Sports enthusiasts love a winning tradition. Whether it’s a team that pulls through season after season, an individual athlete who continually raises the championship trophy or a particular event or venue that, year after year, garners praise from athletes, organizers and spectators, we’re drawn to a track record of sports success.
But when it’s a whole city that embodies a winning sports tradition—that raises the game to a new level.
For Louisville, Kentucky, winning comes easy, and often—especially when it comes to hosting successful sports events. For example, the city has been the home to this country’s most iconic horse race, the Kentucky Derby held at Churchill Downs, for 139 years—the oldest continuous sporting event in the U.S. More recently, the spectacular KFC Yum! Center, opened in 2010, has been home to men’s and women’s NCAA Division I tournament play.
“The whole idea of embracing a major sporting event in our community is woven into the fabric of who we are,” says Karl Schmitt, the executive director of the Louisville Sports Commission. “We hear it consistently from tournament directors and events rights holders—this is a very sports-friendly place, in all ways.”
It’s that consistent winning tradition that helps “Championship City” attract tournaments and sporting events of all types.
For instance, from July 15 to 19, Louisville will host for the first time USA Gymnastics National Championships in three disciplines: acrobatic gymnastics, rhythmic gymnastics and trampoline/tumbling, on the Junior Olympic and junior and senior elite levels. The competition—the first time the three disciplines have been held in the same city at one time—will be at both the KFC Yum! Center and the Kentucky International Convention Center, and will bring more than 2,000 athletes, coaches and officials into town, along with their families and friends.
“We appreciate the support we have received from the highest level of Louisville's leadership,” says Steve Penny, president of USA Gymnastics. “Louisville's experience in handling major events and its ability to build this type of partnership are critical when a city is hosting an event of this nature."
Another new championship coming to Louisville in July, and for the next three years, is the AAU Division I National Basketball Championships and elite Gold Super Showcases, for boys in grades 10 to 12, which will be held at the Kentucky Exposition Center. “This is the best of the best in boys’ basketball,” Schmitt says. The event will attract about 340 teams, 200 officials and more than 900 college coaches, in addition to garnering much media attention.
“Louisville is a perfect location for so many reasons,” says AAU Boys Basketball President Henry Forrest. “We will be in the heart of basketball country where there is tremendous fan interest. Louisville is centrally located in the U.S. and easy to reach for a large number of our teams and their families, fans and college coaches; and the Kentucky Exposition Center is a premiere, event-friendly facility located in close proximity to hotels, highways and the airport. We are working closely with the management teams from the KEC, the Convention & Visitors Bureau and Louisville Sports Commission, all experts in staging major events.”
In August, the world’s best golfers will face off in the 96th PGA Championship, which returns to the Jack Nicklaus-designed course at the Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville for the first time in 14 years. Valhalla hosted the PGA Championship in 1996 and 2000, in addition to Senior PGA Championships in 2004 and 2011, and the Ryder Cup in 2008. “Nicklaus had a vision for championship play at Valhalla,” Schmitt says. “One of the ways he helped convince PGA officials to have the championships there was by bringing them to the Kentucky Derby so they could see firsthand how Louisville can operate a huge event.”
Between 2014 and 2017, Louisville will host 13 NCAA national championships:
2014 Division II Fall Championships Festival, comprised of men’s and women’s cross country; men’s and women’s soccer, women’s volleyball and field hockey.
2016 Division III men’s and women’s cross country.
2017 Division I, II and III field hockey.
2017 Division I men’s and women’s cross country.
“Louisville is one of the few cities that has Division I, II and III institutions,” Schmitt says. “For the NCAA national championships, the University of Louisville will host the Division I events, Bellarmine University the Division II, and Spalding University the Division III championships, with support from the CVB and the Sports Commission.”
The state-of-the-art, 22,708-seat KFC Yum! Center is in the heart of downtown and features more than 700,000 square feet of space. It’s the new home of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball First and Second Rounds, and the NCAA Division I Women’s Volleyball Championships. Enclosed walkways connect the KFC Yum! Center to the Kentucky International Convention Center and thousands of hotel rooms.
The Kentucky International Convention Center has more than 300,000 square feet of meeting and exhibit space and has hosted many events, including the USA Gymnastics Acrobatic Nationals and the NCAA Division II Elite Eight Basketball Championships. With over 1.3 million square feet of flexible space, the Kentucky Exposition Center is the sixth largest public facility of its kind in the U.S. It has hosted events such as USA Volleyball Junior Olympic Girls & Boys Championship, the U.S. Transplant Games, and the Dew Action Sports Tour.
The city also has more than 120 parks, including Eva Bandman Park, a premier cyclo-cross venue. In 2013, Eva Bandman Park hosted the UCI Elite Cyclo-Cross World Championships, the first time in the event’s 63-year history it was held outside of Europe.
The Louisville Extreme Park is a skate park with a 40,000-square-foot concrete skating surface, wooden vert ramp and 24-foot full-pipe. The Louisville Tennis Center, with its 11 clay courts, has seen the likes of tennis champions Arthur Ashe, Rod Laver, Jimmy Connors, Billie Jean King and John McEnroe. In August, the city hosts thousands of athletes for the Ford Ironman Triathlon. “It’s not easy to put on an Ironman in a downtown area,” says event director Joanna Meyers. “But the way Louisville is laid out, and just everything the city has to offer, make it the perfect location.”
Championship City also is home to some iconic sports attractions that offer athletes and their families memorable experiences when not competing.
The Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory, located in the city’s “Museum Row,” showcases the history of Louisville Slugger bats and baseball in general. The Muhammad Ali Center is a museum and cultural center honoring the champion boxer and Louisville native. The Kentucky Derby Museum, devoted to American Thoroughbred racing and preserving the history of the Kentucky Derby, is located on the grounds of Churchill Downs.
More than a third of the world’s bourbon comes from the area, and Louisville celebrates that heritage. “The bourbon experience here is truly unique,” says Gathan Borden, director of brand marketing for the Louisville CVB. “We have a distillery downtown open for tours and tastings, and our Urban Bourbon Trail highlights the bourbon bar and restaurant scene. Many restaurants in Louisville offer bourbon cuisine.”
Louisville also rivals larger cities with its restaurants, which consistently garner rave reviews. For instance, in 2013, Food & Wine named East Market Street as one of the “10 Best Foodie Streets in America” and Zagat’s picked the city as one of the seven “Up-and-Coming Food Cities in the U.S.”
It’s the combination of accolades and attractions that led leading travel publisher Lonely Planet to pick Louisville as the top U.S. travel destination for 2013. “We have more than 17,000 hotel rooms to suit all tastes and budgets, and we’re a one-day drive from 60 percent of the U.S. population,” Borden says. “Plus, the CVB and Sports Commission will do everything we can to partner with events to make them the best they can possibly be.”
Championship City is always looking to extend its winning tradition.
For more information, visit www.gotolouisville.com or www.louisvillesports.org.