As was evident from the traffic along John Nolen Drive and the swarms of barrel-chested athletes around Madison’s downtown, the Reebok CrossFit Games drew a sizable chunk of tourism to the city over the weekend.
The CrossFit Games are a competition organized by CrossFit Inc. in which athletes compete in high-intensity events like rope-climbing, barbell deadlifts, and obstacle course racing. Madison hosted the games Thursday through Sunday, marking the first time the event has been held outside California in its 10-year history.
Jamie Patrick is the vice president of the Madison Area Sports Commission with the the Greater Madison Convention & Visitors Bureau, the area’s primary tourism agency. He said that the bureau estimates the games yielded $7.2 million in “direct spending,” money that consumers in town spent on the event itself or on things like gas, food and lodging in the area.
Patrick emphasized that the estimate was early and conservative. Still, he said it showed that the games were “one of the most significant events” that the city has hosted. By comparison, he said, the WIAA state boys basketball tournament usually yields around $6 million in direct spending.
“It was an atmosphere and a festival like we’ve never had before,” agreed Mark Clarke, the Alliant Energy Center’s executive director.
Clarke said the event’s organizers transformed the Alliant Energy Center campus leading up to the games with temporary infrastructure like a new 7,000-seat capacity outdoor arena. He hopes that transformation sends signals to other events organizers around the country.
“It really shows off the flexibility of our campus, and of what the staff is capable of doing,” he said.
Patrick said that the versatility of the space was a big reason why his pitch to the CrossFit Games organizers to bring the event to town was successful.
“(There are) a lot of versatile, flexible buildings on that campus, with a lot of parking and other amenities. It just becomes a piece of clay for them,” he said.
The games come as Dane County looks at creating a new master plan for the campus, which sprawls across 164 acres on Madison’s south side. The Dane County committee overseeing the drafting of that plan met on Monday.
Clark said that while that plan gets hashed out, there are things the center might look at in the short term to continue drawing events like the CrossFit Games, including working on improving rigging and lighting.
Sharon Corrigan, Dane County Board chair and a member of the committee, wondered if other groups might invest in campus infrastructure in the same way CrossFit did, only with permanent fixtures.
“Can we work with our customers to make these investments for the long term?” she said
Meanwhile, the games’ organizers have yet to release any attendance estimates.
-Abigail Becker contributed reporting for this story.