size market that is able to host international events. This will probably be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for this community.”

Greensboro, North Carolina

Greensboro, N.C.
Greensboro, N.C.  |  Photo courtesy of of Visit Greensboro

Speaking of economic impact, Brian Ambuehl, the sports sales manager for Visit Greensboro, estimates that track and field events hosted by North Carolina A&T State University have generated more than $300 million in economic impact since opening in 2005.

Formerly known as the Irwin Belk Track, the venue was renamed the Marcus T. Johnson Track at Truist Stadium in late 2021; Johnson is an entrepreneur whose philanthropic contributions benefit students of color and support minority-owned and operated nonprofits. All of the track’s surfaces also were recently resurfaced to meet World Athletics performance standards, Ambuehl says.

The adidas Outdoor Nationals will take place at the venue in June, followed by the AAU Junior Olympic Games for track and field from July 30-Aug. 6. Those games are expected to attract about 15,000 athletes and more than 30,000 spectators to the 23,000-seat facility, which also hosts multiple USA Track & Field meets, high school state championships, and NCAA conference championships and regional meets.

“NC A&T State University has a great working relationship with the Greensboro CVB,” Ambuehl says. “The combination of a professionally run, state-of-the-art facility and community support provide the perfect recipe for maximized event success.”

Winton-Salem, North Carolina

Winston-Salem, N.C.
Winston-Salem, N.C.  |  Photo courtesy of Visit Winston-Salem

About 30 minutes west of Greensboro is another city that has emerged among track and field’s elite destinations, thanks to the JDL Fast Track, an indoor facility anchored by a 200-meter oval that opened in 2012 and has hosted such events as the NCAA Division III Men’s and Women’s Indoor Track and Field Championships, the National Junior College Athletic Association’s Indoor Track & Field Championships and the USA Track and Field Southeast Region Masters Indoor Championships. The venue also includes two pole vault runways, two long/triple jump runways, a high jump area and throwing circles.

“The JDL Fast Track has been a real game-changer for Winston-Salem,” says Paul Sheehan, sports development manager for Visit Winston-Salem. “Through the years, the facility has upgraded technology for livestreaming meets, increased food and beverage operations for spectators and added a second throwing ring in the high jump area for college meets to better accommodate more athletes. The track surface also was expanded into the hallways and training room to allow spikes throughout the entire first floor.”

What’s more, Sheehan notes, Winston-Salem has achieved “Runner Friendly Community” status by the Road Runners Club of America, making the city a desirable destination for track and field participants.

Columbia, South Carolina

Columbia, S.C.
Columbia, S.C.  |  Photo courtesy of South Carolina Athletics

Columbia has the distinction of being home to two relatively new tracks, one indoors and one outdoors.

The University of South Carolina opened its new Indoor Track & Field Complex prior to the 2019 indoor season, complete with a banked six-lane, 200-meter track with throwing areas, two pole vault areas, two jump runways and two high jump areas. There also is an eight-lane 60-meter straightaway. Additionally, the university’s nine-lane, 400-meter outdoor track, the Sheila and Morris Cregger Track, was built in 2016  and holds 500 spectators

Meanwhile, Columbia International University installed a new eight-lane outdoor track in 2019 that has hosted many meets, according to Hannah Kay, sports development manager at Experience Columbia SC Sports.

“All three of these facilities impact tourism in the city by bringing in events throughout the indoor and outdoor seasons,” she says, adding that so far in 2022, Columbia has welcomed the University of South Carolina Indoor and Outdoor Opens plus the Gamecock Invitational. “The facilities can host USA Track & Field and NCAA events, all the way down to local high school events.”

Virginia Beach, Virginia

Virginia Beach, Va.
Virginia Beach, Va.  |  Photos courtesy of Virginia Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau

Virginia Beach is another city with a recently opened indoor track and field facility. The 117,000-square-foot multi-purpose Virginia Beach Sports Center includes a 200-meter banked track, as well as dual jumping pits and dual pole vault pits. The track area (which shares building space with 12 basketball courts) can accommodate 5,000 spectators.

The venue opened in 2020 and already has generated lots of business, with such events as the 2022 AAU Track and Field Indoor National Championships and the adidas Indoor National Track and Field Championships, both in March. And the NCAA will host its Men’s and Women’s Indoor Track & Field Championships at the Virginia Beach Sports Center in 2025 (Division 1), 2023 and 2026 (Division II) and 2024 (Division III). The facility’s location, directly across from the 500,000-square-foot Virginia Beach Convention Center, provides additional space for programming sports and meetings, according to Dani Timm, sports marketing director for the Virginia Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau.

“Virginia Beach, with its rich coastal surroundings, has always been an attractive destination for sporting events,” she says. “The Virginia Beach Sports Center is conveniently located just blocks from the oceanfront, which offers 8,000 hotel rooms within a three-mile stretch along the oceanfront.”

Mobile, Alabama

Mobile, Ala.
Mobile, Ala.  |  Photos courtesy of Mobile Sports Authority

Mobile offers three outdoor facilities to track and field enthusiasts, including the Jaguar Track on the campus of the University of South Alabama. A new surface was installed on the eight-lane, 400-meter track in 2019. Additionally, there is the track at Ervin S. Cooper Stadium at UMS-Wright Preparatory School and the track at E.E. Delaney Stadium at St. Paul’s Episcopal School.

All three facilities have hosted regional and national meets, according to Danny Corte, executive director of the Mobile Sports Authority, who adds that the 2022 Mobile Challenge of Champions Track & Field event was held at both UMS-Wright Preparatory School and St. Paul’s Episcopal School. As many as 3,000 student-athletes from across the United States competed in this year’s event, which was designated as a Select High School Track and Field Meet by the National Scholastic Athletics Foundation.

“As with all sporting events in Mobile, our geographic location is what makes Mobile unique and sets us apart from other destinations in the region,” Corte says. “We’re in the southwestern area of Alabama, on the northern Gulf of Mexico coast. Due to our deep south location and proximity to the warm Gulf waters, Mobile has a year-round, semi-tropical climate — which allows for outdoor activities basically 365 days a year.”

Gulf Shores | Orange Beach, Alabama

Gulf Shores, Ala.  |  Photos courtesy of Gulf Shores | Orange Beach Sports & Events 

About an hour south of Mobile (and across the Gulf of Mexico’s Mobile Bay inlet) sits Gulf Shores, another coastal city with a beach not far from the track and field facilities, making Gulf Shores and Orange Beach a popular destination for regional and national track events and even spring break training trips, according to Michelle Russ, vice president of sales, sports and events for Gulf Shores | Orange Beach Sports & Events.

“With mild temperatures in the winter, spring and fall, the Alabama Gulf Coast is a great choice for outdoor collegiate training weeks and championships, especially for schools located in colder climates,” she says.

The municipally operated Gulf Shores Sportsplex is home to Mickey Miller Blackwell Stadium, with a track surrounding the football field. The 4,000-seat venue hosts the Alabama High School Athletic Association State Track Championship, the Alabama Independent School Association’s Outdoor Track & Field State Championship, and the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics Men’s and Women’s Outdoor Track & Field National Championships.

Albuquerque, New Mexico

Albuquerque, N.M.
Albuquerque, N.M.  |  Photo courtesy of Core-Visual  

More than 3,700 track and field athletes traveled to Albuquerque in January and February of this year to compete at the municipally owned Albuquerque Indoor Track Facility, according to Angie Jepson, director of Sports Development for the Albuquerque Sports Commission.

Located in the Albuquerque Convention Center, the six-lane, 200-meter, 60-degree banked track has 60-meter straightaways running the entire length of the facility and includes men’s and women’s jumping runways and pits, as well as areas for shot put, pole vault and high jump events. It plays host to several University of New Mexico meets and other high-profile events. Since 2005, the facility’s economic impact to the city is estimated at $20 million, Jepson says.

Recent events include the UNM Lobos Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Invitational and the New Mexico Collegiate Classic. The 2022 Western Athletic Conference Indoor Track and Field Championships and the 2022 Mountain West Indoor Track & Field Championships collectively brought an estimated 1,000 student-athletes to Albuquerque. The facility also hosts USA Track and Field and NCAA indoor championships.

In 2019, the city hosted the National Senior Games, which attracted more than 13,000 athletes competing in 20 events at 16 different venues, including the Great Friends of UNM Track Stadium on the University of New Mexico campus. That eight-lane, 400-meter facility also includes a steeplechase water jump, two jump runways, two pole vault runways and a high jump apron.

“With the ultra-successful 2019 National Senior Games, Albuquerque elevated its standing as a sports destination,” Jepson says. “The record-breaking attendance along with the City of Albuquerque’s multi-department support signaled to sports organizations that Albuquerque is poised to host large events. USA Cycling chose Albuquerque as their host site for the 2021 and 2022 USA Cycling Masters Road National Championships partly due to our success with the National Senior Games.” SDM

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