South (Destination)

May 2017

Sports venues loom large in West/Central Texas

by Jeff Heilman

  • /Portals/0/images/Magazine/2017/0517/Texas1.jpg

    El Paso Chihuahuas baseball

  • Buffalo Springs Lake, LUBBOCK

    Buffalo Springs Lake, LUBBOCK


    Buffalo Springs Lake, LUBBOCK

    Buffalo Springs Lake, LUBBOCK
  • Pioneer Amphitheatre

    Pioneer Amphitheatre


    Pioneer Amphitheatre, AMARILLO

    Pioneer Amphitheatre

Covering 267,000 square miles, the Lone Star State can seem infinite in places—especially when traveling across its vast western reaches. Encompassing expanses such as Big Bend National Park and the Texas Panhandle, the West/Central Texas region is also home to the mighty Permian Basin, center of Texas oil and gas production.

While naturally attracting energy-related meetings and events, the area is also fueled by a love of sports and outdoor adventure. This is Friday Night Lights country—home to the true story of the Odessa high school football team that inspired the novel, movie and television series. From Abilene to Wichita Falls, the appetite for athletic endeavors is as boundless as the region’s frontiers, giving groups a competitive edge for agenda-boosting activities.

Sporting Chances

Scenes for the Friday Night Lights movie were shot at 15,000-seat Grande Communications Stadium, part of the multi-venue Scharbauer Sports Complex in energy capital Midland.

With grass seating for another 3,000 fans, the stadium serves as home field for two Midland high school football teams, along with Midland-Odessa FC, a.k.a. the Sockers, in the National Premier Soccer League, and the West Texas Drillers adult tackle football team. The complex also includes the 5,000-seat Security Bank Ballpark, home of the Minor League Midland RockHounds baseball team.

“The ballpark and stadium also host many regional tournaments,” said Brad Barnett, executive vice president of tourism and facilities for the Midland CVB. “With 50 city parks, outdoor space for relaxation and recreation is easy to find. Nearby Big Bend National Park is a favorite destination for pre- or post-conference outdoor excursions, along with the impressive hiking trails at the I-20 Wildlife Preserve and Sibley Nature Center.”

Generating some 60 percent of travel and tourism dollars in Midland, sports tourism was a focal point of the bureau’s rebranding in May 2016, which included a new name, VisitMidland, and increased emphasis on raising awareness of the city’s athletic and entertainment assets and hosting capabilities. The city is also scheduled to break ground and commence construction on a new, larger convention center this month (see Latest & Greatest).

Multi-venue Midland County Horseshoe Arena & Pavilion offers versatile configurations for sporting events, large conventions, tradeshows and concerts. Located at the Rock the Desert music festival site, RTD Skatepark is a 15,000-square-foot state-of-the-art skateboarding facility offering party space and lessons, plus art and music events.

More Texas-size high school and college football action awaits at 15,000-seat Shotwell Stadium in centrally located Abilene, three hours west of Dallas. With recent renovations such as new high-performance synthetic turf, the multipurpose field also hosts concerts and events.

“Our award-winning venues are outshined only by our dedication to customer service, ensuring all groups are winners when they choose to play in Abilene,” said Nanci Liles, executive director of the Abilene CVB.

With venues that include the 1,000-seat “Starplex of the West” outdoor entertainment pavilion and 30,000-square-foot Coliseum, the Expo Center of Taylor County is a versatile choice for horse shows, exhibitions, conferences and more. Another unique option is Action Zone, an indoor and outdoor training facility offering teambuilding programs and boot camps.

In Lubbock, Texas Tech University offers major group-accessible sports venues. Over the past decade, $135 million in renovations has transformed 60,454-seat Jones AT&T Stadium into a preeminent football facility, with amenities including 47 luxury suites and function and meeting space. The university’s Rawls Course is among the top-ranked public golf courses in the country.  

“The combination of 263 days of sunshine annually along with Texas-sized hospitality from our Lubbock Sports team ensures a seamless experience that athletes and groups deserve,” said John Osborne, president and CEO of Visit Lubbock.

With more sporting venues at Lubbock Christian University, the city’s recreational facilities include the recently opened APEX Event Center, housing eight full-size basketball and volleyball courts. Home of the annual Ironman 70.3 triathlon, Buffalo Springs Lake is for water sports, biking, hiking and more, function facility included.

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