Native Iowan Ryan Vogt, senior sports event manager at Catch Des Moines, can’t help but take stock of the recent firsts in his community
. In 2015, USA Rugby Club 7s National Championship found its way to Des Moines. The next year, March Madness arrived, bringing the likes of Indiana, Kentucky, Connecticut and Kansas with it. And perhaps biggest of all, the 2017 LPGA Solheim Cup tees off Aug. 14-20 at Des Moines Golf and Country Club.
A testament to the city, not to mention Vogt and the rest of the CVB, is Des Moines is hardly a one-and-done destination for elite organizations. AAU brings its Junior Olympic Games there regularly; the NCAA has already booked a 2019 return and “now we’re hosting rugby all the time it seems,” says Vogt. The 2018 USA Racquetball National Junior Olympic Championships is the latest big get for Catch Des Moines. Vogt shares how the midsize market is scoring big in sports tourism ahead of the Solheim Cup.
Can you describe the Solheim Cup’s importance to the region?
It’s the LPGA version of the Ryder Cup. We’re expecting 30,000 fans every day. It’s a cool event because it brings in a lot of international travelers who’ve probably never heard of Des Moines or who would never stay here otherwise. And international travelers are not going to come for a day—they are going to stay for the entire thing and experience the city. That’s why we wanted to get it.
It takes place during another big event, doesn’t it?
It’s booked over the Iowa State Fair, which gets about 100,000 people per day. We booked Rascal Flatts and Jake Owen for concerts on two nights. The hotels are going to be packed. Usually we don’t bid on events over the state fair because the hotels are already filled. But [Solheim Cup] was so unique, we couldn’t pass it up.
Is the golf event a test to see how it works with sports and the fair together?
I think that’s a good way to put it. Having the Solheim Cup during the state fair, which has so much for a visitor to do, was a good pitch for us. We’ll see how the transportation and hotel rooms work out, but the fair could be good leverage to use when we look at future events in August.
What will all these first-timers notice about Des Moines?
The downtown has transformed a lot in the past 15 years with new hotels and restaurants. It’s walkable and there are climate-controlled skywalks throughout the city like Minneapolis. The airport is only 8 miles away.
You just won the 2018 and 2019 NAIA Wrestling National Championships. What was the story behind that bid?
Our host NAIA school is Grand View University, which has won six straight national championships. It is a dynasty. When we wanted to host the event—it’s been in Topeka, Kansas, the past four years—we heard mixed reviews because Grand View brings the most fans and qualifies the most wrestlers. But wrestling is just huge in Iowa and the site visit went great. Now we have NAIA the next two years to showcase that we can do big wrestling events [well].
How did your start at the Iowa Games prepare you to help land these events?
It was the best first job out of college I could have had. I was there four years and learned so much about sports I didn’t know like fencing and rugby. The Iowa Games has 60 sports and I was involved in every one. It really helps now on the CVB side because I can speak the lingo and the NGBs trust me more because I know how to run the sports.
What’s next for Des Moines?
The next big milestone for us is hosting Olympic trials, either track and field or wrestling, which has been in Iowa City. We’ve put an interest to bid on the U.S. Track & Field Olympic trials.