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What You Need to Know About Planning Sports Events in Iowa’s Biggest Markets

Caitlin Clark (22) shrugs in front of wall of newspaper articles about her during Hawkeyes women's basketball media day, Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2023, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa.

You may have heard of the “Caitlin Clark effect.” The college basketball superstar launched women’s basketball into the stratosphere during her final seasons at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, smashing viewership and scoring records.

Though her college career came to an end in Iowa this spring, the phenom’s legacy in the state remains—and not just in women’s sports.

According to a study from Common Sense Institute, with contributions from the area’s CVB Think Iowa City/Coralville and Iowa City Sports Commission, Clark’s incredible rise and success contributed $82.5 million in consumer spending to Iowa’s economy the past three seasons, primarily via increased attendance at women’s college basketball games on campus at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. For comparison, that’s nearly double the state revenue collected from the 2021 Iowa State Fair.

It's all to say, it’s put the state of Iowa on the map in a big way.

Whether you want to host your next event on the campus where Clark played, or your newfound appreciation of Iowa sports has you looking closer at destinations like Des Moines, Cedar Rapids or Dubuque, there are many memorable sporting venues and infrastructure ready-set for sports events and beyond.

Iowa City/Coralville

Iowa vs. Minnesota football game at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City
Iowa vs. Minnesota football game at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City. Credit Joseph Cress/Think Iowa City

The University of Iowa campus is, of course, one of the main draws of Iowa City. Events are possible within various spaces at Kinnick Stadium or Carver-Hawkeye Arena, where football and basketball thrive in season. 

But the destination is more than just its Big Ten venues. In nearby Coralville, Xtream Arena is no stranger to big sporting events.

The 5,100-seat venue notably hosted the men’s and women’s United World Wrestling Freestyle World Cup in 2022, playing host to seven countries.

“We’re small but mighty!” said Iowa City Sports Commission Director Luke Eustice. “It speaks volumes of our community that we can do international events as well.”

Wrestling is a bedrock of Xtream Arena, which also hosts the Soldier Salute Wrestling college tournament and Dan Gable Donnybrook tournament for high schoolers, both of which are run by the Iowa City Sports Commission.

Through the Group Experiences program at Xtream Arena, planners can secure discounted tickets for a group to attend one of the many sporting events or concerts at the venue.

[Related: Historic Venues in Iowa for Hosting Showstopping Events]

Des Moines

IRONMAN athlete runs on the streets of Des Moines
IRONMAN 70.3, 2023 in Des Moines. Courtesy of Catch Des Moines

Des Moines is Iowa’s largest city, and so it’s no surprise that its sports infrastructure packs a big punch. The city is home to the country’s largest skatepark, the iconic track and field Blue Oval at Drake University, and can claim the longest-running minor league affiliation in baseball in the Iowa Cubs.

One of Des Moines’ biggest advantages for sports is its wealth of venues and can-do attitude, according to Catch Des Moines Director of Sports Laura Jass.

“I always tell planners that when you get people in Des Moines together in the room, they will find a way to say yes rather than no,” she said. “We’ve done really well with multisport events because we have venues that will always say yes—that Iowa hospitality really comes out. 

“The other [benefit] I would say are is road events,” she added. “If we are closing down the roads, our parks and recreation departments work closely with police, EMS (emergency medical services), etc., and that’s a huge benefit. Everyone works really well together.”

This summer, Des Moines will host the IRONMAN 70.3 (a long-distance triathlon), an event it has hosted before, which will require a major lift from all of those entities. 

The “kingpin” of Des Moines sporting events that really shows off what the city can offer a sports planner, according to Jass, is the AAU Junior Olympic Games, which Des Moines has hosted multiple times, the last being 2023. Last year’s event brought in roughly 14,000 athletes over a 10-day span. Similarly, in 2025 Des Moines will put its multisport hosting skills to work hosting the 2025 National Senior Games, for participants 50 and older. The event is expected to draw 12,000 athletes competing in 26 sports and utilizing 15 venues citywide.

One of the most popular venues in town is the Iowa Events Center, which is comprised of Wells Fargo Arena, Hy-Vee Hall and Community Choice Convention Center. Together, they provide 226,000 square feet of total space, 150,000 square feet of exhibit space, 40 meeting rooms and an arena that seats over 17,000, which is all anchored by a 330-room Hilton Des Moines Downtown connected by skywalk. 

The complex does a lot of heavy lifting when it comes to hosting sporting events, like the 2022 USA Gymnastics Championships or NCAA March Madness basketball games, for example.

In West Des Moines, the MidAmerican Energy Company RecPlex recently opened, which offers more opportunities for sporting events outside of the Iowa Events Center, making way for more meetings and conventions. It includes a 150,000-square- foot turf and hard-court field house, two indoor ice arenas, 20,000 square feet of exhibit space and 30,000 square feet of meeting, classroom and programming space. 

New on the scene is GrimesPlex, a 50-acre synthetic turf multisport complex that is one of the largest facilities of its kind in the Midwest catering to soccer, baseball and softball and is capable of hosting events, tournaments and more.

[Related: The Most Popular Hotels for Meetings and Events in Eastern Iowa]


Field of Dreams movie site in Dubuque
Field of Dreams movie site in Dubuque. Courtesy of Travel Dubuque

“If you build it, they will come,” is the iconic line from the 1989 film Field of Dreams, where a farmer builds a baseball field in his cornfield that attracts the ghosts of the infamous 1919 Chicago White Sox team. The legendary field still stands today in Dyersville, Iowa, just outside of Dubuque, where corporate groups, youth tournaments and more can recreate the magic of the movie. 

It’s only fitting, then, that baseball is the bread and butter of Dubuque’s sports offerings and expertise. 

“I think the amount of history that’s here is remarkable,” said Noah Westhoff, sports and events manager at Travel Dubuque, noting that the history of the ballgame is deeply rooted in Dubuque. The city was one of the first cities to support professional baseball in the late 1800s with the Dubuque Redstockings team. “They just did an exhibition at the Dubuque Museum of Art on the National Baseball Hall of Fame. There’s the Field of Dreams movie site. It’s a huge, huge part of what we do.”

Beyond baseball, Dubuque has other opportunities for sports groups. The two major convention facilities in town are Flags Center and Grand River Center. The former has more than 24,000 square feet of convention space and has hosted the Harlem Globe Trotters (an exhibition basketball team) and the Dock Dogs World Championships, which has chosen Dubuque for its event 10 out of the last 12 years, according to Westhoff. Grand River Center, situated along the Mississippi River with 86,000 square feet of indoor space, is another option that can host a variety of events and conventions.

Sundown Mountain Resort is another area staple, spanning 85 acres with 21 scenic trails. In the winter, snowboarding and skiing thrive. The mountain hosts the alpine skiing events for the Winter Iowa Games. Corporate groups can take a day on the slopes, too, with discounted tickets available for groups of 15 or larger with a free group lesson included, and special events can be held at the lodges onsite. 

Cedar Rapids

NCAA wrestling competition at Alliant Energy PowerHouse
NCAA competition at Alliant Energy PowerHouse, Cedar Rapids. Credit: Cedar Rapids Tourism

As the second most populous city in Iowa, Cedar Rapids has the infrastructure for large events, including sports. The Alliant Energy PowerHouse in downtown Cedar Rapids is attached to the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel and the Cedar Rapids Convention Complex—a very in-demand group destination—making it an ideal venue for sports with everyone easily located in one place. The arena features a 37,550-square-foot arena floor and seating for 6,800. 

The facility has hosted several sporting events in the past few years, from large youth competitions to collegiate national title championships. Some of these include NCAA DII and DIII championship competitions in wrestling and volleyball, plus competitions in gymnastics, USA Taekwondo Grand Prix 2023 and USA Boccia National Championship in 2022.

Keeping with the passion for America’s favorite pastime, another notable venue in town is Veterans Memorial Stadium, home to the Cedar Rapids Kernels (the minor league Class A affiliate of the Minnesota Twins), featuring seating for 5,300, eight suites, a hospitality room for 150 and indoor batting cages. The field has hosted numerous high school and collegiate tournaments. When the Kernels are in season, you can also coordinate private group outings in various spaces in the park ranging in capacity from 10 to 75-plus.

Hop over next door to the Kernels’ home and you’ll find the ImOn Ice Arena, which houses two sheets of ice (an Olympic rink and an NHL rink) for winter sports. The NHL rink is home to the Cedar Rapids Rough Riders, a USHL Junior Hockey team, and has seating for 3,800. The facility has hosted USA Roller Sports National Championships (2021), USA Curling Men's & Women's National Championship (2021) and a variety of figure skating and hockey events.


Catch Des Moines

Cedar Rapids Tourism

Think Iowa City

Travel Dubuque

Read more meeting and event news in Iowa.

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About the author
Danielle LeBreck | Senior Content Director

Danielle started at Meetings Today in March 2019 after seven years of editorial experience in the travel and food industries. She oversees all of the destination content for Meetings Today and collaborates with the team on digital content strategy and content marketing initiatives.