How Convention Centers Are Keeping the Industry Afloat

Convention centers, arenas, and hotels have played a major role in sporting events returning after the recent pandemic. These facilities have shown record-breaking numbers time and time again and are expected to continue to increase those numbers heading into 2022.

Enclosed facilities can monitor the spread of germs closer than open facilities would allow. These venues can go from five entrances to one, have indoor sanitizing stations, have masks at the entrance, and encourage social distancing by roping off seating. Recently, SportsEvents sat down with Orange County Convention Center (OCCC) during a webinar as a part of the Play It Safe series to discuss the return to sports and what looks different at a sporting event post-2020.

The Orange County Convention Center in Florida has held record-breaking events in 2021 due to working closely with planners to ensure a safe event for all attendees.

Eric Blanc who serves as a certified meeting professional (CMP) and Michelle Neely from the Orange County Convention Center explained the current situation—applicable to their experience—from start to finish. To begin with, Blanc explained that the OCCC has held nearly 100 events since March 2020. Even though there was a period where events were not being held due to lockdown and the pandemic reaching its peak, events resumed in July 2020 with the Amateur Athletic Union’s (AAU) Junior National Volleyball Championship.

The event  welcomed an estimated 9600 attendees with revenues totaling over $12.3 million. In a press release from last year, the OCCC stated after the completion of the tournament that “we proactively implemented a series of precautionary measures to protect the health and safety of guests, employees, and the surrounding community throughout the duration of the event.”

Blanc mentions in the Play It Safe webinar that this event was able to set the tone for future events. Even though he said “only around 20 percent of the pre-COVID planned attendees were present, we were fortunate because this crowd allowed us to tailor our plans to all future events to create the safest environment for guests at the OCCC.”

“This event is what led us to working with sporting event planners closely to monitor the group opinions on the health and safety of attendees at any given time,” Neely added.

Nationwide, other convention centers are doing their parts to help usher in the safe return of sports.

The Georgia World Congress Center (GWCC) in Atlanta welcomed over 500 teams as part of the HoopSeen 2021 Best of the South youth boys’ basketball tournament in early July. The event also made headlines for becoming the largest NCAA-certified boys’ event ever run under one roof in history with more than 5000 athletes participating.

“As a lifelong native of Atlanta, it’s a thrill to bring basketball teams and college recruiters from around the nation to our city. Atlanta is an ideal location for running one of the largest travel basketball events in the country,” said Mike Eddy, president of HoopSeen. “The ease of travel to Atlanta, both regionally and nationally, the hotel inventory, and a tremendous venue in Georgia World Congress Center all help to ensure a great experience for our teams, parents, and coaches.”

Before hosting the record-breaking tournament, the GWCC hosted several other large-scale tournaments including the CheerSport Nationals in February. Since the center has been operating several tournaments throughout the year, safety during the continuation of the pandemic is a top priority.

According to the GWCC website, safety precautions that have been put into place are the disinfecting and cleaning of common touchpoint areas, including door handles, escalator handrails, comfort stations, and food service areas in addition to requiring attendees to comply with the state’s current mask mandate and socially distance in meeting Athletes and their families were able to spread out downtown due to 12,500 hotel rooms being within walking distance. In addition to hotels, several family-friendly restaurants and world-famous attractions also add to the accessibility of the GWCC’s location. Looking ahead, the GWCC will also be hosting the HoopSeen Best of the South in both 2022 and 2023.

The Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta hosted the HoopSeen Best of the South Boy’s Basketball Tournament and in turn broke team turnout records.

Another facility that has helped usher in the return of sports is the Greater Columbus Convention Center in Columbus, Oh. After months of cancellations due to the unpredictability of COVID-19 as well as being one of the first major sporting events to be cancelled last March, the Arnold Sports Classic finally took place during late September. The event, which is considered the nation’s largest multi-sport tournament, is named after Arnold Schwarzenegger, who in addition to being known as one of the most famous bodybuilders of all time, also served as the governor of California from 2003 to 2011.

The Greater Columbus Convention Center is looking forward to hosting the Arnold Sports Classic when it returns this upcoming Spring.

The event founded by both Schwarzenegger and Jim Lorimer in 1989 normally takes place in March and features the Arnold 5K, the Arnold Festival, and the Arnold Fitness EXPO in addition to the Sports Classic. While spectator numbers for the event normally reach way over maximum capacity, only around 2000 spectators were allowed in the convention center. All attendees were socially distanced and had to wear masks to comply with Ohio’s mask mandate.

To try and keep numbers even lower, only 42 athletes competed in the Classic. All athletes were routinely COVID-19 tested and distanced backstage. To comply even further with restrictions, the normal week-long event was reduced to a single-day which limited the amount of interaction between athletes, spectators, judges, and staff at the convention center.

Event coordinators say they are looking forward to next year when they will be able to not only host the Arnold Classic competition, but the full Arnold Sports Festival line-up as well in early March back at the Greater Columbus Convention Center. The complete Arnold Sports Festival typically features over 18,000 athletes from several different countries worldwide and we can expect restrictions to be put into place. At time of publication, no restrictions have been formally announced.

Even though it is not clear if COVID-19 has hit another peak at this time, we can be confident in the fact it is clear that convention centers, hotels, and arenas are attempting their best efforts at not letting the this great industry fall back to 2020 COVID levels due to restrictions being put into play as well as reduced or increased event durations.