Philly Embracing Role As Title Town For Colleges
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Leave the Philadelphia sports championships to the amateurs.
While fans of the city’s Big 4 are used to coming home empty-handed in the postseason, if they even make the postseason, there are joyous celebrations on the mound, the pitch, the ice, just about every year in one of sports’ most populous markets.
Maybe the Eagles or Flyers could learn a lesson about what it takes to win a title in Philly.
Each year, teams and players in all levels of play win championships here as a rush of second-tier events have flooded the market. From rugby to lacrosse, and even squash, Philly has become a championship city. Just don’t ask the pros.
This weekend, the men’s and women’s NCAA lacrosse titles will be awarded here. The collegiate rugby championship is up next in June.
There are conference championships in soccer and even the organization formerly known as the Lingerie Football League is calling Philly home.
Don’t forget, the Frozen Four — NCAA’s hockey championship — is on tap for 2014.
It’s almost enough to make the most hardcore fan forget that the Eagles, Flyers, 76ers and Phillies all missed the playoffs in the last year.
OK, maybe not.
Still, the influx of big-time events only bolsters the market’s reputation as a top sports city and stuffs the coffers for hotels, restaurants and everyone connected to Lincoln Financial Field, PPL Park or the Wells Fargo Center.
“Every city in America wants these events,” Peter Luukko, Flyers president, said. “We want to be the best. It just supplements our regular seasons.”
City officials expect 10,000 hotel room nights and an economic impact of $25 million pumped into Philadelphia this weekend because of lacrosse. The NCAA Divisions I, II, and III men’s championships will be held at the Linc. The D-II and D-III championship games are Sunday and D-I national title contest is Monday.
The women’s national championship game is Sunday at Villanova Stadium.
“The Philadelphia region is one of the strongest lacrosse communities in the nation,” Villanova athletic director Vince Nicastro said.
Lincoln Financial Field hosted the men’s lacrosse championship in 2005 and 2006 to huge attendance numbers. The event drew 111,227 in 2005, and 120,614 the next year. After the Eagles went 4-12, this will be the first time there’s genuine excitement at the stadium in a couple of years.
Gymnastics, squash and table tennis have all held major events in Philadelphia the last five years, as well. The NCAA also picks the Wells Fargo Center as a frequent spot for the first weekend of the men’s basketball tournament.
So why chase these events? Stadiums have dates to fill and need a financial boost from tourists. Plus, the lacrosse weekend will be aired on various ESPN outlets that will bring exposure to the city and corporate names plastered on the arenas.
Full stadiums in dry periods bring a buzz to the city that can’t be found elsewhere.
“Part of what our charge to, is to be part of this community,” Luukko said. “When these events come to town, the hotels are full, the restaurants are full. It’s our contribution to the community as well.”
After two failed bids, Luukko helped to bring the 2014 Frozen Four to the Wells Fargo Center. Earlier this year, Penn State and Vermont played a regular-season game at the home of the Flyers, in front of 19,529 fans.
“It’s validation we’re not just a Flyers town,” Luukko said, “but a hockey town.”
PPL Park, home of the Philadelphia Union of MLS, is again the site of the USA Sevens Collegiate Rugby Championship. The event runs June 1-2, and will feature schools like Arizona, Florida and Dartmouth.
“We want to do big events,” Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz said. “Not smaller events.”
The rugby championship drew about 18,200 fans last year after 17,894 attended in 2011.
“We don’t want to abuse the building with too many events,” Sakiewicz said. “But at the same time, we’re fine putting American football on it, rugby, lacrosse. We have a dog show coming to PPL Park. We can handle a variety events, we just have to be mindful of what kind of events we put in the building.”
Sakiewicz said PPL Park could expand — just not yet. After all, it was built with more than soccer in mind, making it a desirable location for all types of sports.
“The sightlines are so good for soccer, but they’re even better for other sports that maybe aren’t played as widely across the pitch,” he said. “You have really good sightlines for lacrosse, rugby and American football.
“That’s a benefit.”
Sakiewicz would like to see PPL Park expand its use for more than just sports.
“It’s been kind of tough to win any bids and get music into the building,” he said. “But we have a great diversity of sporting events at PPL and we’ll continue to grow that.”
The same can be said for Philadelphia, overall.
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