One month before competing in what will be empty arenas in Japan, elite U.S. gymnasts competing in St. Louis got a glimpse of the grandeur of the Olympics. More than 20,000 fans, a record for the team trials, filled The Dome at America’s Center to catch Simone Biles and others earn their spots for the Summer Games.
Almost as impressive as the action on the floor, high rings and pommel horse was the behind-the-scenes work performed by the America’s Center staff. Demonstrating the flexibility of a gold-medal athlete, the complex’s team expertly inserted the team trials into a schedule already filled with the USA Gymnastics Championships and the NGB’s National Congress. Original plans placing the team trials at Enterprise Center had to be scrapped due to COVID protocols, but the Arch City was able to keep the marquee event in town by moving to the 67,000-seat Dome.
“It was one of the most complicated events I’ve ever worked on,” admits Matthew Dewey, senior vice president and general manager of America’s Center Complex.
While the center had one month to prepare for the new addition, all tickets to the trials had to be resold because of the location change. Regardless, the weeklong gymnastics takeover only spotlighted the capabilities of the St. Louis CVB, sports commission and America’s Center.
Hotel occupancy reached 86%, slightly higher than the same week in 2019, and the exposure from NBC’s broadcast, as well as Biles’ social media, was immense. More directly, hundreds of employees returned to work and restaurants were filled while the country tries to emerge from the pandemic.
The timing of setting a record crowd for the competition came as officials were still debating how the Summer Olympics would be conducted safely in Japan. Not long after the trials, a state of emergency was enacted in Tokyo and the decision was made to exclude fans from the games.
Back in the U.S., the trials recalled St. Louis’ own storied history as an Olympic host in 1904. City officials called the June action a “bucket list” event. Brian Hall, chief marketing officer at Explore St. Louis, jokes, “We could use a bucket list event like this every year.”
The city was awarded the action in 2019, which turned into a fortuitous choice. Dewey notes America’s Center’s vast capabilities, enhanced by having the Dome on-site, allow for a greater array of opportunities than many convention centers. Indeed, the Dome has hosted many unusual events in its time, including “American Ninja Warrior,” the first NBC show to have completed a full season of episodes during the current pandemic.
“I think we set a new bar for putting an event like this in a dome, and it set a new vibe and way of thinking for doing an event like this going forward,” says Dewey.
Photo Credit: Explore St. Louis