The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics opened its doors to Tulsa in August 1993, bringing with it 30 employees, an annual collegiate national basketball championship game, and much needed notoriety to the city struggling to recover from a rough decade.
The organization promptly closed those doors in July 2001. An incredibly short stay, by most standards, but a beneficial one nonetheless.
As unremarkable as the organization’s brief Oklahoma affair might have been, it continues to pay dividends for the citizens of Tulsa.
“The Tulsa Sports Commission was formed in 1993 in an effort to attract sporting events to the community,” said Mike Dodson, executive director of the non-profit organization. “And we have come about as a difference maker in getting events organized and executed.”
The organization is an affiliate of the Metropolitan Tulsa Chamber of Commerce and was also a founding member of the National Association of Sports Commissions, a body that represents over 400 commissions nationwide, including the Oklahoma City Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“Because of the many national championships that the NAIA hosted,” he said. “We became an entity that was a vehicle for them to help organize and administer their events.”
To date, the Tulsa Sports Commission has indirectly infused about $250 million dollars into the regional economy, a number that will unquestionably grow with the completion of the 550,000 SF, $180 million BOk Center, the future crown jewel of downtown Tulsa.
“The BOk Center will be an exciting new facility that will allow us to recruit Conference USA, Big XII and NCAA first and second round basketball tournaments,” he said. “We have active discussions with both the Big XII and the NCAA to bring championships to Tulsa. It’s a matter of you getting to know them, and them getting to know you.”
The Tulsa Sports Commission is in the midst of a four-year contract that makes them the host of the Mid-Continent Conference men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, which are held at the 5,600-seat Union Multipurpose Activity Center.
“We are also talking to Conference USA about hosting its 2009 or 2010 men’s and women’s basketball tournament,” he said.
College basketball fans won’t be the only beneficiaries of the new facility, Dodson said.
“The BOk Center will be great for a number of things besides basketball,” he said. “There will be a number of NCAA sports that we will be able, and plan to host, such as wrestling and volleyball.”
“There are also amateur figure skating championships, and there is a strong local interest in that sport.”
“If you can put down ice and put down wrestling mats in a facility that nice, it will improve your chances to host tournaments,” Dodson said. “New, nice facilities do have an advantage.”
The presence of a new, state-of-the-art, glass-covered icon isn’t the only advantage that Tulsa has when making a pitch to a traveling sporting event.
“It is a distinguishing factor for a city our size to have such capable facilities,” Dodson said. “Its unusual to have such a range, from the high-end BOk Center to the Union Multipurpose Activity Center and the Expo Square Pavilion.”
“It gives us a lot of flexibility to go after events.”
Dodson also said that bringing national sporting events to Tulsa isn’t the only way to get people spending. He said the creation of events has proven just as successful.
“The Tulsa Sports Commission has been involved with some other events, such as the Tulsa Tough Race that we created for the community,” he said. “It brings professional cyclists to compete in closed track races, both downtown and along the river.”
The Tulsa Tough Ride and Race also brings money. Last year’s race had an estimated $1 million economic impact on the city.
Dodson would like to see that number quintuple.
“The Tulsa Tough Race brought 2,000 riders from almost every state and from some foreign countries,” he said. “Those people were filling up hotels and frequenting the restaurants in the Blue Dome and Brady Districts.” “
“It’s a really nice event that we hope, within five years, attracts 10,000 people.”
Strong on Hospitality
Dodson said the city has some inherent advantages that make recruiting for, and bringing people to Tulsa easy.
“Tulsa is a strong community on the hospitality side – people like to get out and showcase the city,” he said. “There are a lot of things to do here and we are also right in the middle of the country geographically, so we are easy to access both by air and by car.”
“Regionally, we compete with Oklahoma City, Little Rock, Dallas and Kansas City, but for a lot of events, we are in a national competition,” he said. “Right now we are in the midst of bidding for the annual USA Track and Field convention. They have looked at several cities around the country and have narrowed it down to Kansas City, St. Louis and Tulsa.”
Dodson believes that the current Tulsa County building initiatives will benefit the overall sports landscape in Green Country, as well as help bring new life to downtown Tulsa.
“I think the Tulsa of 2012 will be exciting because of the initiatives coming out of Vision 2025,” he said. “Not just the BOk Center, but other things that will come out of that, such as an added number of youth soccer fields, which will allow us to be in the mix for a number of national events.”
“I also think the arena will help downtown happen,” he said, noting that Denver, Fort Worth, Memphis and Houston have all leveraged an increase of downtown foot traffic into a revitalized downtown.
“A nice, people-filled downtown would immensely benefit us in our mission,” he said. “A lot of these groups congregate downtown, and Cherry Street and Brookside are wonderful venues, but are not right down the street, within walking distance.” ?