Event venues like stadiums, arenas, and theaters and really special buildings. These spaces exist largely so communities can share human experiences and create life-long memories. It makes sense then, that people are emotionally connected to event venues. This emotional connection plus the high-profile nature of these facilities transforms event venues from buildings to landmarks. Event venues are iconic to the community they represent.
For as long as I can remember, I have been mesmerized by these buildings… sports facilities in particular. The event venue is as much (or more) a part of the event experience as the game on the field. I was a Padres season ticket holder in 2004 when PETCO Park opened. Those were pretty good Padres teams, but I often found myself much more interested in the ballpark design and operation than the action on the field. I also found myself traveling around the country watching the Padres in far off places like Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium for the explicit purpose of experiencing those sports venues. The more sport I consumed, the more I realized…
“My name is Cameron and I am a sports facility nerd…”
Fortunately for me, I recognized this in myself and figured out how to make a career of it. I now own a company that specializes in sourcing sport event venues for event promoters. I locate, negotiate, and often manage sport events in sports complexes, stadiums, and arenas around the country.
As San Diegans, we have heard a lot about sports facilities recently. With the Chargers deserting San Diego and with a couple of ballot initiatives pending, San Diegans are having to think about sports facilities in a modern way. How do we evaluate the importance of sports facilities to a community? There are both financial and psychic metrics to consider. I am neither an economist nor a politician, but as a sport event venue professional, I love the idea of new facilities and think they are important for the future of San Diego.
With that being said, I think it is fair to talk about a couple of existing municipal venues that are still great event spaces.
San Diego County Credit Union Stadium
San Diego County Credit Union Stadium (formerly Qualcomm Stadium) is still an awesome place (despite what Dean Spanos says). With the Chargers leaving, the stadium is now an open venue with inventory (calendar space available) to host major events. This scheduling flexibility provides a market advantage against other NFL facilities and gives the stadium financial flexibility to be aggressive on rental terms. SDCCU Stadium is centrally located to everything in San Diego and by harkening back to its days as a multi-purpose stadium, we can remember that the seating bowl is configurable. SDCCU Stadium also has some logistical advantages in terms of production capabilities, parking, and public transportation that aren’t necessarily available in Downtown San Diego or other parts of the county.
Beyond the stadium itself, the SDCCU Stadium site has a few other venues that make it an extremely valuable event asset for San Diego. We all remember the tailgate culture at old Padres games and Chargers games, but we probably don’t recognize how busy the SDCCU Stadium parking lot actually is. They do over 225 event days in the parking lot each year. The SDCCU parking lot is over 18,600 asphalted parking spaces covering 4.5 million square feet. It is the “largest paved parking area West of the Mississippi.” The event options are endless when you think of this obstruction free space as a blank canvas.
San Diegans may also forget that there is a 4.3 acre practice field in the southwest corner of the SDCCU Stadium parking lot. The field is fenced in and lighted. It is also maintained by the stadium grounds staff, so it is in impeccable condition. Beyond hosting club soccer and rugby year-round, the practice field is a great space for tournaments and even festivals. The central location and proximity to hotel circle makes the SDCCU Stadium complex a great asset for the city of San Diego now and into the future—whatever that future may hold for the site.
San Diego Concourse-Golden Hall
Another municipal facility that is aged, but highly valuable as an event venue is Golden Hall at the San Diego Concourse. Large indoor event space is in demand and Golden Hall is busy. It is a great space for conferences, expos, and trade shows. It can also be a great space for sport events. This is critical, because the other large indoor sport facilities in San Diego have heavy anchor programming. RIMAC Arena, Jenny Craig Pavilion, and Viejas Arena are collegiate venues. The academic and NCAA schedule is such that collegiate arenas have very limited availability from October to March. Furthermore, universities exist to serve their student populations, so outside events are often deprioritized in their scheduling model. Golden Hall is a capable multi-use space that can then step in to host sport events like volleyball, basketball martial arts (jiu jitsu, MMA, boxing, taekwondo, etc), cheerleading, and dance competitions. Golden Hall would also be a great venue for technology competitions like esport tournaments, drone racing, and hackathons. With its Downtown San Diego location, Golden Hall is intriguing for events with traveling audiences. San Diego is a premiere destination, so events targeting San Diego as a host city present it as a family vacation. This increases the economic impact of the event and brings new money to town.
It is an interesting time to be an events venue professional in San Diego. We are certainly going through a transitionary period and the decisions our community makes in the coming year will have both an emotional and economic effect on the future of our city. We have seen what PETCO Park has done for the East Village and it is exciting to think about what might come next. Before we do though, we should appreciate our existing municipal facilities for what they are and be grateful for the value that they still hold.