SIDELINES: Could NCAA swim meet be a yearly thing in Federal Way?
By CASEY OLSON
Federal Way Mirror Sports editor
December 7, 2011 · Updated 9:39 AM
Everybody knows that you have to spend money to make money. That’s Economics 101 stuff. In these tough economic times, it’s sometimes tough to physically write that check.
However, it’s something that’s got to be done if you want to get things back on track financially.
The city of Federal Way, King County and the surrounding community has a chance to write that check and spend a little money to make a lot of money on a long-term basis.
One of the biggest marketing assets in Federal Way is sitting along Southwest Campus Drive. The Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatic Center has hosted hundreds of local, state, national and international events since opening its doors back in 1990. The facility was constructed in anticipation of the Goodwill Games, which took place in Seattle.
The 2,500-seat facility maintains one of the most active competition schedules in the country, hosting more than 50 events annually, which has been a big economic boon for Federal Way and the surrounding community.
It has been the site of Olympic Trials, top national and international competitions, and the Pacific Northwest’s premiere events. A recent economic study conducted for King County measured the financial impact of these events on the region in excess of $7.5 million annually.
The Aquatic Center is set to host the NCAA Men’s Swimming and Diving Championships in March. It will be the second time in the past five years that Federal Way has played host to the hundreds of athletes, family members, coaches and fans that go along with the NCAA championships.
But my question is, why can’t Federal Way play host to the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships every year?
The answer is: I have no idea and I don’t know if it’s even possible. I haven’t asked any questions of NCAA, King County or Federal Way officials. The possibility just popped into my head while sitting in a news meeting about how The Mirror was going to cover the upcoming NCAA meet.
Currently, the swimming and diving championships are held at different venues around the United States every year. But there are only a certain number of facilities that are even eligible to conduct a meet as big as the national championships, in terms of hotel rooms available in the area, budget issues and the swimming/diving facility itself.
The King County Aquatic Center is one of those pools sophisticated enough to play host to a big-time national or international meet.
There are pools in Minneapolis, Indianapolis, Ohio, Texas and Alabama, among others. But all of those pools are located on college campuses. In fact, over the last 29 years, the men’s championships have been held outside of a college campus only twice. The first was in 2004 at the Nassau County Aquatic Center in New York. The second was the King County Aquatic Center in 2008. The Nassau facility was also constructed to host a Goodwill Games event in 1998.
And it’s not like bringing the 2012 NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships to Federal Way is breaking the bank. In actuality, the city of Federal Way will be chipping in just $30,000 from lodging tax funds to help run the championships.
It seems to me that you could make the swimming and diving championships into a destination event in Federal Way, like the NCAA does with other non-revenue producing sports, which include everything but football and basketball.
All you have to do is look at the economic impact the College World Series has on the city of Omaha, Neb. Or how much money the Women’s College World Series means to Oklahoma City.
Last year’s College World Series drew more than 300,000 fans and totaled about 500,000 in foot traffic in and around the stadium in Omaha. This was the first year that the event moved to a new $131 million ballpark in the Nebraska city. The NCAA also committed to keep the College World Series in the city for the next 30 years.
“Omaha has adopted this event as their own. It is part of their culture,” says Dennis Poppe, the NCAA’s managing director for football and baseball. “The people put a face on the event. It’s not just the facility or the games. It’s what happens in and around. I guess when you have a commitment and a good relationship, it’s kind of like a good marriage. Why would you look for another one?”
Oklahoma City is slightly different because the city has designated itself as the fastpitch softball capital of the world, essentially. Oklahoma City not only hosts the Women’s College World Series (WCWS), but is also home to the annual World Cup of Softball, the largest amateur tournaments in the world during the spring, summer and fall. The city is home to the ASA National Softball Hall of Fame and Museum.
According to the Oklahoma City Convention and Visitors Bureau, the WCWS has an economic impact of more than $13 million and 10,000 to 12,000 hotel room nights each year. The city receives national attention through daily ESPN broadcasts of the games.
Other sites that have hosted NCAA championship events on a yearly basis include Terre Haute, Ind., for men’s and women’s cross country, and San Antonio for men’s soccer.
Currently, the bid process for a facility to be awarded an NCAA Championship includes filling out numerous forms and answering questions about budget, attendance, expenditures, promotions and the facilities, among other things. The NCAA currently awards 87 national championships yearly; 44 women’s, 40 men’s, and coed championships for fencing, rifle, and skiing.
Obviously, the King County Aquatic Center is no stranger to conducting national and international events. It was constructed to house the swimming and diving portions of the 1990 Goodwill Games and has since been the home to more than 50 competitions annually.
Next up for the Aquatic Center is the 2012 NCAA Division I Men’s Swimming and Diving Championships. The NCAA meet is slated for March 22-24, 2012, and will take place just three months before the Aquatic Center will host the 2012 United States Olympic Diving Trials.
“2012 will be a busy year for us,” Federal Way’s Economic Development Director Patrick Doherty said in an email. “But this event will also be a good dry run for the Seattle Sports Commission, the Aquatic Center and city staff to gear up for the Olympic Dive Trials event.”
Seattle University will serve as the host institution for the 2012 NCAA meet and the school will partner with the Seattle Sports Commission, the city of Federal Way and King County Parks and Recreation to host the event.
“We’re delighted with this opportunity to provide our world-class facility for the nation’s very best collegiate swimmers and divers in 2012,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine last year. “When the King County Aquatic Center hosted this same event in 2008, we had excellent attendance and eight national records were set.”
Am I way off base here, or could Federal Way make this a yearly thing?
Contact Federal Way Mirror Sports editor Casey Olson at email@example.com or (253) 925-5565 ext. 5056.