Sports Events Winning Big for Philly

Rocky statue

Skift Take

How consummate teamwork and collaboration attract major sporting events year after year, creating major economic benefits, tourism spending, brand appeal, and lasting legacies.

Philadelphia is reaping the benefits of the “World Cup Effect” to boost its image as a city that embraces major sports events like no other. Attracting business events is also a priority, but Philly’s success is a carefully orchestrated partnership between key organizations and the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau (PHLCVB).

In December, Philadelphia hosted the Army-Navy Game for the 90th time in the college football classic’s 123-year history. Bringing in some 50,000 visitors, Army-Navy weekend was a city-wide sellout.

By the time it returns in 2027, “The City that Loves You Back” will have recorded more hosting milestones with a run of high-profile events.

Between 2022 and 2026, six major NCAA championships will attract some 128,500 unique visitors. In 2024, Philadelphia welcomes WrestleMania 40, expected to bring in thousands of global fans for six major events at three venues over five days. In 2026, FIFA Men’s World Cup fever comes to town for the first time, along with the MLB All-Star Game.

The Phillies’ 2022 post-season run alone produced 34,000 room nights and $78 million in economic impact.

Intentional Focus on Sports

Winning bids and outcomes are not a given though. Securing and hosting major events is a high-stakes, high-pressure endeavor. All the efforts linked to the World Cup including FIFA’s infrastructure, transportation, housing, and other logistical standards and requirements are formidable.

PHL Sports is a business development arm of the PHLCVB dedicated to attracting national and international sports events to the city. Chaired by Philadelphia Eagles President Don Smolenski, PHL Sports’ 90-plus member advisory board comprises leaders from Visit Philadelphia, the Greater Philadelphia Hotel Association, the City of Philadelphia, collegiate athletic directors, professional team executives, and diverse other partners.

“Leveraging 30-plus years of experience, PHL Sports and the advisory board are solely devoted to knowing the ins and outs of the sports industry and the local market,” said PHLCVB President & CEO Gregg Caren. “This allows us to deliver better results for our customers and partners in attracting large domestic and international sporting events to Philadelphia.”

The collaborative team relies on its well-thumbed event playbook. Fundamentals include open lines of communication with partners, stakeholders, and clients. “No event happens in a vacuum and efficiently working together is paramount,” Caren said. “Strong communication produces strong collaboration efforts.”

Consummate Team Effort

The PHLCVB plays a major networking role in the game plan. “Our stakeholders have considered and coordinated every facet of hosting and executing events for decades,” said Caren. “All parties proactively support the visitor experience. From organizing city-wide hotel room blocks to coordinating with local transportation partners, connecting clients with reliable local resources ensures as seamless event execution as possible. These capabilities also support successful bidding for future events.”

Philadelphia’s 100-plus-year sports legacy includes being one of only nine U.S. cities with five major league franchises, plus other top-tier competitions.

“With a packed sports schedule year-round, new events must be winners for our sports and hospitality partners, financially and otherwise,” said long-time PHL Sports Executive Director Larry Needle. “Events must also resonate with our passionate, loyal sports fans,” he added.

Passion and Pedigree

In September 2021, FIFA and U.S. Soccer officials made a one-day site visit to Philadelphia as part of the bid process. Around 500 preselected locals cheered the delegation’s bus route to Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Philadelphia Eagles and World Cup match play venue, simulating the atmosphere that fans could expect in 2026.

Elated locals were out in force in June 2022 when FIFA named Philadelphia, bypassed in 1994 when the U.S. first hosted the World Cup, as a 2026 U.S. Host City.

“We received many requests from FIFA just before the announcement, including providing a congratulatory video from local celebrities,” said Meg Kane, manager of bid coordination and external affairs for Philadelphia Soccer 2026, the city’s official bid committee. “Anticipating a positive outcome, we organized an announcement watch party and fan event in LOVE Park in Center City for our entire community.”

The love was not lost on FIFA Vice President Victor Montagliani, who following the earlier site visit, had stated that he was “very pleased overall at the passion that is being brought by everyone, it was definitely evidenced here in Philadelphia.”

According to Kane, that passion, plus Philadelphia’s pedigree in hosting international soccer matches and major non-sporting events such as the papal visit in 2015 and the Democratic National Convention in 2016, went far in securing the bid.

“After five years of endless Zoom meetings and exacting bid-related activities, we shifted straight into operational mode,” said Kane, who was in Qatar to experience the inner workings of the 2022 World Cup as part of FIFA’s observer program. “From coordinating with our police and fire departments to liaising with Amtrak, the airport, and other transportation agencies, the planning phase is more complex still.”

Lasting Legacies

“Philadelphia’s big event pedigree owes to several factors,” said Visit Philadelphia President and CEO Angela Val, whose major event know-how and understanding of Philly’s capabilities include serving on the Philadelphia Soccer 2026 team in her previous role as Chief Administration Officer at the PHLCVB, and as Deputy Executive Director of the 2016 DNC host committee.

“Foundations include the requisite physical infrastructure, our compact downtown, abundant hotel rooms and public transportation options, and flexible, high-quality indoor and outdoor venues. Coupled with our experienced tourism team, city government, and engaged business community, all roads lead to success and growth.”

Once the PHLCVB secures a major booking, the Visit Philly hype machine kicks into gear. “We leverage big events to inspire travel to Philadelphia and to support visitors in planning their trip and throughout their entire experience here,” Val said.

Philadelphia also excels at using event success into future tourism business and positive legacies. “These include urban greening and other public infrastructure projects with lasting benefits to the community,” Val said.

With the entire planet watching, the global exposure and media attention of the World Cup is unmatched. In addition, Philadelphia has an unprecedented image-building opportunity in 2026 when it celebrates the 250th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence and its founding role in the nation. Coinciding with the World Cup, the semi-quincentennial event presents a singular storytelling showcase for this historical American city.

Photo credit: K Huff / Philadelphia CVB