The ‘City for Champions’ Celebrates a Winning Game | Sports Destination Management

The ‘City for Champions’ Celebrates a Winning Game

Mar 01, 2024 | By: Peter Francesconi
Weidner Field in Colorado Springs

Photo Courtesy of Visit Colorado Springs

In just a few months, Team USA will take on the world’s best athletes in Paris at the 2024 Summer Olympics as well as the Paralympic Games. In both cases, the Colorado Springs connection couldn’t be stronger. Known as “Olympic City USA,” the region is home to about 60 sports organizations, including 25 National Governing Bodies, offering visitors unique experiences to catch the Olympic spirit.

Among the many attractions in Colorado Springs is the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum, where visitors can learn about the history of the Games and the athletes, the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center, where they can watch athletes in training, and the Manitou Incline, where they can train at elevation like an athlete.

In fact, there is so much going on, Olympics-related, that Colorado Springs recently made Airbnb’s global list of 24 places to visit in 2024. The main reason for the honor? For those who can’t make it to Paris to celebrate the upcoming Olympic and Paralympic Games, Colorado Springs is arguably the next best destination.

“The opportunity to be one of the national ‘home bases’ for Team USA is a special one,” says Cheryl McCullough, Senior Director of Sports and Events at Visit Colorado Springs. “Visitors and locals alike will get a taste of the Games without having to travel around the world.”

Celebrations will kick off in Olympic City USA with the Downtown Summer Fest celebration on July 27 at the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Museum in partnership with the Colorado Springs Sports Corporation. Attendees can meet athletes, try their hand at Olympic and Paralympic sports and enjoy live entertainment. Watch parties, athlete meet-and-greets and more will continue in Colorado Springs through the conclusion of the Paralympic Games. (The Summer Olympics take place in Paris from July 26 to August 11, while the Paralympic Games will be in Paris from August 28 to September. 8.)

The “City for Champions”

Photos by Ron Pollard
Photos by Ron Pollard

Colorado Springs has always been a natural sports tourism destination. In addition to the dozens of sports organizations, the region boasts more than 55 area attractions and offers some of the most beautiful scenery in the country.

“When I meet with people, it surprises me how much they already know about our destination,” McCullough says. “There’s this romantic idea about Colorado Springs, but it’s not just a perception; it’s also very much real.”

And now that the multi-year “City for Champions” project is nearing completion, Colorado Springs and the entire Pikes Peak Region will be more of a destination than ever.

The project is a massive, all-hands-on-deck undertaking that so far has resulted in Weidner Field, a new outdoor stadium; the Ed Robson Arena, a new indoor hockey venue; and the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum. The other City for Champions components include the William Hybl Sports Medicine & Performance Center, which opened in 2020, and the United States Air Force Academy Gateway Visitor Center, which is slated for completion in 2025.

All five facilities were approved by the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade in 2013 and funded through regional tourism tax and fundraising efforts.

“For us, it’s exciting to have new things to talk about,” McCullough says, noting that Weidner Field and the Ed Robson Arena have allowed the city to support a professional soccer team and welcome events that most cities its size (fewer than 500,000 residents) can only dream about.

New Venues, New Opportunities

Photo Courtesy of Visit Colorado Springs
Photo Courtesy of Visit Colorado Springs

Weidner Field, located less than a half-mile off Interstate 25 at the southern end of Downtown Colorado Springs, is home to the Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC, a USL Championship League soccer team.

The stadium can seat 8,000 for games and 15,000 for concerts and private events, and it has hosted everything from the NCAA Division II Men’s and Women’s Soccer Championships and several Premier League Lacrosse games to CerusArena (Colorado’s first-ever stadium obstacle course race), rugby matches and concerts by the likes of Incubus and Cody Johnson.

Inside the stadium, there are five locker rooms, a dedicated referee room, weight training and athletic training space, four concession stands, more than 12,000 square feet of event space and two outdoor patios.

“It’s a destination stadium,” McCullough says, adding that the city’s loyal sports fans have helped put Weidner Field on the radar of event organizers. “When you’ve got a really great local fan base, as we do for the Switchbacks, you’re able to expand the venue to host other events, too.”

The Ed Robson Arena on the Colorado College campus, named after a 1954 graduate who played hockey for the college, is a multi-purpose state-of-the-art facility designed to serve both the college and the COS community. Seating about 3,400 fans, the arena has allowed the Tigers to play hockey home games on campus for the first time in the program’s 84-year history. The venue includes locker rooms, concession stands, storage, in-house TV production accommodations and administrative areas.

The facility is located at the north end of Downtown Colorado Springs, a booming area that includes more than 100 restaurants, breweries, distilleries, coffee shops and bars, and nearly 1,000 hotel rooms split among seven hotels, all within walking distance of the venue.

In 2023, Ed Robson Arena hosted the International Jump Rope Union’s World Jump Rope Championships, bringing in more than 1,200 athletes and 450 coaches and judges from 33 countries. Organizers from the International Jump Rope Union reported record participation numbers as the competition made its in-person return for the first time since 2019.

During the pandemic, the 60,000-square-foot U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum opened, and it was quickly honored by USA TODAY as the country’s “Best New Attraction” in 2020. The museum is dedicated to telling athletes’ compelling stories through artifacts, media and technology. And in addition to bringing in visitors during normal operating hours, McCullough says the museum serves as a gathering space for a variety of special events, from unique business meetings and lunches to creative evening receptions.

“It adds an extra experience for out-of-town event attendees, whether for a conference, a meeting or a sporting event,” she says. “The museum really supports our city’s robust sports culture.”

A Wild Ride for Sports

Of course, Colorado Springs offers many more sports facilities for all types of events. One of the premier venues, for example, is the Norris Penrose Event Center, a multi-purpose facility with an outdoor arena built for rodeos. In late February, Norris Penrose hosted the Second Annual Broadmoor 2024 Winter Polo Classic, one of COS’s newer outdoor sports experiences.

“The Broadmoor destination resort itself is steeped in rich history, including polo, and the Norris Penrose Event Center provides the perfect scenic backdrop for a great polo match with a little Western flair,” says McCullough.

The Norris Penrose Event Center became home to the National Finals Rodeo Open at the Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo in 2022, and the event returns again this year. More than 200 ProRodeo world champions and rising stars from across North America will compete for more than $1 million in payouts from July 9 to 13.

The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association’s national headquarters and hall of fame are located in Colorado Springs, and McCullough credits the NFR partnership to the strong relationship between the association and local Pikes Peak or Bust organizers.

In addition, Olympic City USA and the Pikes Peak region is home to the Pikes Peak APEX, a locally created event taking place on exhilarating, exceptionally crafted mountain bike routes throughout the region. The Pikes Peak APEX offers one of the largest purses in North America.

“Our City for Champions project may be nearly complete, but Colorado Springs isn’t about to stop looking for more ways to live up to its ‘Olympic City USA’ reputation,” McCullough assures. “For instance, we know we need additional baseball diamonds and multi-purpose outdoor complexes to match the growth we continue to experience in sports and sports tourism to our region. Everything we’ve been able to do so far continues to lead to new opportunities for even more venues, attractions and events for the future.” SDM

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