Los Angeles. Fairbanks, Alaska. Tacoma, Washington. Portland, Oregon. These cities may seem to have little in common. But they all hug the shore of the Pacific Ocean, offering terrific venues in spectacular natural settings. Sports events in these destinations often draw higher registrations and bigger crowds simply because people can’t wait to visit.
Each of the six major Hawaiian islands has its own distinct geography and personality. “You could come here six times and have six completely different experiences,” said Leslie Dance, vice-president of marketing and product development for the Hawaii Tourism Authority.
That diversity extends as well to the 31 sporting events the HTA supports, including those on the island of Oahu, which features Honolulu, the state capital and Hawaii’s largest city. Oahu is also home to the University of Hawaii, the Hawaii Convention Center and Aloha Stadium.
Aloha Stadium is the home field for the University of Hawaii Rainbow Warriors football team and the NCAA’s annual Hawaii Bowl on Christmas Eve. The stadium hosted the 2016 Ohana Cup Rugby League Festival, and officials are looking to attract more of that sport. “Definitely rugby is in the mix for the future,” Dance said.
In October, the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers will host the Clippers Hawaii Classic at the university’s 10,300-seat Stan Sheriff Center, where the team will also hold its 2017 training camp. The event will feature two preseason games between the Clippers and the Toronto Raptors, as well as a Fan Fest at the Hawaii Convention Center. The Stan Sheriff Center is also the site of the Diamond Head Classic every December, a three-day college invitational basketball tournament.
Other UH campus facilities include the Duke Kahanamoku Aquatic Complex and the Clarence T.C. Ching Athletics Complex, which was recently expanded to provide grandstand seating for about 2,500 fans and add a beach volleyball venue with 778 seats and two competition courts.
AEG manages the 1.1 million-square-foot Hawaii Convention Center. The convention center recently purchased indoor sports courts for volleyball, basketball and futsal “that open a whole new market for us,” Dance said.
The islands have dozens of golf courses. This was the 52nd year the PGA Tour’s Sony Open in Hawaii played at the Waialae Country Club in Honolulu, and the LPGA Lotte Championship has been played every April at the Ko Olina Golf Club on Oahu since debuting in 2012.
Oahu is also synonymous with the North Shore, where big waves bring big crowds to surfing tournaments such as the annual Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational and the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing.
Tacoma’s beauty provides an advantage. Many cities have built solid event venues, but “when you put a baseball field or a convention center here, people say ‘We want to go to that one,’” said Dean Burke, executive director of the Tacoma South Sound Sports Commission.
Tacoma wraps around Puget Sound’s Commencement Bay, where 54 teams competed in the 2017 World Water Ski Racing Championships in May. The shoreline used to be what Burke calls “maritime Detroit,” dominated by heavy industry, but recreational opportunities have opened up over the past decade. Regattas and competitions include dragon boats, standup paddleboards, kayaks and Hawaiian outrigger canoes. The Gig Harbor Paddlers Cup takes place at Historic Eddon Boat Park each spring.
Tacoma recently won its bid to host the 2019 USA Cycling Cyclocross National Championships, which will be held at 340-acre Fort Steilacoom Park.
Golf is also booming for Tacoma. Chambers Bay Golf Course, a waterfront venue with mountain views, hosted the 2015 U.S. Open, which was the first time the event had ever been played in the Pacific Northwest. The property also created a Division I–standard cross-country course. Officials are working to attract USATF and NCAA cross-country events to both Chambers Bay and Fort Steilacoom Park, the site of the annual Fort Steilacoom Invitational, which draws 2,500 runners every September.
As for indoor events, the city hosts one of the biggest single weekends of wrestling in the United States at the 23,000-seat Tacoma Dome, with more than 3,000 athletes competing in state high school championships, followed by a USA Wrestling–sanctioned qualifier. And the Charity Choice Invitational has more than tripled in size in its three years, drawing 3,000 gymnasts to the 119,000-square-foot Greater Tacoma Convention Center in February.
Sacramento is a tree-canopied city that sits in the agricultural heart of California’s Sacramento Valley, and the city serves as the state capital as well. “For many years we were just seen as the capital city, but we’ve moved beyond that and grown into our own destination,” said Mike Sophia, director of the Sacramento Sports Commission.
When the Golden 1 Center arena opened in October, it “changed the landscape of Sacramento.” The 17,608-seat arena is home to the NBA’s Sacramento Kings and hosted the first and second rounds of the 2017 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament, an event that will return in 2020.
Golden 1 Center and the Sacramento Convention Center bookend K Street, a pedestrian thoroughfare that “has come alive almost overnight,” Sophia said, and will grow busier with the upcoming opening of the Sawyer, a new 250-room boutique hotel. Meanwhile, the 137,000-square-foot Sacramento Convention Center has just started work on a planned $90 million expansion that will add exhibit space, meeting rooms and a public plaza with an amphitheater. The outdoor space will better connect the center to the neighboring 2,398-seat Community Center Theater, a city-owned facility that is itself scheduled for an $83 million renovation.
The city of Sacramento has also had a long history with track and field, and most events take place at California State University/Sacramento — also know as Sac State. The university’s Hornet Stadium hosted the USATF Outdoor Championships in 2014 and again this year, and it also hosted the 2016 USATF Junior Olympics. The city often partners with Sac State to use its other venues, such as the state-of-the-art Sacramento State Aquatic Center on Lake Natoma.
Los Angeles, California
Los Angeles’ sports landscape is as diverse as the city itself. The new home of two NFL teams, it is also building a new MLS soccer stadium downtown and waiting to hear if it will be the host city of the 2024 or 2028 Olympic Summer Games, which will mark its third time hosting. “We do believe that L.A. has the best bid for 2024, or for any year, because of the facilities that are already here,” said Kathryn Schloessman, president of the Los Angeles Sports and Entertainment Commission.
LA 2024, the privately funded nonprofit behind the bid, is competing with Paris for the 2024 Games. The International Olympic Committee, which has put forth a plan to award the 2024 and 2028 Games at once, is expected to announce in September which city will receive which event. LA 2024 is proposing to use existing venues around the city so “we aren’t going to end up with all these venues that are just wasting away afterward,” Schloessman said.
The Games would use venues stretching from the Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena to the shoreline in Long Beach. In the Downtown Sports Park, athletes would compete at Staples Center, which will also host the 2018 NBA All-Star Game, as well as the adjacent Los Angeles Convention Center and the L.A. Memorial Coliseum. That 1923 landmark stadium, which was used for both the 1932 and 1984 Summer Games, is undergoing a $270 million renovation expected to be complete in 2019. The South Bay Sports Park would include the StubHub Center, a complex that includes a 27,000-seat stadium where the L.A. Galaxy play soccer, a tennis stadium, a velodrome, and an outdoor track and field facility.
The Los Angeles Rams returned to L.A. for the 2016 season and will continue playing at the Coliseum until the team’s new $2.6 billion stadium opens in 2020. The city gained a second NFL team when the Chargers announced they would move from San Diego to L.A. for the 2017 season, playing their first few seasons at StubHub Center before sharing the Rams’ new facility.
The 70,000-seat Los Angeles Stadium at Hollywood Park in Inglewood will be the centerpiece of a 298-acre sports and entertainment district. In addition to being home field to both the Rams and Chargers, the stadium will host the Super Bowl in 2022 and would be the site of both opening and closing Olympic ceremonies. The city is now “going after all the usual suspects with the new stadium,” Schloessman said, including the Final Four, the NFL Draft and the 2026 FIFA World Cup.
Banc of California Stadium is a 22,000-seat soccer stadium, due to be completed in March, that will be home to the MLS expansion Los Angeles Football Club.
Fairbanks is Alaska’s second-largest city, and it’s “one of the few destinations in the United States where you can have consistently good snow coverage from October through March,” said Helen Renfrew, director of meetings and conventions for Explore Fairbanks. “We’re a winter sports town.”
Organized sports events in Fairbanks include outdoor snow sports, such as cross-country skiing and dog mushing, and indoor ice sports, such as hockey and curling. In March, the six-sheet Fairbanks Curling Club hosted USA Curling’s 2017 Club National Championships. The club also hosted the USWCA National Women’s Bonspiel in 2016.
Hockey is played all around town. The University of Alaska/Fairbanks’ Nanooks play at the Patty Ice Arena, and the city’s Carlson Center can seat up to 6,000 people. The publicly owned Big Dipper Ice Arena is home to the Fairbanks Ice Dogs, a Tier II Junior A ice hockey team in the North American Hockey League. Every February the city hosts Hockey Week, a community celebration featuring clinics, exhibition games, an open skate with the Ice Dogs and a competition for the best backyard hockey rink, which people take very seriously — “we’re talking about dasher boards and lights,” Renfrew said.
Birch Hill Recreation Area is the city’s major cross-country skiing venue and the site of several Nordic Ski Club of Fairbanks events every year. The club hosted the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association’s 2017 SuperTour Finals for the third time this spring.
Dog mushing is “a lifestyle and, really, in rural communities, it still is a standard form of transportation,” Renfrew said. The famous Iditarod goes through Fairbanks only when the southern part of the trail lacks snow, as it did in 2003, in 2015 and again this year. When that happens, the race has a ceremonial start in Anchorage before teams shift north to Fairbanks for the actual race start. Yukon Quest is an annual 1,000-mile dog-mushing race that runs between Fairbanks and Whitehorse, Yukon, every February. The Alaska Dog Mushers Association holds its Open North American and its Limited North American championships every March at the Jeff Studdert Race Grounds.
Although Fairbanks is a winter sports town, it’s a mistake to overlook the land of the Midnight Sun for summer sports. On June 21, the longest day of the year, the sun dips below the horizon for about three hours, and the Alaska Goldpanners’ Midnight Sun baseball game starts at 10:30 p.m. The Fairbanks Youth Soccer Association complex, which has six full-size fields, hosts the Midnight Sun Soccer Tournament.
The city is also one of the only places where “you can get a 10 p.m. tee time,” Renfrew said. Of Fairbanks’ three golf courses, North Star Golf Club is the northernmost in the country.
Portland, Oregon’s lush greenery, fresh air and majestic mountains naturally make the city popular for outdoor sports: triathlons, marathons, cycling and golf. The Portland Marathon, the Rose Festival Half Marathon and the LPGA Portland Classic are all annual traditions, said Drew Mahalic, CEO of the Oregon Sports Authority.
But Mahalic also loves to tell people that the Portland Thorns, the city’s NWSL team, is the “most-watched female soccer team in the world” and “outdraws some MLS teams.” He also pointed out that the MLS Portland Timbers have a season-ticket waiting list of 13,000 people. Both teams play at the 21,144-capacity Providence Park, where the Timbers are moving forward on plans for a $50 million expansion that would add 4,000 seats.
The NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers play at the 20,000-seat Moda Center, which is part of the Rose Quarter. The complex includes the 12,000-seat Veterans Memorial Coliseum, home to the Western Hockey League’s Portland Winterhawks, as well as the 6,500-seat Theater of the Clouds, the 40,000-square-foot Exhibit Hall and the Rose Quarter Commons.
Portland doesn’t have NFL, MLB or NHL teams, and that situation “has really opened the door for some of the other events that we may not have paid as much attention to,” Mahalic said.
Those sports include figure skating and fencing and a host of other “niche championships,” such as the 2014 PDGA Disc Golf World Championships, the 2017 USA Badminton Masters International Championships held there in May, and the 2017 World Footbag Championships in August at the Oregon Convention Center. The convention center, with 255,000 square feet of contiguous exhibit space, is an anchor in the booming downtown. New downtown hotel projects include the 600-room Convention Center Hyatt Regency, scheduled to break ground later this year.
Portland has found another niche in the LGBTQ community because the city is “nonjudgmental,” Mahalic said. “People feel like they can be who they are here.”
Portland hosted the 2016 International Gay and Lesbian Football Association’s World Cup Championship, and it will welcome the 2017 Gay Softball World Series in September. The series will play on various fields around the city, including Owens Sports Complex at Delta Park, which has seven softball fields and nine soccer fields.
The Pacific West is a geographic wonderland where both organizers and athletes will find active volcanoes and verdant valleys, running rivers and massive waves, lush forests and arid landscapes. The region’s ecological diversity make outdoor sports a natural fit, but indoor sports will always have a home in new NFL and MLS stadiums, state-of-the-art convention centers, cutting-edge university facilities and modern municipal venues.