With everything on the horizon from the U.S. Women’s Open at Shoal Creek to a potential new stadium to a new professional soccer team, the convergence of sports and business in Birmingham has never been hotter.
Birmingham has a long history as a sports town where big entertainment and big business combine. A BHM BIZ magazine B-School forum, held in January at UAB Arena, explored where the business of sports in Birmingham stands as we begin 2018.
It is a year that may see funding for a new downtown sports stadium and will see the first U.S. Open golf tournament held in the state.
It will also see the development of the city’s United Soccer League team, the Birmingham Legion FC, which was announced in August but is going through its formation in 2018.
The forum’s panel consisted of UAB Athletic Director Mark Ingram, Birmingham Barons General Manager Jonathan Nelson, 2018 U.S. Women’s Open Championship Manager John Coppins, Southwestern Athletic Conference Interim Director Edgar Gantt and Birmingham Legion Vice President Morgan T. Copes.
The panel took on hot topics, including potential financing for a proposed stadium next to the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex.
While the new stadium is less than certain, there are some sports projects already announced.
One of the most significant is the 2018 U.S. Women’s Open Championship. It is the first U.S. Open to be held in Alabama. The United States Golf Association is bringing the tournament to Shoal Creek May 28-June 3.
This is also a big year for the Birmingham Legion, the USL expansion team announced in August. The team has announced its new name and logo (Legion) and its president and general manager, Jay Heaps.
Here are some excerpts from the breakfast event.
UAB Athletic Director
What is being talked about right now is a 45,000 seat open air stadium with luxury suites and club seating, the things you would expect and that you are accustomed to as fans. We would be a tenant there, play our home games there. Mayor Woodfin has been very supportive of it. He could not be more supportive about everyone coming together.
Where does the money come from? There are several different places. Some of it is the corporate community and public support, some of it is the BJCC itself. The city and the county. I think everything is progressing well.
What we realized through the effort to reinstate those sports is that it doesn’t matter if you are an Alabama or Auburn fan. Our message changed to, it’s fine if you love Alabama or Auburn, but you live here. It is so convenient and so much fun for the family.
Morgan T. Copes
VP, Birmingham Legion
Birmingham, the Magic City, is a wonderful place to be. I mean we are in the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post. …The New York Times is writing articles about us as one of the top destinations in the country. So when people look to move here or corporations look to move to the city, they look at, what are our employees going to do? What am I going to take my family to? The first thing I did was look at how many sports teams Birmingham had. The positives of a stadium would outweigh the negatives by having the opportunity to have more for citizens in this community to do and be proud of.
The Role of Regions Field
The way we designed Regions Field was just not for Barons games. It is a year-round facility. So we are not just for the sports consumer but for the corporate consumer as well. Even though we’re having this conversation in winter, we have four groups at Regions Field all day today. So it is a year-round facility.
It is so important to have a strong relationship between the team and the city. Fortunately Birmingham is very proud and wants to continue to invest in Regions Field and the surrounding area.
It is hard to believe we are knocking on the door of year six for Regions Field. A strong working relationship with the business community has been a major factor in our success—not just with corporate hospitality but with the overall feeling of seeing Barons baseball as something bigger than the game itself. It is good for the community as a whole.
Many of you are familiar with the Magic City Classic. It brings in a lot of people at the end of October. Before I really knew anything about SWAC, I knew about and had experienced the Magic City Classic. So adding events to it here in the city of Birmingham in the next few years is key for us. We will be having our indoor track and field championships at the Crossplex. It is just a great opportunity to come out to a family friendly event and see some great athletes perform.
U.S. Women’s Open
2018 U.S. Women’s Open
This is the premier women’s golf event in the world. It is the largest purse in women’s golf. This is the title that all of the players want to win. When you talk about an international field, an international audience, we are really excited about the largest event in women’s golf coming to Birmingham. We are bringing the world’s best golfers to the world’s best sports fans. For our championship we are in a new location every single year. So it is exciting for the Open to come to Birmingham and Alabama for the first time. You are talking about a championship that has been played 72 times, and this is the first time in Alabama.
For us the competition is, what are folks doing over the weekend? Are they going to watch golf, are they going to the beach, are they going to the lake, are they going to watch a Barons game? It is obvious that for us that this is a once-in-a generation or even once-in-a lifetime event, a championship that is broadcast to over 100 countries worldwide. It truly reaches a global audience. Fans have to turn out and support these types of events if they want more to occur here. I know everyone in Birmingham is very excited to showcase this great city and great golf course at Shoal Creek to the world.
Bringing Back the Teams
UAB Athletic Director
We feel very strongly that Birmingham has done a great service to us by helping us reinstate these teams. It has been good for Birmingham, too. We have hosted Conference USA basketball championships for both men and women. That is good for the city. We built a new softball stadium, and we specifically made sure it was big enough so that we could host the Conference USA softball tournament. That means 12 teams and all their friends, families, and supporters coming to our town and staying in our hotels.
We feel like that is an obligation we have and we are committed to that.