Situated in West Texas in the foothills of the majestic Franklin Mountains, El Paso is also known as “Sun City” due to its 300-plus days of sunshine each year. The great weather, top-notch sports venues and visitor amenities attract a broad array of events and athletes, and the city’s revitalized downtown with new hotels, vibrant festivals, wealth of dining and entertainment options and relaxed desert vibe add to the appeal.
“Our location and weather is a major draw for sporting events,” says Brooke Underwood, Assistant General Manager for Destination El Paso. “We’ve had people travel from Canada and Mexico as well as from all over the U.S. Because of our close proximity to Mexico, it’s an ideal destination to include international participants due to the ease of flights into El Paso International Airport and Ciudad Juarez International Airport.”
By land, Interstate 10 is the main thoroughfare and connects El Paso to the Southwest and the rest of Texas. To accommodate visiting athletes and spectators, El Paso will have more than 10,000 hotel rooms citywide by 2020.
Underwood isn’t kidding when she points out that El Paso is the perfect location for “any and every sport you can do under the sun.” The destination can handle everything from local and regional sports competitions to national tournaments and championships. Professional and amateur soccer, Minor League Baseball, football, volleyball, track and field, swimming, cycling and more are all in the mix. Some of the marquee events hosted by the city have included:
• The annual Hyundai Sun Bowl, the nation’s second-oldest college football game, which attracts more than 49,000 fans. The 86th edition will take place on December 31, 2019
• The United States Bowling Congress Open Championships (2015) and Women’s Championships (2010)
• The Conference USA Men’s and Women’s Basketball Championship Tournaments (2011 and 2014)
This past March, El Paso kicked off its first-ever Sun City CRIT, part of the USA CRITS Series of urban bicycle races that include male and female Olympians, world and national champions zooming at speeds upwards of 30 mph around a closed downtown course. El Paso will host the event through 2023. “The Sun City CRIT brings in more than 7,000 participants and spectators and is an international event,” says Underwood. USA CRITS will also debut RISE: Cycling Talent Identification Combine and Symposium. “This is a new, first-of-its-kind multi-day event in which high school students and college-bound student athletes have an opportunity to showcase themselves in front of key coaches, administrators and sports directors from collegiate, club, elite national and international teams for selection and scholarship awards,” she explains. “This event will be held in El Paso for five years.”
To accommodate an increasing number of sports events — and to help attract new ones — El Paso boasts a number of outstanding venues and has more in the works. This is great news for planners of local, regional and national sports events.
The Eastside Sports Complex spans 80 acres in east El Paso and has eight lighted fields, including a championship field with covered bleachers and 500 seats. About 124,000 players and spectators are expected to visit the facility this year. Expansion of the venue, which calls for the addition of eight more fields, is underway and will be completed in 2020.
The 36,000-square-foot Westside Natatorium, an international and NCAA championship-level aquatics facility, offers a 50-meter competition-ready pool with a moveable bulkhead that can be configured to create 50-meter, 25-meter and 25-yard courses. A separate portion of the same venue can accommodate water polo, synchronized swimming, recreational swimming, general lap swimming and a warm-up area. There are 750 seats for spectators, and moveable bleachers along the deck area can accommodate as many as 224 competitors.
To complement the Westside Natatorium, a second aquatics venue, the Eastside Natatorium, is currently under construction and is slated to open in 2020. It will incorporate a diving well and platforms of varying heights, plus seating for at least 800 spectators and deck space for up to 400 competitors, putting El Paso in a prime position to host major national events.
Also in the works is the Eastside Regional Park, a 92-acre venue now in the development phase and part of a $48 million project. The park will offer four baseball/softball diamonds, six flat fields, four volleyball courts, a skate/BMX amphitheatre, a 50-meter competition-ready aquatic center, a climbing wall and a community center.
Looking ahead, Underwood reports that a 12,000-plus seat, $180 million state-of-the-art entertainment facility/multi-purpose arena is currently in the research phase, with construction set to begin in 2020. “This new venue will complement the Convention Center, with a capacity to host concerts, ice events, religious gatherings, convention activities and sporting tournaments,” she says.
But El Paso’s facilities don’t end here. The destination’s many other indoor and outdoor sports facilities are designed to meet the needs of planners wherever their sports play out.
The El Paso County Sportspark on the far east side of the city is one of the most expansive sports centers in El Paso County and boasts some of the most competitive sports leagues including baseball, softball and tee-ball. Meanwhile, Southwest University Park, a 7,000-fixed-seat downtown ballpark, is home field for the El Paso Chihuahuas Triple A baseball team and the El Paso Locomotive FC soccer team. This newly completed $74 million stadium has state-of-the-art field construction and 23 luxury/party suites. It can accommodate up to 10,000 spectators and can handle national play in a variety of sports including baseball, softball, soccer and rugby.
On the other side of town in far west El Paso, the Westside Sports Complex spans 57 acres and offers 13 natural turf fields that are ideal for football, soccer or softball use. It also provides permanent concessions and public restroom facilities as well as 1,000 free parking spaces, making it a natural choice for tournaments.
The Northeast El Paso Park/Skatepark has a 25,000-square-foot skatepark that was built by the same company that designs X Games courses. The venue also offers lighted basketball courts, baseball diamonds and flat fields.
As ACC and PAC 12 fans and teams know, the 51,000-seat Sun Bowl Stadium hosts the nationally televised college bowl football game of the same name every December. The rest of the year, it’s home to the University of Texas at El Paso Miners. Its strengths go way beyond football, however, with capabilities of hosting soccer, championship boxing, lacrosse and rugby. The Sun Bowl’s wealth of parking, concessions, press facilities and its 88,008 square feet of field space are hard to equal.
The El Paso County Coliseum has 5,250 seats and includes concessions, great lighting, audio/visual, dressing rooms and restrooms plus ample parking. Its ceiling height of 50 feet and its vast, column-free, 19,000 square feet give this venue popular appeal. It has been home to the El Paso Livestock Show & Rodeo, and also excels with boxing, wrestling, arena football, hockey, table tennis, cheer and dance, as well as USA Weightlifting competitions.
For hoops competition, the Don Haskins Center is ready for action. Configured as a 127’ x 84’ octagon, it’s primarily a championship basketball facility, with a permanent, safeguard-covered hardwood floor and four large locker/team dressing rooms available. With a 12,000-seat capacity, it has hosted prime entertainment acts such as rock concerts, NBA preseason games, championship wrestling and more. It offers 36 wheelchair spaces, 800 portable seats in the rounds and 7,000-9,000 seats with end-stage seating. The venue’s largest contiguous space measures 10,668 square feet.
El Paso is also a great place to tee off and is home to the Butterfield Trail Golf Club, a Tom Fazio-designed course that is perfect for competitive tournaments. Other options include the Lonestar Golf Club links-style course, and the Painted Dunes Golf Club with three nine-hole courses.
Clearly, El Paso has found its place in the sun, and Visit El Paso is ready to support sports planners and leverage local assets to help craft winning events. “We are a great liaison for all these facilities,” says Underwood, “and we can help make sure people not only feel welcome but know all about the city and what it has to offer.” SDM