Good Sportsmanship: Irvine Ups Old-School ‘Gaming’

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

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Destination Irvine and area hotels are courting more sports-related meetings and events as facilities at the city’s Great Park continue to open.

Many amenities are community-based, including basketball courts and playgrounds near Great Park Neighborhood homes. But the “hundred acre wood” of offerings—in June, Great Park Sports Complex topped 101 acres of fields and facilities—goes beyond kid-friendly to include a newly opened championship soccer stadium and four sheets of ice under construction that will be suitable for NHL or Olympic-level hockey.

“Irvine was a decent sports area prior to the Great Park, now it’s a hot spot,” said Dave Lucey, director of sports sales for Destination Irvine, the part of Greater Irvine Chamber that markets the city for business and tourism.

Lucey was hired last year to grow sports- and athletics-based meetings and events, and he said the efforts are beginning to bear fruit.

Winner’s Cups

“We assisted with the LA Galaxy Cup,” Lucey said. The new annual youth competition for premier club and academy teams will repeat at Great Park next year.

Destination Irvine is also in “high press”—soccer lingo for a team pushing forward—booking hotel business for the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics men’s soccer national championship, scheduled for this fall and next.

Chamber of Commerce and Destination IrvineChief Executive Bryan Starr called the deal “a true community effort” of his groups, Great Park and the city. Irvine hasn’t hosted an NAIA championship before.

Lucey also hits the tradeshow and conference circuit to generate business.

This month he’ll be in Salt Lake City at Connect Sports, and in October he hits TEAMS—Travel, Events and Management in Sports—in Louisville, Ky. Both conferences connect groups and events, such as the National Collegiate Athletics Association, Golden Gloves of America, Minor League Baseball, BMX Racing on one end and cities, destination marketers and venues on the other.

Marketing can take some time to produce results, since sports competitions are booked well in advance.

“I’m working on some stuff from a year ago,” Lucey said.

Park Here

Lucey believes Great Park’s ice rink will generate interest from USA Hockey and others for its opening next year.

The rinks are being built by an affiliate of the Anaheim Ducks hockey team. The $100 million, 270,000-square-foot facility will seat 2,500 at the main rink and host regional and national tournaments, in addition to community uses and occasional Ducks practices.

Tennis, volleyball and soccer are available—Lucey said about two dozen soccer fields are ready, in addition to the championship stadium, which is home to Orange County Soccer Club, a United Soccer League pro team, and seats 4,000 fans when including benches and berms, Lucey said.

The city’s website shows the sports complex will have 194 acres, up from 101. Upcoming elements include baseball and softball fields, and possibly a golf course and a water polo layout—all sports that could attract high school and college events.

The LA Galaxy Cup had “roughly a hundred teams,” Lucey said, “and the hotel part is crucial.” The NAIA event should be good for about 1,500 room nights in each of its two years here.

“It’s not a ton of people, but they’re staying a week.”

Hotel Game

Lucey worked “on the hotel side for 16 years” in OC, including a dozen at Irvine chain hotels such as Hampton Inn, Holiday Inn and Crowne Plaza—all prime crashing candidates for families traveling with youth athletes.

He “handled sports through all these,” he said. “You take a lot of incoming calls, people calling the hotel directly.”

The Destination Irvine effort helps to centralize that. As events come from other sources, like LA Galaxy, wider Irvine work—such as NAIA—and the destination marketer’s rainmaking at conferences, Lucey gets hotels’ bids and helps coordinate bookings.

He worked with Hotel Irvine on getting the NAIA event, for instance. The hotel joined Lucey for on-site and welcome tours at Great Park.

“We get leads from Dave every week,” said Hyatt House Irvine Sales Director Adam Drescher. “He’ll secure the tournament or function and pass it along.”

Destination Irvine works with about 20 hotels in the city, and Lucey said drawing sports events can help the properties outside of the always-busy summer season.

“Hotels do extremely well June, July, August, and most sell out. We need more September through May.”

The NAMM Show in January and Natural Products Expo West in March—the two biggest shows of the year at Anaheim Convention Center—provide a boost in those months, but about six months of the year are wide open.

Irvine hotels cater largely to business and “do well Monday through Thursday, even in slow months, but they need weekends,” Lucey said. “We’re not right next to Disneyland, we’re not right next to the beach. We need tournaments.”


Destination Irvine’s salesmanship mirrors one by destination marketer Visit Anaheim, which launched Sports Anaheim in 2016 to attract sporting events in Anaheim and the rest of Orange County. Vice President Roy Edmondson attended the Olympic Games that year in Rio de Janeiro to meet with groups and governing bodies in various sports.

“Anaheim is a sports town,” Visit Anaheim President and Chief Executive Jay Burress said at the time. “We can offer … our expertise in developing and producing world-class sporting events.”

Burress noticed the draw of sporting events in his previous duties as chief executive of Experience Arlington in Texas. During his tenure there, it hosted a U.S. Open of Bowling, an NBA All-Star Game, two World Series games, and a Super Bowl.

Visit Anaheim is a multiyear sponsor of the TEAMS event in Louisville, Ky.; recent sports events in OC included gymnastics, basketball and mixed martial arts. This year, Sports Anaheim lost a 2019 weightlifting event to Las Vegas.

Sports Anaheim plans to also own events it creates or takes on from others in order to be a producer, not just a host.

Source: Orange County Business Journal

Category: Chamber News, Destination Irvine