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The Group Travel Leader Going on Faith Select Traveler

Sports Venues for the Win

You don’t have to be a professional athlete to take care of business on the playing field.

When planners choose sports venues and facilities for meetings and events, sports-related or not, “you get to use a venue in a different way than what it was made for, and you get to give attendees an experience they don’t get very often,” said Sue Hollenbeck, director of sports business for the Oklahoma City Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Instead of sitting in the stands, attendees are on the arena floor for a banquet or on the stadium field for a reception. They can gather in high-end club lounges or repurposed locker rooms, take in sweeping views from high-up event spaces and even take a few swings in batting cages.

Plus, gathering in a sports facility gives planners the opportunity to incorporate experiences they couldn’t in a ballroom: whitewater rafting, driving on a racetrack or playing kickball on a baseball diamond.

Here are five cities where planners can take advantage of great sports venues for meetings and events.

Eagan, Minnesota

U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis is where the Minnesota Vikings play, but one could say that the city of Eagan 30 miles southeast is the team’s true home.

In Eagan, Viking Lakes is a multiuse development that is the headquarters and practice home for the Minnesota Vikings Football Club. The campus is anchored by the new 5,500-fixed-seat, multipurpose TCO Stadium, the TCO Performance Center and the Vikings Museum, and it will soon welcome the 320-room Omni Viking Lakes Hotel, slated to open this fall with 35,000 square feet of function space.

At TCO Stadium, groups can use the in-stadium patio or concourse deck, the kids’ field and the stadium plaza, which has artificial turf and can be set up for events, said Kathy O’Connell, sales director for the Eagan Convention and Visitors Bureau. Additional areas outside the stadium, such as the STEM Building Patio and Owner’s Deck, can be used for events.

At the Training Haus, a sports performance facility at Viking Lakes, a 50-person multipurpose meeting room overlooks the plaza, and an indoor turf area is available for private events, such as social hours or teambuilding, for 150 people. The center’s outdoor deck is also available for up to 75 guests.

In October, the owners of the Vikings debuted their new e-sports franchise, the Minnesota Røkkr, which will be based in the STEM building at Viking Lakes. Team backers are constructing a nearly 11,000-square-foot headquarters and training facility, set to open in January.

Colorado Springs, Colorado

There are only three Olympic training centers in the U.S., and one is in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Training Center is one of the city’s marquee attractions, but with more than 10 meeting rooms and 65,000 square feet of meeting space, it also serves as an unforgettable meeting venue.

Groups can gather for banquets or receptions in a training gym with or without Olympic athletes practicing in the background. Organizers can schedule VIP tours, have an Olympian or a Paralympian give a presentation or join groups for lunch, or arrange for an athlete to provide a gymnastics, weightlifting or wrestling demonstration.

“What’s really cool is some groups can actually learn a sport with some of the athletes,” such as fencing or wheelchair basketball, said Chelsy Offutt, director of communications for Visit Colorado Springs.

At UCHealth Park baseball stadium, groups can hold events on the field, use the 250-person banquet hall that overlooks the stadium or book the five-level, 500-person outdoor picnic terrace that’s on the first-base line, directly above the bullpen.

Pikes Peak International Raceway offers a variety of spaces, including classrooms and banquet facilities for more than 200, as well as over 15,000 square feet of enclosed garages. During a variety of driving experiences, attendees can compete head-to-head, race the clock and even ride along with a professional driver.

A new multipurpose downtown soccer stadium and Colorado College’s Robson Arena are both slated to open in 2021.

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Oklahoma City is synonymous with cowboys and rodeos and — rowing? In the Boathouse District on the banks of the Oklahoma River, three boathouses, a finish line tower and the McClendon Whitewater Center all offer meeting and event space, including an outdoor patio overlooking Riversport Rapids water park. Riversport Rapids offers groups behind-the-scenes tours of the USRowing National High Performance Center, an official Olympic rowing training site, as well as teambuilding activities like whitewater rafting, dragon boating or rowing, and group pricing for its zip lines and 80-foot-high aerial course.

The 15,341-seat Chesapeake Energy Arena is home to the OKC Thunder, and in addition to the venue’s smaller event spaces, groups have also used the 34,000-square-foot arena floor for events like gala dinners.

Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark in the city’s canal-lined Bricktown district houses the Oklahoma City Dodgers. The stadium’s concourses can be used for large gatherings, and the field has been used for banquets. Decks, plazas and a picnic area offer outdoor event space, and smaller groups can gather in club lounges and even the clubhouse, where they can hit some balls in the batting cage.

The third and final phase of the USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium renovation will be completed this spring. The project added 4,000 permanent seats, bringing the total to 9,000, and an upper deck with a concourse “that gives you this beautiful and incredible view of downtown and the state Capitol,” Hollenbeck said.

Canton, Ohio

The National Football League was born during a meeting on September 17, 1920, in Canton, Ohio, at the Hupmobile showroom of Ralph Hay, owner of the hometown Bulldogs. Today, the Johnson Controls Hall of Fame Village in Canton is an $899 million mixed-use development that is home to the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium that opened in 2017. The 23,000-capacity stadium boasts 28,000 square feet of event space that includes suites, a club lounge and a 50-person VIP lounge, and “even the locker rooms can be converted and utilized,” said Tonja Marshall, executive vice president of marketing and communications for Visit Canton. The Sky Level Terrace sits atop the press box and offers panoramic views of the stadium for up to 250 guests. Just above the west end zone, five open-air terraces can accommodate groups of 50 to 265 people.

Next door, the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s 3,200-square-foot event center can seat 240 for banquets, and the 2,000-square-foot Gold Jacket Lounge can accommodate 140 for seated meals.

At the Hall of Fame, organizers can have a Gold Jacket — a player who has been inducted into the Hall of Fame — speak at events or do a meet-and-greet. Groups can also schedule a docent-led insiders tour or a VIP behind-the-scenes tour that provides exclusive access to archives and can be customized to showcase their home team with memorabilia, documents and photos.

In downtown, the Canton Charge NBA G League team plays at the 5,000-seat Canton Memorial Civic Center, whose arena floor can be used for banquets and concerts.

Clearwater, Florida

Florida means sun, sand and spring training. About 15 major league baseball teams hold their spring training in the Sunshine State, and the city of Clearwater has been the spring training home of the Philadelphia Phillies since 1947.

The Phillies train at Spectrum Field, a 7,300-fixed-seat stadium that is also home to the minor league Clearwater Threshers. The stadium has party suites, club seating, group picnic areas and a tiki hut pavilion in left field. The media room and common areas on the concourse can be used for events, and the suites’ walls open to create a larger space for bigger groups, said Mike Lockwood, assistant director of Clearwater Parks and Recreation. Groups can also use the playing field for events or gatherings.

Next door, the Carpenter Complex is the Phillies’ minor league facility; its four baseball fields and a training building are available for meetings and private events. There, the batting cage area— a large, open AstroTurf area that can be set up with tables and chairs — has served as a meeting space in the past, and groups may even be able to do some batting practice there, depending on availability.

At the Clearwater Community Sailing Center on Clearwater Bay, the Carlisle Room and veranda offer water views for up to 130 guests.