By Ronnie Wendt | Photo: Fiserv Forum © Visit Milwaukee

Hosting a sports event is like putting on a massive show. Planners must be precise, pay attention to details, and understand what both participants and spectators want. Whether planning your first or your hundredth, there are vital things to consider for a winning sporting event.


The venue and location set the stage for a successful event. Luckily, the Midwest has tons of amazing sports venues with space for team play and fans, meeting spaces, ample parking, and plenty of hotels, restaurants and places to hang out.

The state of Kansas is a perfect example. Tiffany Benien, the sports and special events manager at Visit Salina, sums it up: “We are Midwest friendly. Unique to Kansas is great hospitality and the community’s willingness to embrace the youth sports market.” Salina, she says, is also an ideal location for sporting events because the community of 50,000 is central to anywhere in the United States.

Prime locations and a welcoming attitude extend across the Midwestern states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio, too. Bonnie Carlson, CEO of Bloomington Minnesota Travel & Tourism, says Bloomington is gaining popularity with youth sports as well. “It’s because of our location,” she acknowledges. “We have a lot of sporting venues here. And we are so close to Minneapolis and the suburbs, people choose us for the ease, convenience and affordability.”

Families coming in for sporting events seek accessible venues with adequate parking. They are interested in a city’s drivability, where they can park and the security of those spaces, according to Carlson. Bloomington has bus routes to take visitors anywhere they want to go, and “visitors can usually park close, depending on the facility in Salina. We also provide parking maps, which we have found to be helpful.”


According to Marissa Werner, director of Sports Milwaukee, planners are also eager to learn about venue availability and local attractions, an area where Milwaukee shines. She cites Fiserv Forum, Pettit National Ice Center, Uihlein Soccer Park and the newly expanded Baird Center (formerly known as the Wisconsin Center) as popular sports venues.

“The Baird Center provides world-class space with advanced technology, and a 300,000-square-foot ballroom that will appeal to larger youth, amateur and Olympic-focused events,” Werner says.

Pettit National Ice Center, the official U.S. speedskating training facility, features a 400-meter Olympic oval and two international-size rinks. Up on the second floor, the Hall of Fame Room is a banquet room with a view of the arena and space for up to 150 guests.

The 69-acre Uihlein Soccer Park can accommodate up to 4,000 people, featuring indoor and outdoor soccer facilities, and several meeting rooms. It is a regular host for soccer, la crosse, field hockey, rugby, ultimate frisbee and state championship games.

The Salina Fieldhouse takes center stage in Kansas. This sports facility is a hub for basketball, volleyball and soccer tournaments, according to Benien. Dean Evans Stadium, a covered baseball venue seating almost 800 people, is also a popular choice for baseball tournaments at the youth, high school and college levels.


Impressive facilities alone do not attract sporting events; people also want to know where they are staying. Bloomington offers 9,500 rooms at 44 different hotels. Its proximity to downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul provides access to more rooms. But its biggest selling point, Carlson says, is available activities at local hotels. “A family coming in for a sporting event is looking for built-in activities [at the hotel] in a safe and controlled environment,” she says. The city also offers a housing program with competitive rates for sporting groups, she adds.

“We make it easy for you to find a place to stay,” Benien says. She notes the city has around 2,200 lodging rooms at 30 different properties, ranging from high-end hotels to family-oriented locations with pools and complimentary breakfasts.

“We help organizers set up room blocks and provide access to hotel contacts to help them secure the best rates,” she says. “We look at every event individually. Our first question is always is Salina a good fit for you? Then we ask who is coming and how many people will come from out of town. Will they stay in hotels, drive back and forth from other places like campgrounds, or stay with family? Then we try to match them to their needs.”

Milwaukee offers 5,000 hotel rooms downtown, with average daily costs being affordable, according to Werner. “Hilton Milwaukee City Center, Hyatt Regency Milwaukee and SpringHill Suites by Marriott Milwaukee Downtown are connected by skywalk to the downtown convention center,” she adds.


Another key concern is sponsorships, adds Carlson, noting many communities provide sponsorships for events because of their economic impact. Bloomington, for example, offers sports grants of up to $2,500. Events must meet specific guidelines and submit a request for proposal (RFP) to qualify. “We review the RFP and award the sponsorships, which can help defray event costs,” she says.

Werner says event organizers can capitalize on Milwaukee’s infrastructure and services by leveraging partnerships and collaborations with local organizations. Sports Milwaukee, for example, solicits, promotes and enhances youth, amateur and professional sporting events to create a positive impact on the greater Milwaukee area. The Cream City Convention Pass also provides discounts at downtown businesses, she adds.

Depending on the group and event, Visit Salina works with organizers and sports venues to lower rental costs. “Visit Salina works directly with events based on their needs. A custom package can be put together that might include welcome packets, referrals, a sponsorship toward hospitality or discount on a facility rental, or recruiting local volunteers. We really focus on the specific needs of our clients to allow them to be successful with their event and, if we do our job well, they return for repeat events,” Benien says.

Salina, like many communities, also helps market the event. Regional marketing in Chamber of Commerce publications, and digital marketing on various websites, calendars and social media are all possible, she says.

Now that you know what to look for, let’s examine some of the various venues Midwestern communities offer.


More than just a home for Milwaukee Bucks basketball, Fiserv Forum reflects the heritage, history and personality of Milwaukee, according to Werner. The 714,000-square-foot arena projects “progress, accessibility and a renewed sense of community,” she says. “It’s a hub for entertainment, and an engine that drives growth in downtown Milwaukee and the 30-acre Deer District surrounding it.” Throughout the year, the venue accommodates up to 200 events, ranging from basketball games to concerts to special sports events.

The building’s most versatile meeting space is the arena floor, which can host events for up to 2,000 people. In contrast, the Potawatomi Club and its spacious outdoor patio offer sweeping views of the city. The club works well for meetings of up to 84 people, but can also accommodate 450 guests for a reception. The facility’s Atrium doubles as a meeting space for up to 280 guests at round tables, while an outdoor, open-air plaza connects to the entertainment deck. Groups can incorporate a VIP tour or game into after-hours activities.


Salina Fieldhouse is a 68,500-square-foot indoor sports facility in downtown Salina. The $9 million facility built in 2017 can accommodate a variety of sports, from basketball and volleyball to soccer and la crosse to cheer and dance events.

The fieldhouse features three hardwood, high school-regulation basketball courts (22,833-square feet of court space with an occupancy of 540) and three synthetic, high school-regulation basketball courts (23,743 square feet with an occupancy of 468). The courts are cross lined to include eight volleyball courts and six futsal courts. The facility also has a regulation soccer field, three small soccer fields, batting and pitching tunnels, bleacher seating, concessions, meeting spaces and ample parking.

Salina Fieldhouse can accommodate sports leagues, tournaments, practices, camps and clinics. It is well-suited for athletic competitions, whether they are local, regional or national, says Benien.


This multi-purpose sports tourism and local programming facility has something to offer everyone, from the traveling athlete to the local family. With a total area of 116,000 square feet, the venue boasts eight hardwood, high school-regulation basketball courts, 16 National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) volleyball courts and one NCAA-regulation championship court. It also has meeting rooms, a referee room and a training room.

The gym can house groups of 200 to 2,000 for events. Up to 150 people can be accommodated in the second-floor restaurant and bar, while a meeting room on the same floor can hold 100 people. Redemption Arcade and laser tag offer entertainment options for youth participants during breaks between games.


The Spooky Nook Sports Complex spans over 1.3 million square feet, and includes multiple facilities like the Spooky Nook Sports Champion Mill, the Fitness Center, the Champion Mill Conference Center and The Warehouse Hotel at Champion Mill.

The Champion Mill sports complex offers nearly 700,000 square feet for indoor sports. The 233-room Warehouse Hotel provides ample space for lodging, whereas the Champion Mill Conference Center offers 35,000 square feet distributed among 16 meeting spaces from boardrooms to ballrooms. These spaces can be combined with court space, multiple mezzanines, a beer garden or outdoor turf in the sports complex for large meetings and events.

In addition to concessions, guests have access to the Hydraulic Bar, which offers specialty cocktails, beer, wine, a selection of bourbons and a menu of shareable dishes. Guests can also visit Municipal Brew Works, an on-site brewery, located in the conference center. Other restaurants are currently under construction, according to Bonnie Bastian, the marketing manager of Spooky Nook Sports.


The $117 million CPKC Stadium was specifically built for the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) team. Its event spaces will leave a lasting impression, complete with world-class hospitality and customized Kansas City cuisine. Its experienced events team is available to help you craft an unforgettable experience.

The facility offers several areas to hold meetings and events:

  • The Pitch Club, with a capacity of 225, is a climate-controlled, art-deco lounge ideal for corporate meetings, social gatherings, luncheons and more.
  • The West Sideline Club can host over 300 people, perfect for a welcome receptionon, on the west side of the stadium. Experience the full stadium atmosphere in the exclusive club area.
  • The North Goal is an open-air setting with a bar and patio seating that can host over 500 guests. This space can be utilized independently or seamlessly combined with other areas of the venue.
  • The stadium, with a capacity of 11,500, is also available to host private events, corporate happy hours, nonprofit galas and concerts.


Circle K Fieldhouse is a state-of-the-art sports facility in central Columbus.
The venue can host 12 temporary volleyball courts, 16 high school basketball courts, 40 pickleball courts, 30 high school wrestling mats and more. The permanent setup includes four basketball courts (two high school- and two college-regulation), eight volleyball courts and six pickleball courts.

In addition, there is 100,000 square feet of turf, a full-size soccer field and two softball/baseball diamonds on site. NexusPark Campus also has extra amenities like retail and restaurants.


AdventHealth Sports Park, when complete, will be a $750 million indoor sport complex. The 277-acre mixed-use complex will be complete in two phases, and funded both privately and with around $55 million in Sales Tax and Revenue (STAR) bonds. The first phase, coming this fall, will include a National Hockey League (NHL)-size ice rink, eight basketball courts (convertible to 16 volleyball or pickleball courts), a 40,000-square-foot turf field, locker rooms, a training area, a sprinting track, a café, a sports medicine center and more.

The venue is designed to host a variety of sports, including basketball, volleyball, hockey, ice skating, dance, cheer, pickleball, soccer, wrestling, gymnastics, bowling and more. It also will be equipped to host events of all sizes with two on-site food and beverage options. A family entertainment center will feature arcade games, bowling, laser tag, an e-sports center, golf simulators and a roll glider.


This 600-acre campus features a stadium with two full-size turf fields, 50 grass fields, a seasonal dome and an 18-hole golf course. The full-service venue just miles from downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul accommodates events of all sizes and all levels of play, according to Carlson.

The National Sports Center (NSC) campus welcomes 4.1 million visitors annually. Its complex includes:

  • Airport Park, a prime location for youth soccer tournaments, adult softball leagues and other ballfield sports.
  • The M Health Fairview Dome, which is 110-feet high and holds two full-size soccer fields, as well as two full-sized softball/baseball fields.
  • The NSC Sports Expo, which has two full-size basketball courts and three volleyball courts, and serves as a venue for pickleball, events and meetings.
  • The 58,000-square-foot NSC Sports Hall, which is a Clear Span athletic space with artificial turf.
  • The NSC Stadium Sports Hall, which has 5,000 seats, concessions, lights, restrooms and more.
  • The NSC Super Rink, featuring eight sheets of ice under one roof, a heated upper deck viewing area, Hat Trick Café and 32 locker rooms.

Ronnie Wendt is a freelance writer based in Minocqua, Wisconsin.