by Alex Palmer | March 07, 2018

Major sporting events can be a boon to their host destinations. Indeed, a recent study of 12 European countries found that hosting an event like the Olympics or FIFA World Cup gave a significant boost to the level of life satisfaction among their populations. It didn't matter whether the home team did well in the event -- just being a high-profile host was enough to boost the national mood.

The same could also be said about major sporting events and their effects on meetings. Cities that host an Olympic Games, Super Bowl, or Final Four championship not only raise their profile, but raise their meetings offerings -- growing hotel inventory, improving infrastructure, and building entirely new venues that visiting corporate groups can utilize before, during, and long after the big game.

Exhibit A: The just-concluded Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. To prepare for the massive gathering, the country enhanced a number of existing venues and constructed all-new ones, including the new Alpensia Sliding Center and Olympic Plaza in Pyeongchang, along with a new ice arena and pair of hockey centers in neighboring Gangneung. It also wrapped up infrastructure enhancements such as a new expressway and an extension of the country's high-speed bullet train.

"Meeting in Pyeongchang has been greatly enhanced by the Olympic Games," says Steve Yong, executive director of the Korea Tourism Organization of New York, describing the destination as a local favorite among Koreans, famous for its ski resorts in the colder months and its beaches and water sports in the warmer ones. "Now the region is much more accessible to foreigners and locals alike, while preserving the area's natural beauty. The transportation system, the new crop of restaurants and hotels, all add to the area's draw during the Olympics and beyond."

The "and beyond" is key. Critics have raised concerns that the large-scale builds involved in such major events can leave destinations in debt with unused venues, worries that have been expressed about Pyeongchang, and only time will tell. But there are plenty of cases where such major investments have proven beneficial for planners. That's been the case in Houston, which last year hosted the Super Bowl and made a number of improvements to its convention center core, including a large-scale renovation of the George R. Brown Convention Center that included a new event space on the front porch of the facility that ties in to adjacent Discovery Green park.

"The renovation had long been planned, but having the Super Bowl as the ultimate deadline certainly helped," explains Janis Schmees Burke, CEO of the Harris County--Houston Sports Authority.

During the event itself, the enhanced convention center and adjacent 1,000-room Marriott Marquis Houston created a contiguous downtown environment that "could sustain the 'seen and be seen' atmosphere of a Super Bowl," as Burke puts it. It also allowed for dynamic venues where hundreds of thousands of visitors could take part in the public NFL Live and Super Bowl Live events, live-music stages and other events in the downtown area for a nine-day period around Super Bowl LI to draw people to the experience. But more important was how the investments have helped to make Houston a more attractive destination for planners bringing groups to the city months later.

"The infrastructure and improvements, while great for the Super Bowl, were part of a long-range plan to help position Houston for the future," says Burke. "Hosting Super Bowls and NCAA Final Fours allows the larger public to see a city's improvement in action. It also generates confidence in meeting planners and travel groups that our city can handle events on the largest scale."

Of course, it works both ways: It was the city's investments in its infrastructure, including the addition of the Marriott Marquis hotel and Avenida Houston entertainment district that helped the city to land the Super Bowl to begin with.

Los Angeles Upgrades
Major sporting events have similarly provided Los Angeles with clear deadlines as it moves forward on major enhancements throughout the city, in its downtown and beyond. L.A. will be hosting the Super Bowl in 2022 and -- more significant when it comes to citywide infrastructure development -- the Summer Olympics in 2028. Though 10 years seem a long way off, the city's leaders have seen such an all-encompassing, high-profile moment as a focal point for a decade of major improvements.

Next month will see the opening of Banc
of California Stadium, which will serve
as home for the Los Angeles Football Club
and offer unique meeting spaces

"We look at these events as a great way for people to see the new L.A." says Kathryn S. Schloessman, president of Los Angeles Sports & Entertainment Commission. "Obviously these are great for visibility and for attraction of other people and groups adding on meetings and things like that, but it's also been a way to spur development in transportation and hotels."

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has laid out a "28 by '28" plan to have 28 transit projects completed by the 2028 Olympics. These include the Crenshaw Light Rail Line connecting to the airport, as well as a Purple Line extension to Westwood and the UCLA campus, where the Olympic Village will be based. The city passed Measure M, which lays out plans to raise $120 billion over the next 40 years to build the city a "21st century transportation system," as Schloessman describes it. Using funds from that, Metro will accelerate a number of projects.

Next month will see the opening of Banc of California Stadium, home to the Major League Soccer team the Los Angeles Football Club, and boasting a number of meetings spaces including the Sunset Deck (with views of downtown and the Hollywood sign), the exclusive Field Level Club, and expansive Founders Club. Come 2028, it will also serve as an Olympic venue. Also coming up: The former Hollywood Park Racetrack will be converted into the Los Angeles Stadium and Entertainment District at Hollywood Park, adding 300 hotel rooms, a 6,000-seat performing arts venue, and, anchoring it all, the 70,000-seat open-air stadium that will be home to the NFL's Los Angeles Rams and Los Angeles Chargers.

Part of this effort is a $5.5 billion people mover that was supposed to debut in 2028 and will now be completed by 2024 in anticipation of the big events coming. The city currently has 66 hotel projects in the pipeline.

These developments have planners of major events excited to bring groups to the city.

"The Olympics is going to propel L.A. to build on what they have already," says Tim McGuinness, vice president of global trade expositions for International Council of Shopping Centers, which hosted one of its major annual conferences in Los Angeles in the fall of 2017. "It's only going to provide more and better facilities and enhance the downtown. You're going to see further growth on the hotel side and restaurant side. Retail and residential will pop up more. You're going to see more producers and organizers who are going to want to bring their event to the city."

He says this after having been already impressed with the changes the city's downtown had gone through in recent years. It had been several years since the ICSC, which represents shopping-center developers and retailers, had held an event in Los Angeles, and rather than the empty, slightly dangerous downtown he had experienced previously, McGuinness last year found the area to be bursting with options for the group.

"It's just a night-and-day transformation of the whole downtown scene," he says. "When I went there prior to our event a year before, I was so thoroughly impressed with the energy and development, the amenities of the downtown area. You felt safe, you could navigate it nicely, and everything was fairly close. From a meetings standpoint that's very important. I especially like the downtown's walkability and ease for getting around."