America loves sports. From the NFL to the local minor league baseball team, sporting events of all types attract incredible numbers of fans. At the same time, the stadiums and other facilities they occupy also can serve as meeting venues. In what seems to be a growing trend, operators of sports venues have leveraged their investments by making facilities available for meetings, opening up new possibilities for planners.
Why consider a sports venue? For many, a major appeal is the aura surrounding a facility whose primary function is hosting sporting events. Even in the off-season or when the home team is out of town, fans from all walks of life enjoy basking in an area where athletes have made their impact on sports history. And those who care less deeply about sports may still appreciate a break from traditional meeting sites.
“Clients like to offer their attendees opportunities to see well-known sporting venues in more intimate settings with behind-the-scenes offerings.”
— Shannon Gardner, DMCP
These facilities also may bring logistical advantages. They’re often located close to hotels, restaurants and other attractions, and parking is likely to be a non-issue.
Certainly there are tradeoffs. Some attendees may prefer meeting rooms in the same hotel where they are staying, and staffing to support events may be limited compared to some alternatives. But when it comes to a change of pace, a sports venue can bring life to any meeting.
The NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, North Carolina, provides a location where guests can soak up the history of one of the country’s most popular pastimes. Whether this means attending a reception surrounded by NASCAR memorabilia or dining next to a car once driven by a racing legend, participants can enjoy a meeting experience that is far from the ordinary.
For planners, the range of options is a plus. The facilities accommodate various-sized groups ranging from 10 to 2,400 people.
A national sales coordinator for a leading consumer goods company coordinated a meeting at this location, and she says it provides a great alternative to more traditional settings.
“When bringing in clients, this type of venue allows the organization to show them a piece of your community,” she says. She notes that participants have enjoyed getting an inside look at NASCAR as an industry and the popularity it enjoys in the region, as well as some history of the sport.
“You don’t have to be fans of the specific sport,” she says. “It’s still interesting to get a different look inside the sport than the average person.”
She adds that the environment allowed for interactive activities and offered a refreshing atmosphere.
“It was something different than having a reception or dinner in a closed, stuffy banquet room,” she says.
One convenience was that because there were onsite activities, it wasn’t necessary to shuttle the group around. And the level of cooperation was outstanding.
“The onsite staff was amazing in helping us put together our event,” she says. “We would use this location again.”
Facilities include the Great Hall, a large open area with a flexible floor plan set against the backdrop of the famous Glory Road. It can accommodate from 380 to 650 people depending on the nature of the event. A huge 24-by-14-foot video board can be used to play a video or showcase graphics.
A smaller option, the Legends Room, accommodates up to 90 people (48 in a classroom format), while the Hall of Honor, where inductees are enshrined, handles 50 for a plated meal or 80 for a reception.
Even non-racing fans may be impressed by a reception in the areas dubbed Race Week and Heritage Speedway. Up to 250 attendees have access to interactive exhibits and can even try their skills in racing simulator cars. For outdoor events, a 32,000-sf patio is available.
Around the country, stadiums designed for football or other sports also double as meeting centers. In Indianapolis, Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts and the site of the 2012 Super Bowl, offers a variety of meeting options.
“Clients like to offer their attendees opportunities to see well-known sporting venues in more intimate settings with behind-the-scenes offerings,” says Shannon Gardner, DMCP, president of Accent Indy, a DMC Network Company. She frequently holds events at Lucas Oil Stadium for attendees varying from upper management to top customers.
“Not only is it conveniently located within walking distance to most convention hotels in downtown Indy, but its notoriety is a huge draw,” she says. “Guests love being able to say, I was there!”
Gardner points out that an advantage of stadiums such as Lucas is the combination of size and flexibility.
“Its size and layout allow for groups of all sizes to utilize the space,” she says. “You can have an event with a hundred or a thousand people and the experience is just as impactful.”
She says her experience has shown that attendees often view their meeting time as something worth remembering.
“Seeing this giant, state-of-the-art facility right in the heart of downtown Indy is impressive for attendees,” she says. “Knowing all the events that take place, including all the famous players that have broken records there, makes it even more special to attendees.”
She adds that a conference participant who in the future is sitting on the couch watching “Monday Night Football” or an NCAA tournament can identify with the location. “It certainly creates great memories and hopefully associates a positive experience with that particular meeting,” Gardner says.
The stadium has 12 meeting rooms along with two exhibit halls, the field itself, and adjacent party areas. With a state-of-the-art retractable roof, the stadium features views of the city’s skyline along with plenty of meeting space. Meeting rooms range from 780 to 1,400 sf. Counting the field and exhibit halls, total space approximates 183,000 sf.
Connected to the Indiana Convention Center by an enclosed pedestrian corridor, the facility includes the 30,000-sf Lucas Oil Plaza along with club lounges and suites. A plus for planners is that more than half of the city’s 7,100 hotel rooms are within blocks of the stadium.
While newer venues are usually more desirable, older options also have much to recommend. That’s the case at Green Bay’s Lambeau Field, home of the NFL’s Packers, where the term “historic” is no exaggeration. What it lacks in glitz, the facility offers in tradition as one of the most recognizable venues in sports.
Facilities include the Legends Club Room, with more than 6,800 sf of space that accommodates up to 800 people. Smaller rooms of 1,600 to 1,800 sf, named after football legends such as Johnny “Blood” McNally, Willie Davis, Paul Hornung and Bart Starr, serve groups of 40 to 120. A balcony area and “MVP” boxes also are available, along with lounges and a party deck. The atrium floor encompasses nearly 40,000 sf.
In cities with multiple sports franchises, the choices available to planners may include two or more big-time sports options. In Miami, for example, both the football and baseball stadiums offer space to corporate groups.
The former Sun Life Stadium, home of the NFL’s Miami Dolphins, has undergone a major renovation scheduled for completion by the end of the preseason in September. (There was no title sponsor for the stadium as of press time.) The venue has several meeting rooms suitable for smaller groups, accommodating from 30 to 50 attendees.
And Marlins Park, home of Major League Baseball’s Miami Marlins, offers meeting spaces that include a conference room for 75 to 125, the Dugout Club with space for 50 to 100 and Lexus Legends with room for up to 700. For large-scale events, a retractable roof allows flexibility for sun or rain, and there is onsite parking for up to 5,700 cars.
To focus on teambuilding or simply add fun, extra features include corporate batting practice sessions, “run the bases” experiences, customized Marlins souvenirs, ballpark photo sessions, fireworks and pool parties.
Similarly, Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati also offers an attractive option. Along with the top-level sports environment, visitors enjoy the appeal of an Ohio River setting within walking distance of most downtown hotels.
For business meetings, stadium facilities range from a conference room for 25 to larger areas accommodating up to 1,000 people. Four rooms consist of balconied spaces overlooking club lounges and ranging in size from 1,700 to 4,700 sf. Designed to serve groups from 50 to 100, they can be used for meetings, receptions or breakout areas.
A strong sense of history also prevails at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, Major League Baseball’s third oldest ballpark. With year-round availability and close proximity to downtown, the stadium offers a nostalgic setting for corporate events.
Facilities include the Stadium Club, which overlooks the outfield and includes access to an outdoor patio. With a flexible design that allows a variety of setup options, it has a capacity of 499 guests for a reception, 250 seated or 230 guests seated with a dance floor. The Lexus Dugout Club, located behind home plate, includes displays of memorabilia such as a wall of gold gloves and the team’s World Series trophies. It seats 200 guests or accommodates 350 for a reception.
For smaller groups, the Baseline Clubs, overlooking the third and first baselines, have a capacity of 100 for a reception or 75 guests seated. And for an intriguing outdoor venue, the Retired Numbers Plaza offers views of not only the field, but also the downtown area and the famous Hollywood sign. It handles up to 600 for a reception or 400 seated.
The opportunity to meet at a sports venue is not limited to the world of big-time professional sports. Other possibilities range from minor league pro sports to college and university campuses.
At Folsom Field, the University of Colorado’s football stadium, the location itself is part of the attraction, with guests enjoying a backdrop of the region’s spectacular mountains. An exclusive rooftop patio and several indoor rooms provide high-end meeting spaces. The Rooftop Terrace Club is a new open-air space overlooking the field as well as the Flatiron and Front Range mountains. The 13,900-sf terrace has a capacity of 400 to 600 people. It offers access to the Byron R. White Club, which offers upscale dining and beverage options, and two custom bars. Divided into halves, the room seats approximately 300 with round tables on each side.
The Touchdown Club, with 7,600 sf of space, is located just above the north end zone. The area has a capacity of 400 to 500 and features a walk-up bar with food and beverage service. The smaller Champions Club Lounge, at 4,500 sf, accommodates up to 250.
Also available are stadium suites designed for small groups, breakout sessions and board meetings. Ranging in size from 455 to 1,300 sf, they have floor-to- ceiling windows to take advantage of the stadium views.
The same approach is followed at Pratt & Whitney Stadium, the home field of the University of Connecticut football team. More than 7,500 sf of meeting and reception space is available. Facilities include a 325-seat function room with upholstered seats and 38 executive suites
On a smaller scale, the stadiums occupied by minor league teams also can be worth considering. One example is Cooley Law School Stadium in Lansing, Michigan. Home to the Lansing Lugnuts, a Class A affiliate of baseball’s Toronto Blue Jays, the facility includes a recently added 2,000-sf, year-round special events facility. It seats up to 150 guests in a banquet setting with additional outdoor patio seating.
Offering similar appeal is Dayton, Ohio’s Fifth Third Field, home to the Dragons, a minor league affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds. The entire stadium can be rented for groups of up to 10,000, or the facility’s suite level will accommodate 600. Conference rooms and other meeting areas are suitable for groups from 10 to 60.
Facilities designed for hockey can also serve as meeting sites. At the Bank of Maine Ice Vault in Hallowell, Maine, a large conference room with flexible floor plans accommodates groups of 10 to 100, and a smaller boardroom seats up to 30 participants.
Still other types of sports venue range from the iconic to the innovative. Among the most well known is the unparalleled Churchill Downs. The Kentucky Derby site also plays a less widely acknowledged, but nevertheless attractive, role as a location for corporate events.
The sprawling facility offers up to 15 meeting rooms and event options, serving groups ranging in size from 20 to more than 5,000 people. Among the facility choices is the Triple Crown Room, a banquet room that can serve up to 360 guests. Located on the fifth floor of the clubhouse, it offers a view of the downtown Louisville skyline, with a large balcony overlooking the racetrack.
For larger groups, an event area dubbed Millionaires Row 4 accommodates up to 832 guests. It offers dining space and a four-tier balcony overlooking the historic finish line. Located on the sixth level of the clubhouse, the smaller Millionaires Row 6 has similar features with a capacity of 576.
The Stakes Room, with space for up to 168 guests, overlooks the entire racetrack directly over the finish line. It is sandwiched by a roomy foyer with bar and a tiered balcony. The Aristides Room has a capacity of 120, and a couple of smaller rooms accommodate up to 80 guests.
One of the oldest sports of all is boxing, and that is just major activity taking place in T-Mobile Arena, a new Las Vegas venue from AEG and MGM Resorts International. The 20,000-seat multipurpose event center opened in April 2016. Along with world-class boxing, the facility hosts hockey, basketball and other sporting events, in addition to red-carpet events and concerts, among 100-150 events annually. It features 50 luxury suites, more than two dozen private boxes, the Toshiba Plaza — a two-acre outdoor entertainment space for pre-event functions and special events offering a performance stage and video screens — and a variety of multipurpose spaces.
For any meeting planner considering a sports-related venue, the fact that it may not be everyone’s first choice is an obvious consideration. But even non-sports fans may find it a refreshing alternative and should understand its appeal to others.
“Sports are extremely popular, so giving attendees the opportunity to experience a professional sport firsthand is a memorable experience,” says Kathy Poulin, who coordinates events for the North Carolina-based Okuma America, a manufacturer of precision machining equipment who has held successful events at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. “Just make sure the sports venue interests and appeals to the majority of your audience.” C&IT