Oklahoma City | Sports Destination Management

Oklahoma City

Dec 31, 2009 | By: Andrea Johnson
Discover the Event-Planning Riches of Oklahoma City

Nestled in America's heartland is a hidden sports-destination treasure featuring:

  • World-class kayaking, rowing, wakeboarding and waterskiing in the center of the city.

  • Big-league basketball, baseball and hockey, even national amateur softball, with the attendant exceptional facilities.

  • Qualifiers for the New York and Boston marathons, months of optimal running weather, and hundreds of miles of scenic running trails.

  • An unbelievably hospitable business environment including corporations which are eager to sponsor events, a city government that is eager to host events, and citizens who are eager to volunteer.

  • Easy access with three interstate highways and many direct flights from across the nation.


Barely 100 years old, Oklahoma City has evolved into a beautiful, thriving, sports-friendly metropolis in just the past two decades. From streets that are designed in a perfect grid, making it easy to get from one part of the city to another within 15 minutes, to flood-prevention measures that have created a water-sports utopia, it would be easy to believe that a century ago, Oklahoma City was conceived especially for events success in mind.

A Flood of Unexpected Developments
Consistent flooding motivated the Army Corps of Engineers to dam the Oklahoma River and reroute it through the heart of the city a half century ago. The river remained empty until 2001, when, as part of a visionary capital improvement program to advance tourism, water was returned to the river. In the process, they accidentally created a world-class, Olympic-quality water-sports venue featuring a 2,000-meter, 300-foot-wide straightaway with raised embankments that shield wind, prevent waves, and provide optimal sight lines.

Residents moved quickly to take advantage of this development. Soon thereafter, the Chesapeake Boathouse was constructed, funded through the Oklahoma City Boathouse Foundation, by one of the region's leading utilities, Chesapeake Energy Corporation. This architectural wonder has a design reminiscent of a sleek rowing shell featuring translucent walls and 16 columns of light representing oars that create an ethereal nighttime image. This dramatic structure includes:

  • Deck, lobby, and event room for receptions and meetings.

  • Boat bays to store up to 124 rowing shells.

  • A panoramic 24-foot wall of glass overlooking the deck, river and reflecting pool.

  • Event room with a 62-foot window revealing the boat bays.

  • Fully-equipped fitness/training room overlooking the river.


"The boathouse is evidence of how our city's business leaders are willing to invest in making our city an impressive sports center and appreciate the value of sporting events," says Holly Shelton, manager of Sports Business Development for the Oklahoma City Convention & Visitors Bureau .

It's an investment that has been paying off handsomely. In July, the U.S. Olympic Committee named this stretch of the Oklahoma River a U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Site. In 2008, it was the site for the USA Canoe/Kayak Trials for Flatwater Sprint, and in 2007, the USA Rowing World Challenge was held there, in addition to a host of regattas, wakeboarding and drag boating championships. It's no wonder that another multi-million dollar boathouse, even more spectacular than the Chesapeake Boathouse is now in the works.

"It is exceptionally rare to have this kind of venue in the middle of a city, a short length from the airport, with dead-straight 2,000 meters of water surrounded by state-of-the-art infrastructure," notes Sue Hollenbeck, assistant director of Sports Business Development for the Oklahoma City Convention & Visitors Bureau .

In Support of Big-League Opportunities
You don't have to look much farther beyond the river to find additional world-class venues. In fact, the state-of-the-art Ford Center is just a few blocks away. It is home to the Oklahoma City Thunder, an NBA team celebrating its second season in Oklahoma City. The Oklahoma City Yard Dawgz, of the arena football2 league, play in the Cox Convention Center arena which is located directly across the street from the Ford Center. Year after year, since its 2002 opening, The Ford Center has hosted major sporting events like the NHL and NBA preseason games as well as the NCAA Women's Basketball Regional and Division I Men's Basketball Championships.

Most importantly, the Ford Center is further proof of the Oklahoma City's broad-reaching sports enthusiasm, as the citizens overwhelming approved a sales tax extension which has funded major improvements and expansions including:

  • Luxury suites and lounges.

  • Leading-edge scoreboard and production facilities.

  • Retractable seating.

  • Locker room renovations.

  • High-definition broadcast capabilities.

  • Granite counter tops and high-definition, flat-screen TVs in restrooms.


After the upcoming NBA season, the center will complete its expansion with a new grand entry with multi-story atrium, new restaurants, bars, concessions stands, a rooftop deck, family fun zone, team offices, expanded locker rooms and a warm-up basketball court.

"Visitors are always amazed by the quality of our facilities," says Shelton. "Our community has made the investment in providing the best and it shows."

Easy Money
It should be no surprise, then, that Dave Wood, executive director of the city's Redman Triathlon, gives this sage advice for garnering sponsorship support from corporations, "Just ask. It really is so easy to find corporate entities in Oklahoma City that are interested in being involved in your event."

If you don't know where to begin, just call the Oklahoma City Convention & Visitors Bureau. They work hand-in-hand with event planners to attain quarterly sponsorship grants from the city. In fact, the bureau makes planning an event breathtakingly easy by providing a complete spectrum of planning and marketing support - from identifying and negotiating rates for venues, housing and entertainment to attaining permits, to printing banners, to arranging publicity.

"We work very closely with planners, we're alongside them every step of the way, to ensure a flawless event," says Shelton.

Going the Extra Mile
Beyond financial support, the citizens of Oklahoma City - from corporations to city government to individual enthusiasts - give generously of their time. Consider Wood, who in addition to his full-time job, devotes hundreds of hours a year to coordinate the Redman, which attracts 1,800 athletes from across the nation and the globe to participate in the two-day qualifying event. In addition, Dave is involved in supporting dozens of other running events, including the legendary Mother Road100, a 100-mile endurance race along Route 66 which attracts runners from as far away as the United Kingdom and Germany, the Oklahoma City National Memorial Marathon, a Boston- and New York City-marathon qualifier that commemorates the bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal Building; and the Oklahoma Ultra-Running Championships where athletes run for six-, 12- or 24-hours straight on varying terrains.

"Oklahoma City is unbelievably enthusiastic about athletes and athletic events," enthuses Dave. "Our city government - from the city manager to the parks department personnel - is overwhelmingly supportive, whether that's getting a permit expedited or delivering bleachers on time.

"Furthermore, our citizens always go the extra mile. For instance, it takes 1,100 volunteers to stage the Redman Triathlon and for months afterward, we get praises from the athletes, many of them competing at events nationwide. Our volunteers don't just staff an aid station, they decorate it,they run alongside the athletes; they create an atmosphere of infectious enthusiasm."

This enthusiasm has garnered hundred of rave reviews like this one:
"I wanted to tell you that I have done a lot of races. I also work for a race organizer myself. This is the best race I have ever been to in my life. There was not a moment in my 140.6 journey that I didn't feel supported.You guys rock!"

"We're a city of that genuinely gets the importance of providing an exceptional events experience, and this is demonstrated beautifully in the hundreds of events that we host throughout the year," says Hollenbeck.

For unparalleled event success, discover the riches of Oklahoma City. For more information, go to www.visitokc.com.

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