by Tom Isler | May 01, 2008

Atlanta’s Olympic Park


Olympic legacy: Atlanta’s
Olympic Park, adjacent to
the city’s convention center,
continues to be a popular
spot for special events.

While all major convention destinations have sports facilities available for off-site gatherings, when it comes to meetings business, some cities have used athletics more strategically than others.

In Los Angeles, for example, the addition of the Staples Center arena instantly enabled the city to capture high-profile events, such as the Democratic National Convention in 2000, and its success has paved the way for the rest of the L.A. Live entertainment district, now a major asset to the convention complex.

St. Louis leverages its NFL stadium as auxiliary exhibition space for its adjacent convention center and uses other stadiums to lure groups. Even in smaller cities, such as Providence, R.I., which has connected its convention center to the neighboring sports arena, and Hampton, Va., which is adding a new sports complex with meeting space, sales teams are focusing on sporting events or meetings to pad the convention calendar.

But for the following four cities, sporting events or venues are not simply added amenities but, rather, key pieces of a larger strategy to grow convention and meetings business and the local economy as a whole.

Cheersport participants

events like the annual
competition and
associated meetings helped
Atlanta rebound after Sept. 11, 2001.


The 1996 Olympics were invaluable to the city of Atlanta, for both the development the games spurred and the awareness they generated, says Bob Schuler, vice president of sales and services for the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau: “We called ourselves the capital of the South, but I don’t think that really fit until we hosted the Olympics.”

As did Lake Placid, N.Y., and Salt Lake City, two other Olympic hosts, Atlanta experienced a development boom in the run-up to the games, particularly in the hotel sector, that subsequently has benefited convention business and sparked additional development downtown. The games “left a great legacy and inspired Atlanta to take advantage of the many new stadiums, downtown improvements and transportation projects that were required to host a prestigious event,” says Mark Vaughan, executive vice president of the CVB. Today, for example, Centennial Olympic Park, at the east end of the convention center campus, continues to be a popular venue for special events, from black-tie affairs to barbecues.

But Atlanta’s strategic use of sports goes beyond the Olympics. The city is one of a select few in the United States that has a professional football stadium directly adjacent to its convention center, capable of serving as overflow exhibition space or as a general session venue for large events. The proximity strategically positions Atlanta to attract major sporting events that have associated meetings or public events and that require convention center space, thus boosting the center’s bookings.

The Georgia World Congress Center Authority, which operates both the convention center and the Georgia Dome, currently is finishing up a $43 million renovation project at the stadium, which was sidetracked temporarily in March by storms that caused some damage.

Atlanta also used sports as a lifeline after 9/11, as part of its plan to target business unaffected by the slowdown in corporate travel. The directive to book amateur sporting events allowed the CVB to net the Cheersport National Cheerleading and Dance Championship in 2002, and the event has remained in the city ever since. Hosting 30,000 young competitors also does public relations work for the bureau: No official marketing campaign speaks any more convincingly to the city’s safety, Schuler notes. And, he believes, the young athletes’ fathers and mothers, who have been exposed to Atlanta’s meeting product as a result of the competition, have encouraged their companies and organizations to book meetings in the city. Free media coverage doesn’t hurt, either.

“Anyone out there who is not putting the sports arena -- amateur, collegiate or professional -- at the top of their marketing efforts is missing a great opportunity,” Schuler says.

Atlanta sports venues:
Centennial Olympic Park,
Georgia Dome,
Philips Arena,