By Nancy A Herrick | Photography courtesy of Visit Milwaukee
Teams representing Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, NCAA Division I basketball, professional hockey and soccer—and even roller derby!—call this major Midwest city home.
So it’s not surprising that its facilities and venues draw competitors from the state, region, nation and world to the many organized events held each year.
“We have a prime location, less than a day’s drive from a third of the nation’s population,” says Marissa Werner, sports and entertainment manager for Visit Milwaukee. “Since many athletes and their families pay expenses out of their own pockets, it also helps that the cost of getting here and staying here is very reasonable.”
Mitchell International Airport is served by nine airlines and is just five miles south of downtown. Amtrak services both the airport and downtown.
Located on the western shore of Lake Michigan, Milwaukee has plenty of park land and beaches that provide access to the fifth largest lake in the world. It also has an outstanding County Parks system with public access to trails and open spaces. Indoor arenas abound.
Werner, herself a former college level volleyball player, helps plan dozens of events each year as part of her responsibilities with Visit Milwaukee, the city’s tourism marketing association.
Major events coming up include the U.S. Open Golf Tournament, June 12-18 at Erin Hills; the USA Gymnastics National Championships, June 27-July 2 at the Wisconsin Center; and the Winter Olympics trials for long track speedskating, Jan. 2-7, 2018, at the Pettit National Ice Center.
Milwaukee had a big taste of March Madness this year when the BMO Harris Bradley Center served as host to the first two rounds of the NCAA Basketball Tournament. Some 5,600 athletes competed in the USA Triathlon National Championships three years in a row along the shore of Lake Michigan and USA Fencing held its National Championships at the Wisconsin Center in November.
Christine Strong Simmons, senior director of operations for USA Fencing, says about 1,400 athletes have competed at each of the four national tournaments the organization has held in Milwaukee.
“Milwaukee is a great location for both our US and Canadian athletes,” she says. “There are plenty of hotel rooms right downtown, it’s a safe place to walk around and there are many restaurants and attractions in the area for our participants and their families.”
USA Fencing holds its events at the Wisconsin Center’s Exhibit Hall, ballroom and meeting space. As Milwaukee’s largest convention space, it is very adaptable and is centrally located downtown with skywalk access to two hotels.
Here are some of the facilities that make Milwaukee an attractive destination for sports events.
WISCONSIN CENTER DISTRICT
Three venues make up the Wisconsin Center District, which is in the heart of downtown and close to many sports and cultural facilities. Many downtown hotels are within close proximity and more than 1,500 guest rooms are connected to the Wisconsin Center via a skywalk system.
The Wisconsin Center is the largest convention center in the city with three levels that include 188,695 square feet of exhibit space, a 37,500- square-foot ballroom and an additional 39,300 square feet of meeting space. With its tall ceilings, it often is used for volleyball tournaments, among other sports such as fencing and wrestling.
The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Panther Arena, just one block north of the Wisconsin Center, is home to the NCAA Division I UW-M Panther basketball team, the Milwaukee Wave professional soccer team, the Milwaukee Admirals American Hockey League team and the Brew City Bruisers roller derby league.
With 8,900 permanent seats and a capacity of 12,700, the Panther Arena can host hockey, basketball, motorsports and more. The third venue that’s part of the district is the Milwaukee Theatre, which seats 4,000.
BMO HARRIS BRADLEY CENTER
Home to the NBA Milwaukee Bucks and the Marquette Golden Eagles NCAA Division I basketball team, the Bradley Center occupies the six acres just north of the Panther Area. It seats 18,000+ for basketball and more for concerts.
As the former home of the Milwaukee Admirals hockey team, it also has a hockey rink and can accommodate ice shows. It was the setting for the NCAA Frozen Four hockey finals in 1993, 1997 and 2006.
CENTER COURT SPORTS COMPLEX
With 50,000 square feet, this indoor sports complex can be configured into five basketball courts or eight volleyball courts. It also has nine outdoor sand volleyball courts. It is a popular venue for volleyball and basketball tournaments for participants from elementary school through high school.
Located in Waukesha, Wis., it is about 18 miles west of downtown Milwaukee.
PETTIT NATIONAL ICE CENTER
The Pettit Ice Center is an official training site for U.S. Olympic speedskating and is one of only 30 indoor 400-meter speedskating ovals in the world. Some of the biggest names in speedskating have trained and competed at the Pettit, and its 25-year legacy will continue when the next round of trials are held for men and women in early 2018 that will determine the 2018 Winter Olympic team.
In addition to the Olympic oval, the Pettit also has two international sized rinks for figure skating, hockey and short-track speedskating. There is a three-lane running track above the oval and meeting space for 150 people.
PLEASANT PRAIRIE RECPLEX
Calling itself “the largest municipal recreation facility in America,” this swimming and fitness center and recreational park is in Pleasant Prairie, just west of Kenosha, Wis., and north of the Wisconsin-Illinois state line. In all, it has 302,000 square feet of indoor space on 425 acres.
It offers a 10-lane, 50-meter Olympic-size indoor pool; fieldhouse with indoor courts for basketball, volleyball or soccer; ice arena with two NHL-sized rinks for hockey, skating or broomball; indoor waterpark; and racquetball courts.
It also has outdoor ball fields, sand volleyball courts, archery and soccer facilities, and a beach.
Among other competitions, it has been the setting for sprint and international triathlons and sprint duathlons.
THE ROCK SPORTS COMPLEX
This multi-sport complex is a private-public venture that promotes sports and recreational activities for the community and beyond. Located in the suburb of Franklin, southwest of the city of Milwaukee, it has fields for baseball; hills for winter snowboarding, tubing and skiing; and tracks and hills for bike racing.
Baseball tournaments and league play are held on the six fields that meet Major League specifications. That includes irrigation, drainage, infield dirt, sod and ground crew grooming between games.
The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Klotsche Center is the recreation and sports center for students, faculty and alumni. It has indoor basketball, volleyball, a 25-yard pool and more. It serves the athletic needs of those on campus during the busiest months of the school year– August through April. But in the months with lighter usage, it can be rented for tournaments and camps.
The Milwaukee School of Engineering is in downtown Milwaukee and the college’s 210,000-square-foot Kern Center serves as a recreation, health and athletic facility. In the past it often had been rented for basketball and soccer, but now more often it is the site for tai kwon do and futsal competition. USA Futsal events have attracted teams from around the nation and world.
MSOE’s NHL-sized ice arena, which is home to the school’s Division III hockey team, also is the site of charity events and tournaments.
One of the most unusual venues in Milwaukee is MSOE’s Viets Field, built atop a 780-car parking structure. It is the setting for soccer, rugby and lacrosse.
“It’s really special at night when you can see the lights of downtown all around,” says Rai Stelter, director of MSOE’s Recreational Services. And, yes, sometimes balls are kicked off the field and wind up on the pavement below, where they bounce down the street. “That’s why we have kids on alert to chase them down,” he says.
MILWAUKEE COUNTY PARK SYSTEM
This award-winning park system features facilities for just about any sport you can imagine.
It has more than 75 parks within its jurisdiction, and offers spots for archery, baseball, Ultimate Frisbee, rugby, soccer, kickball, tennis, volleyball and more. Wilson Park on Milwaukee’s south side, for example, has an ice arena and softball stadium. Whitnall and Hoyt parks have mountain bike trails. Brown Deer and Whitnall parks have cross-country ski trails.
The Milwaukee County Sports Complex has a 55,000-square-foot fieldhouse with team rooms, showers and a concession area. Soccer, volleyball and basketball competition is held there. Outdoors, the Milwaukee Complex has a stadium field with bleacher seating, soccer fields, a disc golf course and more.
The Park System also has 15 golf courses, with information on each found at milwaukeecountygolfcourses.com.
Brown Deer Golf Course, about eight miles northwest of downtown, is a Tournament Level course with a distance of 6,759 yards. It has served as the venue for PGA Tour events, a USGA championship and an LPGA Symetra Tour event.
Milwaukee County also has three championship level golf courses at Dretzka, Oakwood and Whitnall parks.
UIHLEIN SOCCER PARK
This soccer complex on the northwest side of Milwaukee has been the site of outdoor matches featuring the University of Wisconsin Badger men’s soccer team, the U.S. Women’s National team, more than a decade of Wisconsin State High School Championships for boys and girls, and untold thousands of local youth soccer games. It has two lighted stadiums, including one that seats 7,000, more than a dozen outdoor fields and three indoor soccer fields with AstroPlay surfaces.
The facilities also can be used for lacrosse tournaments and Ultimate Frisbee competition.
WISCONSIN ENTERTAINMENT AND SPORTS CENTER
Looking ahead, Milwaukee is further cementing its reputation as a sports-loving town by building a new arena for the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks and Marquette University’s Golden Eagles. It will replace the BMO Harris Bradley Center, which is one of the oldest arenas in the NBA and which no longer meets NBA standards.
The new arena is downtown, just north of the Bradley Center. Construction began in June 2016 and the arena is expected to open in time for the 2018 NBA season. It will seat 17,500.