Colorado Springs has always been a natural sports tourism destination, both literally and figuratively. The region boasts more than 55 area attractions, is home to more than 40 sports organizations (including 24 national governing bodies) and offers some of the most beautiful scenery in the country.
“There’s this romantic idea about Colorado Springs,” says Cheryl McCullough, senior director of sports and events at Visit Colorado Springs. “When I meet with people, they already know so much about our destination that it surprises me.”
And now that the multi-year City for Champions project is complete, with a massive all-hands-on-deck undertaking that resulted in a new outdoor stadium (Weidner Field), a new indoor ice rink (the Ed Robson Arena) and the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum, Colorado Springs and the entire Pikes Peak region is more of a destination than ever.
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 (slated for completion in 2024). All facilities were approved by the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade in 2013 and funded through a 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.
There’s a reason Colorado Springs is known as “Olympic City USA.”
Three Venues, Countless Possibilities
Weidner Field, located less than a half-mile off Interstate 25 at the southern end of Downtown Colorado Springs, is home to Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC, a USL Championship League soccer team. The stadium can seat 8,000 fans 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 Old Dominion and Lee Brice.
Inside the stadium, there are five locker rooms, a dedicated referee room, weight training and athletic training space, four concessions 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 bring in people to watch 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 Colorado College and Colorado Springs. It allows the Tigers to play hockey home games on campus for the first time in the program’s 84-year history and it seats about 3,400 fans. Spaces include locker rooms, concessions stands, storage, in-house TV production accommodations and administrative areas.
The venue is located at the north end of Downtown Colorado Springs, a booming area that includes more than 100 restaurants, breweries, distillers, coffee shops and bars, and nearly 1,000 hotel rooms split among seven hotels — all within walking distance of the facility.
The arena is a big reason Colorado Springs secured the International Jump Rope Union’s 2023 World Jump Rope Championships. That event is slated for July and is expected to bring more than 3,000 athletes, coaches and officials from more than 30 countries to the city — resulting in up to a whopping 35,000 room nights over 10 days, according to McCullough. It will combine the World Championships with the International Open Tournament and the Junior World Championships, and it will include Single Rope and Double Dutch competition.
Leaders of the International Jump Rope Union say the championships will drive interest in the sport in the United States, adding that jump rope is one of the most accessible, diverse, eco-friendly and economic sports in the world.
Also happening this summer at the Ed Robson Arena, right before the World Jump Rope Championships, will be the 2023 USA Weightlifting National Championships. Colorado Springs is the home of USA Weightlifting, but Olympic City USA has never hosted this event until now.
McCullough says this weeklong event, slated for June 24-July 2, will bring in more than 1,500 athletes and generate as many as 5,000 room nights.
Meanwhile, the 60,000-square-foot U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum opened during the pandemic and was named the country’s “Best New Attraction” in 2020 by USA TODAY. It is dedicated to telling athletes’ compelling stories through artifacts, media and technology. And in addition to bringing in visitors during operating hours, McCullough says the museum serves as a gathering space for evening engagements.
“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.”
That’s Not All
In addition to prime new venues that can host a variety of events, Colorado Springs also boasts several other facilities that will welcome high-profile events in 2023.
The Norris Penrose Event Center, a multi-purpose facility with an outdoor arena built for rodeos, 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 11-15. Events include Bareback Riding, Steer Wrestling, Team Roping, Saddle Bronc Riding, Tie-down Roping, Breakaway Roping, Barrel Racing and Bull Riding.
“This is a big deal for our rodeo, with a super-high purse,” McCullough says. “And now that Norris Penrose is home to NFR, that presents an opportunity for the venue. There’s a lot of history in that space. How do we retain that history but also upgrade it and get it to where it needs to be in order to host more of these larger national events?”
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.
Also on the Colorado Springs calendar this year is the Colorado Sparkler Juniors Softball Tournament, organized by Triple Crown Sports and happening June 26-July 2 on most of the ballfields in the city and throughout much of Northern Colorado. That event is expected to generate 15,000 room nights.
In early February, the 8,000-seat Broadmoor World Arena hosted the International Skating Union’s Four Continents Figure Skating Championships 2023, an event that has taken place in Colorado Springs four times in the past 17 years. Later that month, the Broadmoor Winter Polo Classic was held at the Norris Penrose Event Center and brought the sport back to the Pikes Peak region for the first time since the 1930s.
On top of everything else happening in the city (and no doubt because of all that is happening), the Colorado Springs Airport ended 2022 with its highest enplanement numbers since 2000, which also was a 14.5 percent increase over the previous year. Hotel room availability is keeping pace, too, with about 14,500 rooms available. High season runs from May to September, but Colorado Springs is open all year long.
And just because the City for Champions project is complete, Colorado Springs isn’t about to stop looking for more ways to live up to its Olympic City USA reputation.
“All of this leads to opportunities for some potential future venues,” McCullough says. “We know we need some great baseball diamond complexes and multi-purpose outdoor complexes. So, I think all that we’ve accomplished so far will help make those things a reality, too.” SDM