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Why New Jersey Is a Sporting Events Champion

MetLife Stadium side view 2024

Of the five professional sports franchises that call New Jersey home, only the New Jersey Devils of the National Hockey League carry the state’s name. The Jets and Giants of the National Football League, along with the Red Bulls of Major League Soccer, go by “New York” while Gotham FC of the National Women's Soccer League bears the “NJ/NY” prefix.

New Jersey need not worry about an identity crisis where sports are concerned, though. 

Claims to fame include the birthplace of college football. In November 1869, Rutgers College defeated the College of New Jersey, now Princeton University, in the first-ever intercollegiate football game, paving the way for modern football.

Soccer, the other football, is headed for New Jersey in 2026 when MetLife Stadium, home of the Jets and Giants, takes center stage in the biggest-ever edition of the FIFA Men’s World Cup. 

The stadium anchors the Meadowlands Sports Complex, which along with the Prudential Center in nearby Newark, New Jersey, home of the Devils, represents the main engines of New Jersey’s sports economy. The state’s other main sports headquarters, Atlantic City, is on a decade-long winning streak. Meetings Today spoke with leaders in these key markets about their game plans for success.

Atlantic City Scores Big in Sports

Ironman swimmer in Atlantic City
Ironman swimmer. Credit: Atlantic City Sports Commission

In January 2015, Visit Atlantic City (then Meet AC) and the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority helped launch the Atlantic City Sports Commission to attract sporting events, conventions and competitions to Atlantic City. 

The following year, the destination hosted the TEAMS '16 Conference & Expo, the world's leading sports event industry event, and MPI’s 2016 World Education Congress. Both were unqualified wins, scoring near-perfect approval ratings. 

These accomplishments significantly boosted Atlantic City’s national image as a dynamic and capable convention and event destination, a reputation that has only evolved and strengthened since. 

Showcased in Visit Atlantic City’s latest promotional video, “Become a Champion in Atlantic City, NJ,” regional, national and international competitions, tournaments and championships are pillars of Atlantic City’s robust annual calendar of diverse cross-industry group bookings. 

From boxing, basketball, fencing, pickleball, volleyball and wrestling to fishing, surfing and triathlon events, Atlantic City’s roster of youth, collegiate and professional sporting events tells a persuasive story of hosting appeal, versatility and prowess. 

In this Q&A, Daniel Gallagher, director of sports sales for the Atlantic City Sports Commission, discusses the destination’s winning ways.

What drove Atlantic City’s evolution into a leading sports destination?

Atlantic City’s ability to lean into its innate landscape, topography and infrastructure has been a true “game changer” for hosting sporting events. Specifically, this has been instrumental in deciding what event’s rights holders make sense for Atlantic City.

Utilizing resources such as our world-famous Boardwalk, pristine beaches and unique venues like Bader Field has allowed us to attract events such as Offshore Powerboat Association, USA Triathlon, Ironman and many more.

What are the key elements of the Atlantic City "playbook"?

Daniel Gallagher
Daniel Gallagher

Visit Atlantic City and the Atlantic City Sports Commission take a 360-degree approach to servicing our clients. From citywide tradeshows in the Atlantic City Convention Center to sporting events on the beach, the sales process is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to our organizational offerings.

Our resources include, but are not limited to, a full destination services team ready to jump in with all logistical, transportation and other requirements; a robust marketing and communications team that includes a commissioned public relations agency to assist on the regional and national levels; and comprehensive support from the city to ensure event success.

How does the Commission build its sporting event portfolio? 

We take a diversified approach. Youth sports continue to be the main fabric and blueprint for successful sports campaigns from a metric standpoint. Our Northeast location is enticing for most event rights holders since they can attract teams from a major metropolitan region. Currently, we host a variety of youth sporting events in the Atlantic City Convention Center including cheerleading, gymnastics, futsal, volleyball and basketball. Our goal is to attract more signature events such as the NCAA MAAC Tournament and USA-sanctioned events.

How have sporting events enhanced planner perception of Atlantic City?

Visit Atlantic City and the Atlantic City Sports Commission view sporting events both as a true economic driver and as a mechanism to garner national and international attention for Atlantic City and the region. Moving forward, our plan is to position Atlantic City not only as an ideal sporting event destination, but a destination that offers amenities and resources that would be attractive for any event in the world.

[Related: East Coast Gaming Destinations Are Spending for Success]

Crowning Moments in the Meadowlands

MetLife Stadium new field 2024
MetLife Stadium new field 2024. Photo provided by MetLife Stadium

Opened in 1976, Giants Stadium was long the pride of New Jersey, with a soccer history that included Pele and the New York Cosmos in the ‘70s. 

Demolished in 2010, the landmark was replaced by MetLife Stadium, which hosted seven matches during the 1994 FIFA Men’s World Cup, the opening ceremonies and U.S. team’s opening round match in the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup, and other major tournament play.

This February, FIFA announced that the 82,500-seat venue will host eight matches—including the final—of the 2026 FIFA Men’s World Cup, which features an expanded field of 48 teams and 104 matches. The facility will be called “New York New Jersey Stadium” because FIFA bars non-sponsor corporate names.

With an anticipated 1-million-plus visitors coming to the region over six weeks in June and July 2026, Jim Kirkos, CEO of the Meadowlands Chamber & Meadowlands Live! CVB, talks about the preparations underway and leveraging the World Cup for future group success.

[Related: Historic Venues in New Jersey That Enhance Meetings and Events]

What landed MetLife the World Cup final, widely considered an upset?Jim Kirkos

While always believing in the strength of our bid, we were uncertain about winning the final. Factors that made a difference start with New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy. He was 150% invested in the effort from the outset, including bringing state entities together on transportation, mobility and other coordination issues.

Our metropolitan region is home to the most international population in the U.S., with diverse communities across New Jersey and New York. MetLife Stadium is positioned in a region filled with amazing assets for visitors from across the globe. And our joint-bid partnership with NYC, the greatest city in the world, made the decision to host the final here a no-brainer.

What does operational mode look like right now?

With major topics including transportation, security and the fan experience, we will play a role on the host committee, which is currently hiring staff and advancing the planning. Creating awareness and generating buzz will be critical for involving local businesses and activating communities throughout the event. We want everyone to benefit from this showcase event while welcoming the world with open arms.

What does this winning bid say about the Meadowlands’ competitive edge in attracting and hosting complex large-scale events?

There is nothing bigger than the World Cup, and being awarded eight games, including the final, is the greatest recognition for a destination that knows how to do big things. This win also allows us to advance our efforts to build a world-class convention center at the Meadowlands Sports Complex connecting the stadium, racetrack, hotels and American Dream retail-entertainment venue, hopefully immediately after the World Cup final!


Meadowlands Chamber & Meadowlands Live! CVB

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About the author
Jeff Heilman | Senior Contributor

Brooklyn, N.Y.-based independent journalist Jeff Heilman has been a Meetings Today contributor since 2004, including writing our annual Texas and Las Vegas supplements since inception. Jeff is also an accomplished ghostwriter specializing in legal, business and Diversity & Inclusion content.