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These Destinations Score with Sports Planners

Sports events are big business. Whether it’s 10 teams or 100, youth or collegiate tournaments, club or professional events, sports meetings showcase cities and fill up hotel rooms.

These cities cater to certain sports and have become premier destinations for soccer, swimming, softball, baseball, bowling and ice sports.

Tempe, Arizona

In Tempe, Arizona, “triathlon is a huge market for us,” said James Tevault, director of sales for the Tempe Tourism Office. “But once you do triathlon, it also opens up the doors to those related markets, like swimming.”

Tempe is home to Tempe Town Lake, a man-made lake that stretches two miles along the dry Salt River. It’s in the middle of the city and surrounded by a network of trails, making it a major triathlon destination. The lake hosts two Ironman events every year, regularly welcomes USA Triathlon and recently held its first Major League Triathlon event.

That burgeoning triathlon market opened the door for Tempe Town Lake to welcome the 2018 USA Swimming Open Water National Championships, an event on which Tempe officials expect to bid for 2021 or 2022.

Arizona State University (ASU) in Tempe is another major draw for swimming. Retired Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time with 28 medals, trained at ASU’s Mona Plummer Aquatic Complex under Bob Bowman, ASU’s head swim coach.

Mona Plummer has two pools, a diving well and stadium seating for 2,000, which makes it great for swimming, water polo, diving and synchronized swimming events.

ASU’s Sun Devil Fitness Complex offers another pool that works for smaller events or as overflow for meets at Mona Plummer. The Triathlon Business International Conference held clinics at the Sun Devil pool in January.

McClintock High School’s pool reopened in summer 2017 after a renovation that included a new competition pool that was made deeper and longer to accommodate diving and swim meets.

Bentonville, Arkansas

Bentonville, Arkansas, enjoys international name recognition as the original hometown and current headquarters of Walmart, but it’s also known as a destination for softball and baseball.

The United States Specialty Sports Association (USSSA) named the Memorial Park baseball/softball complex its National Sports Complex of the Year in 2017, “which is a really big accomplishment,” said Luke Charpentier, sports tourism manager for Visit Bentonville.

Memorial Park has five lighted baseball fields, four lighted softball fields and four T-ball fields that can be used as nine softball fields for larger tournaments. The city recently converted four diamonds to turf infields, and the remaining five will be turfed by February 2020.

Memorial Park is home to Midwest Sports Productions’ Bentonville National Championship 12U-16U fast-pitch softball tournament every summer, which draws about 100 teams “and is probably part of the reason we’ve gotten the USSSA Complex of the Year honor,” Charpentier said. But part of the reason is community, from grounds crews who work to ensure the fields are ready to volunteers who hold cookouts.

Memorial Park and Phillips Park, which has five lighted baseball fields and two softball/T-ball fields, host Bentonville’s biggest softball and baseball events, such as the USSSA June Jam baseball tournament.

The Tiger Athletic Complex’s softball field can seat about 500 and, for the past several years, has welcomed the NCAA Division II Great American Conference softball championship in May as well as the Alvy Early Memorial Classic, a Division II preseason tournament that draws about 30 teams in February.

Fargo, North Dakota

The name Fargo may conjure images of the movie or the television show — or of ice hockey. And Fargo, North Dakota, along with its sister cities of West Fargo and Moorhead, Minnesota, have a lot of ice to offer for winter sports.

Organizers will soon have 18 sheets of ice, all within a 15-minute drive, said Kali Mork, director of sports for the Fargo-Moorhead Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The West Fargo School District recently built two new sheets of ice, bringing the city’s total to four. Moorhead Youth Hockey is building a third rink at the Moorhead Mighty Ducks Youth Hockey Arena, so it will be the communities’ first and only three-sheet facility when construction wraps up this fall.

The 5,000-seat Scheels Arena, which recently opened a second sheet, will host the NCAA Men’s Ice Hockey Championship West Regionals for the third time in March, as well as the state high school hockey tournament in February.

Youth hockey is huge; two of the cities’ three youth hockey associations generate about 14,000 room-nights, Mork said. The Fargo Youth Hockey Association’s Squirt International tournament accounts for about half of those room-nights when more than 220 teams play over three weekends every February.

The 2018 Men’s and Women’s National Curling Championships was the fifth national championship Fargo hosted for USA Curling in seven years, some at Scheels Arena and some at F-M Curling Club’s six-sheet facility. Fargo will also once again welcome the USA Broomball National Championships in April.

Green Bay, Wisconsin

Green Bay and the Packers: The two are inseparable and synonymous. Fans all around the world know Green Bay, Wisconsin, for its homegrown home team, but the city is also a bowling destination.

Wisconsin reportedly has the most bowling lanes per capita in the country, and Green Bay has the most lanes per capita in the state with about 180 total, said Joel Everts, sports sales manager for the Greater Green Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Over the past four years, Green Bay has welcomed “the biggest round of bowling events in quite a while,” he said.

In addition to state and regional tournaments, professional bowling keeps coming back to Green Bay. The United States Bowling Congress (USBC) and Professional Women’s Bowling Association (PWBA) have both chosen the city for major events in recent years, among them the 2015 USBC Masters, Queens/Senior Queens, Senior Masters and Senior Championships, as well as the 2016 and 2017 PWBA Player’s Championships.

The city also welcomed the Midwest Women’s Bowling Tournament for five weekends of women’s bowling this past summer.

Ashwaubenon Bowling Alley is “the premier bowling facility that we’ve used for a lot of these events,” Everts said. “They’re an amazing partner.”

Ashwaubenon boasts 60 lanes on one level, along with ample parking, a great bar and can-do staff, he said.

This year will be another big one for bowling events but with availability for smaller tournaments, such as the Midwest Collegiate Tournament, the Wisconsin High School State Championship and the Wisconsin State Lutheran Bowlers.

Foley, Alabama

When the Foley Sports Tourism Complex opened its doors and fields in 2017, it put Foley, Alabama, on the sports destinations map.

The sprawling complex boasts 16 grass multipurpose fields, one a lighted championship field with seating for up to 1,000. Next to the sports fields, the 90,000-square-foot Foley Event Center is a multiuse indoor facility that can have six basketball courts or 12 volleyball courts and can also accommodate indoor soccer, futsal, trade shows and more.

The on-site TownePlace Suites by Marriott at OWA offers 150 guest rooms for incoming tournaments, and the complex sits next to the Park at OWA amusement park and water park. Most of the city’s 11 hotels are within three miles of the sports complex, and the Tanger Outlets mall is half a mile away.

Soccer and volleyball are the city’s two largest sports markets, and the complex puts Foley on the map for both sports, said Don Dukemineer, deputy director of sports tourism for Foley Sports Tourism. Last November alone, the venue welcomed the Alabama Soccer Association State Cup, the Sun Belt Women’s Soccer Championship, the NIRSA National Soccer Championships and the NCAA Women’s Soccer Championship.