Whether meeting planners are seeking a peerless spectator sports outing or on the lookout for team-building options that build winning bonds, college campuses boast endless opportunities. To top things off, these university venues are usually budget-friendly and are located in appealing destinations.
Here are some intriguing athletic-themed options, ranging from group gridiron excitement to a snazzy collegiate Hall of Fame showcasing superb meeting spaces, that are fit for winning teams.
John Q. Hammons Arena, Missouri State University
Springing up in Springfield, Mo., in 2008 with the help of a $30 million donation from Missouri-based hotel developer and MSU alumnus John Q. Hammons, the JQH Arena instantly became one of college basketball's most enticing hard-court havens.
"JQH Arena is one of the top on-campus basketball facilities in America," says Rick Kindhart, assistant athletics director for communications. "Its location, atmosphere and amenities not only make it a destination for basketball enthusiasts, but also make it one of the top entertainment venues in the Midwest."
Event options include 24 private suites and the PRIME Overtime Club, which can seat around 150 people and features an elevated court view as well as food and beverage service. Other nice touches at JQH include a wide concourse brimming with concession stands and TV monitors and a Hall of Fame devoted to Missouri State's athletic heritage.
Groups will also enjoy the arena's on-campus locale, plus several nearby sports-themed bars and eateries for some post-game evening excitement. One of the best is definitely Ebbets Field, an attractive former bungalow home converted into a boisterous local sports bar.
NCAA Hall of Champions
While not technically part of a college campus, the NCAA Hall of Champions in Indianapolis pays tribute to some of the best college athletes—and teams—in history, while also showcasing a forward-thinking conference center.
That was certainly the impression it made on Adam Rauch, president of New York-based One Line Sports Agency, who worked with a team of in-house event planners to create an unforgettable affair for a group of top executives and independent business owners at last year's Final Four.
"In addition to attending both the Semi-Finals and Championship Games, a multitude of activities were organized for the group that ranged from a private basketball clinic with Division I NCAA Coaches at Crispus Attucks High School to a private event at the NCAA Hall of Champions Museum," Rauch says.
He adds that the NCAA Hall of Champions shut their entire facility down for the group during the evening hours, when they held a cocktail party and dinner reception. Guests also had the opportunity to play with the wide range of interactive displays that included an indoor basketball court, football target game, virtual golf driving range and tennis serve display.
"Overall, the museum was the perfect backdrop for a successful event during the Final Four weekend," Rauch says.
Assistant Director Kelly Dodds offers her own take on the unique facility.
"The NCAA Hall of Champions and Conference Center differentiates itself from other venues by having all the benefits of a conference center, but also access to the Hall of Champions for a closer look at the NCAA and its 23 sports," she says.
"The Hall of Champions provides an opportunity for the client to include team-building exercises, fun games with prizes or simply a wonderful athletic backdrop for leisure time viewing between meeting sessions."
Ralph Engelstad Arena, University of North Dakota
A hockey facility in Grand Forks, N.D., might not be the first place one thinks of for a spectacular sports-themed outing, but that's exactly the case at Ralph Engelstad Arena, often called "the palace on the prairie" for its polished attention to detail and outstanding amenities.
Clearly, "The Ralph" is not a typical college hockey rink by any stretch of the imagination. Each seat in the arena is fashioned from leather and cherry wood, 50 suites provide comfort luxury and two massive club rooms show off the longest free-standing bars in the entire state.
Wayne Gretzky once referred to it as one the most beautiful buildings in North America and Andre Agassi labeled it as "one of the greatest arenas I've ever played in."
Remarkably, the University of North Dakota is also home to another renowned facility. The Alerus Center hosts the school's Division I football team in its indoor arena of 13,000-plus seats, and also showcases 160,000 square feet of meeting and trade show space, including 12 meeting rooms and a 26,000-square-foot ballroom.
Challenge Course, Northern Arizona University
Team-building on campus gets no better than the popular Challenge Course at Northern Arizona University (NAU) in Flagstaff, Ariz., with a setting that may surprise attendees who are newcomers to the state.
"We sit at an elevation of 7,000 feet and are surrounded by Ponderosa Pine forests, so it's quite a different setting than the rest of Arizona," says Jacki Lenners, marketing manager for the Flagstaff CVB, who describes the course as "ideal for team building and groups."
The course not only offers a gamut of ropes-course facilities, from zip-lining to rock-climbing, it provides a very qualified staff of team-building experts that include a Corporate Teambuilding Specialist with a Masters degree in Strategic Studies.
Divided into three distinct areas—Games and Initiatives, Low Elements and High Elements—the venue is designed to build individual confidence levels in addition to bolstering group cohesiveness. Countless corporate groups, many of them out of Phoenix, have benefitted from the impact of the fun-but-intense undertaking.
The facility's success has led to an upcoming expansion and relocation to a site nestled in the pines overlooking the San Francisco Peaks of Northern Arizona. The new course will be designed to provide easy access to athletic fields for activities, accessibility for disabled participants, low ropes elements strung throughout a forested area and a high ropes course with 18 different elements that participants can experience. Completion is slated for late June.
"Getting out of the office, getting active, laughing, interacting, supporting your co-workers in the outdoor environment is an ideal way to learn and experience something new and unique," says Rich Gomez, who handles corporate programming for the course. "A challenge course program is a great opportunity for any organization to leap ahead."
And if a day of team building isn't substantial enough, NAU offers wilderness retreats that can have groups camping overnight in the world's largest Ponderosa Pine forest or tackling the San Juan River on three-, four- or eight-day rafting adventures.
Folsom Field, University of Colorado at Boulder
With its panoramic vistas of the surrounding town and mountains, and colorful heritage dating back to its 1924 opening, Folsom Field is a handsome and historic stadium that provides a remarkable setting for an autumn football event. So it is little wonder that the Boulder, Colo., venue has hosted everything from weddings to an employee appreciation party for Lockheed Martin.
"Boulder is the most gorgeous college campus on Earth, and Folsom Field is breathtaking," says Jessica Barraco, an alumni and former public relations consultant with the University of Colorado, adding that the stadium's top level can host meetings and banquets. "Standing on top of the bleachers in the Student Section of Folsom Field, gazing at the Flatirons in the distance, is one of the most powerful and refreshing college memories I have. I can't think of a better place to have a more picturesque group event in all of Colorado."
Even on snowy days, gridiron groups convene in total comfort the venue's popular Stadium Club, which opened in 2003.
"Our venue sits at the top of one of the most beautiful campuses in the nation, with floor-to-ceiling windows around the entire space," says Lisa Cook of Centerplate, the food and beverage provider for the university's athletic venues. "Guests enjoy views of the foothills and Flat Irons to the west and miles of the Boulder landscape to the east."
She adds that the entire floor can hold over 2,000 guests on game day, and each of the two rooms accommodates up to 500 guests reception style.
UCLA Lake Arrowhead Conference Center & Mountain Resort
Tucked away in the San Bernardino Mountains about 80 miles from Los Angeles in Lake Arrowhead, Calif., this fetching UCLA facility has plenty of athletic venues and team-building activities for groups looking to bond away from the hustle and bustle.
Mountain biking, tennis, basketball, volleyball, kayaking and swimming are just a taste of the athletic activities groups can enjoy, either in an organized or casual fashion. Professional team-building events are also arranged—with a high ropes course and zip-lining action—in addition to guided hiking adventures, group snowshoeing challenges and even triathlon competitions in the fall and spring that can be tackled as a team or individually. More sedate activities can be enjoyed as well, including cooking demonstrations.
"Our Bruin Chef activity is a very popular and successful option for groups—and our professional team-building program is exceptional, as each group is able to have a very personal, tailored program, and our prices are extremely affordable for groups," says Anna Stalzer, coordinator of Arrowhead Adventures. "Our high ropes course is one-of-a-kind and often incorporated in the professional team-building programs, and we also offer extensive options for guided hiking tours, lake pontoon cruises, kayaking and mountain biking."