Progressive Field Cleveland
Planners can be MVPs in Ohio, a state passionate about sports
Sports are the rage in Ohio. Baseball fans in Cincinnati are fiercely devoted to the Reds, a team that was founded in 1869 and holds the title as the sport’s oldest independent franchise, while football fans in Cincinnati roar for the Bengals. Basketball rules in Cleveland where the Cavaliers are king, but baseball fans whoop it up for the Indians and football aficianados still support the Browns despite the fact that the NFL team has posted a 84-172 record since 1999.
Although Columbus lacks professional baseball, football and basketball franchises, there is still a lot to get excited about. Residents there are crazy about the Ohio State University Buckeyes, especially their football team, which has claimed 36 Big Ten championships since 1916. And they are sticking by the NHL Blue Jackets, who after a decade of losing seasons are back in contention. Ohio also boasts 13 Division I basketball teams, four of which made it into the NCAA tournament this spring. Sports fans in the state clearly have plenty to cheer about.
Planners have a lot to cheer about as well because the Buckeye State is an easy and affordable place to meet. Convention and visitor bureaus in Cincinnati, Cleveland and Columbus are solid teammates waiting on deck, eager to help meeting professionals orchestrate major league events. It’s game on in Ohio!
Go Batty Over Cincinnati
Cincinnati, which has been undergoing a major renaissance, really scored when it was chosen to host the 2015 Major League Baseball All-Star Game. The contest, which will be played July 14 at the 42,000-seat Great American Ball Park downtown, is expected to generate $80–$100 million. The CVB is thrilled because the media attention will help it showcase the region’s revitalization.
“From the Banks Entertainment District on the riverfront to the Over-the-Rhine historic neighborhood, our urban core has been completely transformed with new hotels, restaurants and venues,” says Dan Lincoln, president and CEO of the Cincinnati USA Convention & Visitors Bureau. “These new developments, combined with our region’s warm hospitality and easy accessibility, make Cincinnati a world-class host for meetings and events of all sizes.”
Cincy has a full lineup of baseball-themed events planned, many of which highlight its own storied history. The Cincinnati Red Stockings were baseball’s first all-professional team, and baseball’s all-time hits leader Pete Rose spent much of his career in the riverfront city. , adjacent to Great American Ball Park, recently unveiled an exhibit about Rose. Make sure to check out the “Wall of Balls,” representing each of his 4,256 hits.
Other local museums are also pitching in. is hosting a special exhibit, “Up at Bat: Warhol, Rose and Baseball Cards,” through Aug. 2; the is displaying curated memorabilia, including a scorecard from 1894; and the is presenting “Diversity in Baseball.” has launched two new exhibits: “Queen City Baseball: Diamonds and Stars” profiles the city’s rich baseball history, while the interactive “Science of Sports” explains how pitchers can throw 104-mph fastballs, among other physical feats.
Group Meeting at Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati
Cincinnati hits it out of the park with a cluster of pro sports facilities that planners can buy out for events. features pitching and fielding zones, a ballpark-themed movie theater with a wooden grandstand and a re-created broadcast booth where visitors can call plays. One hundred feet away overlooking the Ohio River is , where the Cyclones play minor-league hockey, and down the road is , home of the Bengals.
Cincinnati boasts two world-class convention centers. , located in the compact, walkable downtown, recently underwent a $135 million renovation. It features more than 750,000 sq. ft. of meeting and exhibit space, including a 40,000-square-foot ballroom, and is attached via skywalk to three hotels. The nearby offers brewery tours and can host private events for up to 250; Smale Riverfront Park has hiking/biking trails and a new carousel. In the north, LEED-certified has a 20,000-square-foot exhibit hall, a new 14,000-square-foot ballroom, 21,900 sq. ft. of flexible meeting space and three breakout rooms.
As if two convention centers weren’t enough, one mile from downtown Cincinnati, in Covington, Kentucky, sits . The 204,000-square-foot facility features 110,000 sq. ft. of space and is connected to two hotels.
There is also plenty of event space at regional colleges. Of particular note is University of Cincinnati’s Varsity Village, which features five sports venues including Lindner Family Tennis Center, site of the Western & Southern Open tennis championship held each August.
There is a myriad of traditional and boutique hotels to choose from in downtown Cincinnati. Outside the city, is a great option if attendees are bringing their families. The property, located 20 minutes from Cincinnati, boasts a spectacular indoor water park.
Count Cleveland In
Cleveland is also a player when it comes to sports and meetings. Its most famous superstar is basketball player LeBron James, who returned home this season to play for the Cavaliers. Cleveland is also a slam dunk for planners. Over the past five years the city has completely revamped two districts and welcomed eight new hotels, a new convention center, a downtown casino, an aquarium and a contemporary art museum. The $3 billion redevelopment has increased Cleveland’s cachet and propelled the city to prominence—it was listed as one of only 12 American destinations in Travel + Leisure’s .
Millennials are streaming into Flats East Bank, a massive urban redevelopment project on the banks of the Cuyahoga River. The industrial neighborhood now boasts a 1,200-foot-long riverfront boardwalk, a public park, more than a dozen new restaurants/nightclubs and 200-plus upscale apartments. Even more development is planned for 2016. Public Square, a formerly nondescript four-block space downtown, is being transformed into a pedestrian-only plaza with interactive water features and a cafe. Hilton Cleveland Downtown–The Convention Center Hotel is a $272 million project also scheduled to open in 2016. The 28-story tower, which will contain 600 guest rooms, ballrooms, and meeting and retail space, will connect to the new and the Global Center for Health Innovation.
The goal is for everything to be complete by July 2016, when Cleveland hosts the Republican National Convention. Ohio’s status as a potential swing state in a crucial election year figured prominently in the Republicans’ decision. However, the city’s sleek convention center may also have influenced the choice. The new facility boasts a 230,000 square-foot exhibition hall and more than 90,000 sq. ft. of state-of-the-art meeting rooms. There are two ballrooms that offer 32,000 sq. ft. and 11,000 sq. ft., respectively The convention center is located in proximity to more than 4,100 downtown hotel rooms.
Downtown Cleveland is safe and surprisingly easy to navigate; the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority runs free trolleys that allow visitors to experience the city’s vibrant food and arts scene. PlayhouseSquare, the largest theater district outside of New York City, presents more than 1,000 events annually.
“Cleveland is home to University Circle, the most concentrated square mile of arts and culture institutions in the country,” says David Gilbert, CEO and president of Destination Cleveland and Greater Cleveland Sports Commission.
Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland
There’s plenty of live sports action in Cleveland. Baseball fans can watch the Indians at Progressive Field, and planners can arrange group tours of the downtown facility. They can also buy out space at FirstEnergy Stadium, where the Browns, one of the nation’s oldest football franchises, play. The Cavaliers compete at , which is also home to the Cleveland Gladiators, an Arena League Football team, and the Lake Erie Monsters, a minor-league hockey team. Planners can rent suites for individual games at the Q. Event space can also be found at Cleveland State University, where the Division I men’s basketball team plays.
When it’s time for outdoor breakout or team-building activities, Cleveland has more than 100 miles of paved trails, 14 miles on its lakefront, several golf courses and more than 550 acres of green space. Last year, the city hosted Neocycle, an urban cycling festival that drew more than 10,000 for bicycling, bands and brew. The city is gearing up for the second annual Neocycle in September.
Although Columbus lacks professional baseball and football franchises, it does have an active sports scene. The Columbus Blue Jackets, the only National Hockey League team in Ohio, compete at Nationwide Arena. The downtown facility, which can be bought out for events, hosted the 2015 NHL All-Star Game in January.
The Columbus Crew, a Major League Soccer team, competes in Mapfre Stadium, the United States’ first soccer-specific arena. The Ohio Machine, a professional lacrosse team, also plays in Columbus, as do the Columbus Clippers, a Triple-A baseball affiliate of the Cleveland Indians.
But the MVP in town is Ohio State, which offers 36 varsity sports. The biggest draw is the Buckeyes—every weekend during football season the 102,329-seat Ohio Stadium is packed with a sea of fans clad in red.
College sports are huge in Columbus. Over the past decade, the city has hosted more than 50 NCAA and 25 Big Ten championships in a wide variety of sports. Competitions take place in venues across the city.
“Our facilities are one of the major strengths of our national reputation as a premier sports destination,” says Linda Shetina Logan, Greater Columbus Sports Commission executive director. “With two 20,000-seat arenas, a mini-Olympic Village of sorts with Ohio State’s athletic facilities, 31 baseball and softball fields and a convention center that is soon to be expanded and renovated, we can host a wide variety of sporting events.”
Greater Columbus Convention Center currently boasts more than 1.7 million total sq. ft., including 410,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space, three ballrooms and 65 meeting rooms. It is gearing up for a $125 million upgrade, which will take place over the next two years. The convention center is connected to 2,000 downtown hotel guest rooms and is walking distance to more than 100 restaurants.
Arnold Schwarzenegger speaks at the Arnold Sports Festival at Greater Columbus Convention Center
The city’s ability to host mega events is put to the test each March during the Arnold Sports Festival, which draws 175,000 spectators and is the biggest multi sport event in America. It was founded in 1989 by Arnold Schwarzenegger, who won the World Weightlifting Championships in Columbus in 1970 and vowed to return to the city to promote bodybuilding.
Today the Arnold Sports Festival attracts more than 18,000 athletes from 80 nations who compete in 50 categories including weightlifting, boxing, running, martial arts, fencing, cheerleading, gymnastics and chess. The three-day Arnold Fitness Expo at Greater Columbus Convention Center features more than 700 exhibit booths. This year, organizers added a Kids Fitness Expo with demonstrations and clinics. The success of the Columbus festival has spawned similar events in Brazil, Australia and Spain.
“It is exciting that after 27 years, the Arnold Sports Festival continues to grow in size and expand,” says Brian Ross, Experience Columbus president and CEO. “We are pleased it brings so much international attention to Columbus.”
Planners looking for sports-oriented ideas for breakout sessions or team-building activities have plenty of options in Greater Columbus. Columbus is the home of golf legend Jack Nicklaus, and central Ohio has four of the top golf courses in the world. Blow off some steam at Sequoia Pro Bowl and Volleypark, an indoor/outdoor recreational facility with 32 bowling lanes and island-style sand volleyball courts.
Those seeking thrills will find them at Grand Prix Karting, a huge indoor go-kart attraction that can accommodate up to 250 guests. Hocking Hills Adventures will take your group on an outdoor canoe, kayak, raft or tube excursion, or help you organize a team river cleanup. Zipzone Canopy Tours offers two-hour tours of the treetops with professionally trained guides who escort participants from platform to platform, over ravines and streams. During full moons, planners can book night zip tours for a particularly memorable experience.
Ohio Has Game
When it comes to meetings, the Buckeye State is clearly a champ. Ohio offers a grand slam combination of modern convention centers, top quality venues, affordable accommodations and helpful partners vested in making your next meeting a true game changer.
Pro Football Hall of Fame
Touch Down at the Pro Football Hall of Fame
Pro Football Hall of Fame is located in Canton, Ohio, about an hour south of Cleveland. Canton was chosen for the museum site because the NFL was founded in the city in 1920. The hall opened in 1963 with several exhibits and 17 enshrinees. Today, there are dozens of fascinating displays and bronze busts of 287 of pro football’s greatest owners, coaches and players. Each year a handful of new inductees are formally welcomed into the elite circle. The 2015 induction ceremony takes place Aug. 8.
Visitors can spend hours viewing footage of football milestones and marveling over artifacts such as quarterback Tom Brady’s draft card, diamond-encrusted Super Bowl rings and the famed Vince Lombardi Trophy, manufactured each year by Tiffany & Co. and ceremoniously awarded to the Super Bowl champions following the game.
Planners can book events at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The event center has 3,180 sq. ft. of space that can accommodate 240 for banquets and 350 for receptions. On the second floor, a 2,050-square-foot conference room can hold up to 190 guests. Outdoor space can be tented to accommodate up to 433 guests. Planners who want to score big points with attendees can arrange to have the company logo emblazoned on beer mugs, helmets or official NFL footballs, and presented as gifts following the event.
Who: Thirty-One Gifts, a direct sales company with about 100,000 independent sales consultants in the United States and Canada
What: National conference, one of two planned for this year; 12,000 attendees are expected at the Columbus conference
When: July 25–27, 2015
Where: Greater Columbus Convention Center and Nationwide Arena
Quote: “Columbus is a great fit for our national conference. The city is friendly, safe and easy to get around. It offers an array of fantastic restaurants, unique shops and top-notch entertainment that our attendees can enjoy during their free time. The local government and Experience Columbus are very supportive partners and easy to work with.
–Sara West, senior manager of public relations
Major Meeting Venues
Great Wolf Lodge–Cincinnati/Mason
20 minutes from Cincinnati; 401 renovated guest rooms; 25,000 sq. ft. of function space; family-friendly indoor water park; day spa.
Kingsgate Marriott Conference Center at the University of Cincinnati
Green lodging destination; 206 renovated guest rooms; more than 20,000 sq. ft. of meeting space including 26 meeting rooms.
Hilton Cleveland Downtown
$272 million, 600-room hotel slated to open near Cleveland Convention Center in 2016; 55,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; rooftop bar.
Hilton Columbus Downtown
Adjacent to Greater Columbus Convention Center; 532 guest rooms; 32,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; walking distance to more than 300 restaurants and entertainment venues.