Football stadiums, baseball fields, aquatic centers: Sometimes the only groups that book sports venues for events are sports groups. But more planners are looking for off-site venues that can host their meetings as well as provide entertainment and team-building opportunities, and sports facilities could be just the ticket.
“Meetings get a little stale when you’re sitting in a hotel for a couple days,” said Curt Jensen, director of sports marketing for the statewide Connecticut Convention and Sports Bureau, which has noticed an uptick in groups other than sports groups booking sports venues. “I think it gives everybody a little energy to get out and experience something different than the meeting room or hotel.”
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Colorado Springs can claim something only two other cities in the nation can claim: It’s home to one of three U.S. Olympic training facilities in the country. It’s also the only headquarters of the U.S. Olympic Committee.
The Olympic training center is one of the city’s most popular and well-known sports venues, and it’s a “great attraction, pre- or post-event, to go there and take a tour,” said Chelsy Murphy, director of communications for the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau. But the training center is also available as an event venue. Last year, the facility hosted an 800-person reception and banquet during which gymnasts and fencers performed demonstrations.
In addition to the center’s massive aquatics, shooting and sports facilities, the training center has nearly 33,000 square feet of meeting and event space, including the $8 million Olympic Visitor Center, which houses the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame, an indoor reception area and a 225-seat auditorium.
Because it’s an Olympic training center, one-of-a-kind team-building opportunities are available there, Murphy said. If a group wants to learn one of the sports, such as fencing or target shooting, athletes will provide demonstrations and training; then, attendees can try it themselves or even compete against each other.
“To be trained by the athletes themselves and get tips and tricks from them, that’s a very unique experience,” she said.
Another sports venue available for meetings is Security Service Field, home to the Colorado Springs Sky Sox minor league baseball team. The facility has 5,350 square feet of event space, and both the stadium and the field are available to groups.
At Pikes Peak International Raceway, just minutes outside of Colorado Springs in the city of Fountain, groups can meet in the facility’s 15,140 square feet of event space before attendees get behind the wheel at the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving for team slalom driving or timed laps or to ride shotgun while professional drivers take them for a spin.
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
It may seem odd that a place as hot and sunny as Fort Lauderdale, Florida, would have so many ice-related sports venues available for meetings. But the BB&T Center in Sunrise is home to the Florida Panthers hockey team as well as 20 different meeting rooms that are available for groups of 30 to 500 people, said Christine Roberts-Tascione, vice president of convention sales and services for the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau.
A group could follow up its meeting with a concert, a hockey game or another sporting event. With more than 870,000 square feet, the 19,250-seat arena can also be used as a convention center or an exhibition hall, she said.
The 75,000-square-foot Saveology Iceplex in Coral Springs is an open-air facility with three connected ice rinks. Although the Iceplex has several boardroom-style meeting rooms — the largest holds about 40 people — groups can get their people on the ice for team building or just for fun. The CVB can also usually arrange some kind of celebrity activity or meet-and-greet with Florida Panthers players because the Iceplex is the team’s official practice facility, Roberts-Tascione said.
Central Broward Regional Park and Stadium is a multiuse stadium with 5,000 covered seats, a state-of-the-art field house and a professional cricket pitch. The stadium has meeting and event space that can accommodate 250 people, with water, power, restrooms, serving counters and two corporate pavilions, each with large cooking grills, Roberts-Tascione said. The main event field is available for use with a permit.
“Groups have definitely booked it, used the meeting facilities; then they go play games out there,” she said.
For groups unfamiliar with the sport of jai alai, watching “the world’s fastest game” at the Dania Jai-Alai stadium would be an unforgettable experience. Groups can book the exhibition hall, meeting room or outdoor space at the stadium or watch from the Skybox overlooking the court.
“I think often people do overlook some of the unique venues, sporting or otherwise, that are in a community that allow people to experience things in a different way,” Roberts-Tascione said.
For anyone who has never seen AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, it’s difficult for them to understand that “it’s not just a stadium,” said Matt Wilson, director of sports for Experience Arlington, the city’s convention and visitors bureau.
“It’s not just a place you can play sports; it’s also an arts museum with hundreds of art exhibits, and the facilities are second to none,” he said. “I go there twice a week, and there’s not a time that I walk in there and don’t marvel at how fantastic the facility is.”
The stadium is home to the Dallas Cowboys, and people line up every day just to tour the stadium, he added. It’s also a “very hot destination” for corporate meetings and sales meetings, and groups can be up in the plaza or down on the turf. AT&T is one of the few stadiums that allow field access, Wilson said.
The stadium even allows events to set up on the field like it’s a ballroom or use half of the field for a banquet and the other half for team-building exercises, said Decima Cooper, director of public relations and communications for Experience Arlington.
Rangers Ballpark, home of the Texas Rangers, is another world-class sports facility that offers a “ton of meeting space” for corporate meetings and special events, Wilson said, including a VIP luxury suite that was featured on DIY Network’s series “Man Caves.” Groups can book suites that overlook the field, and the park will even play movies on the Jumbotron. Park management is also expanding into other events and recently hosted its first-ever stand-alone concert as well as the largest food truck festival in Texas, Cooper said.
Annapolis and Anne Arundel County, Maryland
Annapolis, Maryland’s biggest claim to fame in the sports arena is the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. Although it’s recognizable for the iconic images of seamen in blinding-white uniforms lining the field, “the state-of-the-art stadium has beautiful indoor space for meetings,” said Jo Ellyn McNees, vice president of sales for Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Conference and Visitors Bureau.
“Our big claim to fame is we have great meetings at Navy Stadium,” she said. “When you go there, you have access to all these different spaces.”
The stadium’s 12,000-square-foot banquet facility is served by a full kitchen and houses the 8,000-square-foot N* Room, which can seat 600 people for a formal dinner, as well as the 3,000-square-foot Navy Lacrosse Hall of Fame Room. Other event options are the Flag Bridge, 18 sideline suites, and large party tents for barbecues or other outdoor events. Groups can go onto Jack Stephens Field to kick a football or enjoy the view of the Annapolis skyline and Chesapeake Bay from the top of the stadium, McNees said.
The city is hosting its first big sports appointment show and conference in September, McNees said, and the event will be using Navy Stadium’s meeting space both for its educational sessions and its conference events.
Some sports venues are built with more than sports in mind, and the 40,000-seat Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Connecticut, is one of them. The stadium is home to the University of Connecticut Huskies, but the facility, which opened in 2003, was designed with more than football in mind, said Curt Jensen with the Connecticut Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Rentschler Field has more than 7,500 square feet of function space, including executive boardrooms for small meetings or event space that can host galas and banquets for 400 to 500 people, Jensen said.
“It’s a unique venue; you can look out over the field, or they’re allowed on the field,” Jensen said.
Corporate groups and executive committees often book the stadium, and groups have used the facility for team-building activities such as geocaching and scavenger hunts, he added.
One of the state’s newest sports venues is the 400,000-square-foot Chelsea Piers Connecticut. The complex opened a year ago in Stamford and was developed by the same company that built and manages the Chelsea Piers Sports and Entertainment Complex in New York City, Jensen said. The massive Stamford facility boasts an aquatics center, a gymnastics center, two ice rinks, plenty of sports courts and fields, batting cages, climbing walls and even trampolines. The campus also has several event and meeting rooms for small groups.
Another option sits just outside the doors of the Connecticut Convention Center. The center sits on the banks of the Connecticut River in Hartford, and the redeveloped riverfront has become a popular site for conventions or conferences’ sports events, including charity runs and even morning yoga sessions. For example, the riverfront will be home base for the 2014 National Conference of the Magnet Schools of America’s charity run.