Organizers of the U.S. Olympic Committee’s women’s boxing trials that start Monday in Spokane say this will be both a historic occasion and another chance to add to the region’s solid résumé of hosting sporting events.
This year’s London Olympic Games will be the first to include women’s boxing.
Spokane’s success in hosting events like NCAA women’s volleyball and basketball tournaments, plus impressive showings for two U.S. Figure Skating Championships, played a major role in selecting Spokane for the women’s Olympic boxing team trials, said Anthony Bartkowski, executive director of USA Boxing.
Bartkowski was in Spokane and Airway Heights on Tuesday to talk about the event; USA Boxing is the governing group that organizes and manages the qualifying bouts, which run from Monday through Feb. 18.
Bartkowski said he’s been impressed by the energetic support provided by Northern Quest Resort and Casino – where the qualifier rounds will be held – and the Spokane Regional Sports Commission. The commission, supported by several area groups and tax dollars, promotes regional sporting events that attract competitors and fans from outside the region.
Another part of the area’s résumé is the 1997 U.S. women’s boxing championships, held in Spokane at a time when the sport was still regarded as men-only. Bartkowski said the support of Spokane-area boxing clubs made that event a big success.
Just as important as past success is the size of Spokane, Bartkowski said.
“It’s not that big a city that this event would get lost and get little attention,” he said. It’s also large enough to offer good airport service, plenty of hotel rooms and amenities for visitors, committee staff, referees, boxers and their families.
When members of USA Boxing began reviewing bids from five cities to host the qualifiers, Bartkowski said Spokane’s record of successful sports events moved it to the head of the pack. The final decision came down to Spokane versus Mobile, Ala., and the final vote was not close, he added.
To land the event, Spokane’s event organizers offered a monetary commitment to USA Boxing, plus discounts and deals on lodging and marketing support. The full amount of that commitment will not be divulged, said Jody Kayler, vice president of communications for the Spokane Regional Sports Commission.
The organizers recognize the boxing qualifiers won’t generate the buzz and excitement of figure skating or college basketball semifinals.
The Northern Quest event has seating for roughly 950 fans per bout, with a total of 42 bouts scheduled.
Elizabeth Liemandt, director of marketing for Northern Quest, said ticket sales have begun increasing but declined to give specific figures.
The Spokane Regional Sports Commission estimated the economic impact of the qualifiers to be roughly $750,000, Kayler said.
In contrast, the annual Washington Class B basketball tournament generates about $2 million in economic impact.
“Sometimes we strategically choose to bring events to town that may not have a huge economic return, but it is always with the idea that a particular event may be a résumé builder for the region and a stepping-stone to larger event,” Kayler said.
Northern Quest’s Liemandt said boxing is becoming a steady part of the resort’s overall entertainment strategy. In recent weeks the resort has started hosting a series of pro bouts titled Friday Night Fights, sponsored by cable sports network ESPN2.
Added Liemandt, “We’re trying to build a relationship with the Olympic boxing committee and show we’re a great option and great place for other events in the future.”