Original article by David Broughton and Bret McCormick | Sports Business Journal

In Sports Business Journal’s second year of ranking the Best Sports Business Cities, we focus on the cities that have been the most successful at attracting and hosting sporting events, which are major economic drivers for these communities

See more information on how this data was compiled and the cities were ranked here.

No. 3 – Birmingham, Alabama

Résumé: Birmingham’s cumulative investment of roughly $330 million in building Protective Stadium and gutting and renovating Legacy Arena is already paying off in the large, multi-sport events that have come to town in the two years since the projects were completed. In 2022, Birmingham welcomed 3,600 World Games athletes from 100 countries over an 11-day period. The Transplant Games — which includes a couple of thousand athletes, all of whom have had transplant surgeries — and the World Police and Fire Games, featuring another 10,000 athletes competing in 60+ sports, will be visiting in the coming years.

Revamping Legacy Arena was critical for the city in one major regard: “We were off the NCAA’s radar in terms of the men’s basketball tournament,” said David Galbaugh, Greater Birmingham Convention & Visitors Bureau vice president of sports sales and marketing. But the renovation brought NCAA tourney action back to Birmingham, which lucked out last year with Alabama earning a No. 1 seed and playing its first two rounds at Legacy Arena.  

Birmingham has succeeded in drawing a variety of event types, ranging from the 2024 national team training squad selection camp for USA Wheelchair Rugby, the NCAA’s 76® Birmingham Bowl and the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk, to the Children’s of Alabama Indy Grand Prix and NASCAR’s Geico 500 and YellaWood 500.  

Development: Protective Stadium ($200 million venue opened in 2022 with 47,100 capacity); Legacy Arena (18,000-plus-seat arena revamped for $123 million in 2022); Legion Field (nearly 100-year-old, 71,000-plus-seat football stadium); Bartow Arena; Hoover Metropolitan Complex; and Birmingham CrossPlex. 

Funding for sports tourism efforts: A Jefferson County lodging tax. 

Stay and play: The 114-year-old Rickwood Field, the country’s oldest baseball stadium, is being refurbished and slightly expanded in advance of hosting the MLB at Rickwood Field game in June between the St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants. The game will celebrate Negro Leagues baseball history. — B.M.