By Ken Stone
San Diego has landed a major multisport festival for July 2017, expecting 5,000 athletes 21-and-up to vie at venues throughout the region a week before Comic-Con.
The USA Masters Games — whose July debut in North Carolina fell short of predictions — will be combined with the previously planned California State Games in San Diego, said Sandi Hill, a leader in both efforts.
The event will repeat in San Diego as well, with Hill saying: “We expect 7,500-10,000 in 2018.” (The Rio Olympics hosted 11,000 athletes.)
“We won the bid, and then USA Masters Games group determined that they wanted to host the event every year,” she said Thursday. “San Diego then agreed to also host 2017.”
Two dozen sports are offered, with most set for July 12-16, 2017. The track meet will be June 23-25 (at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista) to avoid conflicting with the USA Track & Field National Masters Championships set for July 13-16 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Soccer will be held the same dates, also at the Olympic Training Center. (Comic-Con is July 20-23, with preview night July 19.)
Besides baseball, basketball, tennis and beach volleyball, the USA Masters Games will stage ice hockey in Poway and figure skating at the San Diego Ice Arena in Mira Mesa. Other sports include archery, badminton, cycling, diving, judo, pickle ball, powerlifting, table tennis, triathlon and water polo.
CEO Carrow, 61, also helped Greensboro land the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in 2011 and 2015, plus major gymnastics and swimming events, having led the effort in 1987 to host the U.S. Olympic Festival.
Hill, executive director of the California State Games, said the San Diego event was announced only last week, and “we are scrambling to get everything done in time for 2017.” Olympian Willie Banks says he will chair a committee and compete in the track meet as well.
In late July, the Greensboro News & Record reported that when Carrow proposed the Masters Games in April 2015, he hoped to draw 10,000 athletes. About 2,500 turned out, “enough to fill out competitions in all 24 planned sports. But far fewer than the Games capacity.”
Carrow was quoted as saying: “We’ve given the sports championship quality, but masters sports by their nature tend not to be spectator events outside of friends and family. Getting the word out is particularly challenging. … Word of mouth becomes very important to an event like this.”
A July 31 Facebook posted announced the San Diego 2018 event:
Hill told Times of San Diego that all sports at the 2017 games are sanctioned by their national governing bodies, “so we will be listed on all NGB schedules.”
She said marketing plans are being “developed right now.” (As recently as Oct. 10, the USA Masters Games site said “San Diego 2018.”) Its social media presence is negligible, with only 172 followers on Twitter and 1,781 Likes on Facebook as of Thursday.“Locally, we are reaching out to all masters [sports] groups in town, along with Vavi,” which organizes 13 recreational local sports leagues. “Nationally, we are attending most masters [national championships] and other large events promoting the Games. It is a little different from most masters competitions in that the Games are for athletes ages 21 and up.”
Hill said she has started talks with the San Diego Track Club to secure its support. She said a paid staff of four will be aided by about 2,000 volunteers.
Entry costs aren’t established yet, but Hill said it “looks like $60 registration fee and then an event fee will vary per sport.”
She said hotel room blocks already in place for the state games “can easily be expanded.” She wasn’t worried about bumping up close to the summer’s major convention, saying: “Athletes will be gone by the time Comic-Con comes around. We have discounted hotel rates for the athletes at about 20 different hotels.”
Masters multisport festivals aren’t new. The Swiss-based International Masters Games Association has staged World Masters Games every four years since 1985, with a 2017 event set for Auckland, New Zealand. The IMGA is officially recognized by the International Olympic Committee.
But other “masters games” are not, including the Americas Masters Games, whose inaugural event was held over nine days ending Sept. 4 in Vancouver, British Columbia. It reportedly drew more than 5,000 athletes (age 30 and up) from 52 countries. In 2018, San Diego will also host the ANOC World Beach Games, a spectator-friendly event with close to 20 sports.
Hill — also helping stage the World Beach Games — noted that San Diego’s 2017 event will add a social aspect.
“We are involving the San Diego breweries in hosting beer gardens each evening with live music in various parts of San Diego,” she said, “so the athletes get to really see beautiful San Diego.”
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