Editor’s note: This is the final part of a three-part series on what it takes to lure big-ticket events and business conferences to Des Moines.


As Catch Des Moines works to promote the region in hopes of drawing visitors who will spend their money at local hotels, businesses and restaurants, its staff is quick to point to the growth and the investment in the community that have made it more attractive to groups and organizations looking for a place to host an event.

 

Two such organizations, and among the biggest catches for the community, are the Dew Tour and the NCAA. Both have announced they will return to Des Moines — the Dew Tour in July of this year, and the NCAA men’s basketball tournament in 2023.

 

Ron English, the NCAA’s director of Division I Men’s Basketball, and Courtney Gresik, vice president and general manager of the Dew Tour, spoke with the Business Record about how their organizations choose sites to hold events and what they like about Des Moines that keeps them coming back.

 

NCAA

English described the NCAA’s process of site selection for the basketball tournament as a “puzzle.”

 

“There’s a lot of factors that go into putting together that puzzle,” he said. “When we’re looking at potential sites, we don’t look at one year in particular in total. We look at the whole grid for four or five years.”

 

The next bid process for the tournament is scheduled to begin in 2023, with that process scheduling out preliminary rounds for a four- to five-year window. For the Final Four, the next bid cycle is for 2027 through 2031. Preliminary rounds are currently scheduled through 2026.

 

The NCAA tries to balance out tournament sites geographically each year for all five years. Some sites may only be available for one or two of the years. Others may be available all five years.

 

“There’s a lot of factors that go into putting that entire puzzle together,” English said.

 

The minimum capacity of an arena in a bidding community is 10,000 seats, but most are well above that size, he said.

 

English credited the team on the ground in Des Moines and the support of the community in general as reasons for why the NCAA tournament returns to the city.

 

Athletic Director “Brian Hardin and his team at Drake University do an outstanding job for us to help us run the tournament. Greg Edwards and his team at Catch Des Moines, they are outstanding in providing community support assistance with the hotels, which is a huge part of the tournament, and the people at Wells Fargo Arena do an outstanding job as well putting on the tournament,” English said. “And then the community at large buying tickets. We’re always sold out when we go to Des Moines. All those factors are prime for us and they help keep us coming back to Des Moines.”

 

English said there are no guarantees for future tournaments, “but certainly Des Moines will get very serious consideration if it does bid.”

 

The NCAA doesn’t pay much attention to amenities around the community, with most of the focus placed on the arena and whether it has the ability to hold the tournament, he said.

 

“We know a lot of communities have a lot of amenities, restaurants, places to go, things to do for people coming into town,” English said. “When we look at it, we know it’s more those things [the arena] rather than those ancillary type things. Those things kind of take care of themselves. We know there is a great infrastructure there with restaurants and other attractions that people can do once they get there, but if the venue doesn’t work for us and can’t set up to our specifications, then it wouldn’t matter how great the community is, we probably would not go there.”


Dew Tour

Gresik said the Dew Tour was held in Long Beach, Calif., for the four years prior to its coming to Des Moines in 2021.

 

The Dew Tour’s connection with California Skateparks, the architects behind the Lauridsen Skatepark on the city’s downtown riverfront, elevated Des Moines to a top contender when the tour was looking at making a move.

 

Gresik said Iowa was also reopening faster from the pandemic with fewer restrictions, making it a more attractive site for the tour.

 

“In California, the situation was a little bit more dire than other parts of the country, so we were considering relocating it,” she said. “What was a little bit special about Des Moines was right around the time frame we were exploring options — and Des Moines was kind of on the radar because California Skateparks had just built that park, so we knew the size of it and we knew it would be fit for an Olympic qualifier or pro contest. We just didn’t know how far along it was and if it was ready.”

 

Gresik said the move to Des Moines was done on an expedited timeline, and she credited Catch Des Moines for making it happen.

 

“Catch Des Moines made that a very smooth transition, whereas other locations, I don’t know that we could have pulled it off that quickly,” she said. “Under normal circumstances we would have that locationed out a year in advance. There’s a lot of logistics to work through. To be honest, when we put that forward to Catch Des Moines and Polk County we were concerned: Let’s get through this next step and make sure they’re OK with all of it. And they were, so it was just a blessing in that it was very easy. They wanted the event so much they were very welcoming and accommodating and never flinched at the big asks that we had.”

 

The Dew Tour is in its 17th year. It used to be a nine-stop tour across the country with Long Beach being the home base for the four years before it came to Des Moines, Gresik said.

 

Locations chosen are based on Mountain Dew’s marketing strategy, she said.

 

When Mountain Dew wanted to target the more health-conscious California, it went to California, which is also a great place for skateboarding, Gresik said.

 

Now the strategy has changed to target more traditional, loyal consumer bases.

 

“The philosophy has kind of changed,” Gresik said. “We’ve gone through an exercise of identifying cities and markets that we know

really love Mountain Dew, and Iowa is on that map. Even when we did a five-year exercise a couple of years ago, Iowa has always been on our list of target markets.”

 

The next element is relevance to the sport of skateboarding.

 

“By building and investing in that skatepark, it immediately put Des Mones on the map for us,” Grisek said. “Clearly the city is investing in skateboarding and culture. And to have the infrastructure there where it is left behind for the community, it’s very appealing to us because we believe in sustainability. In Long Beach we were building these amazing courses, but we had to tear them down because they were in a parking lot of a venue. So the appeal of being able to come to a permanent park that is built at the level where there is something for everyone is also very appealing.”

 

The icing on the cake, she said, is the Dew Tour’s partnership with local officials.

 

“The collaboration between the two and being able to work together to build something that mutually beneficial and driving value for each other, that’s what we found with Catch Des Moines and Polk County,” she said. “They’re really great partners and they’re really excited to have the event there.”

 

Grisek said the support from local skate shops also is a factor in the Dew Tour returning to Des Moines.

 

“The fact that there’s this cool, embedded skate culture in Des Moines that I don’t think a lot of people knew about, it was just really refreshing to go there and experience something different and have the whole community get behind it and have the city get behind it. And just how long it took all of them to build that skatepark and be part of celebrating the unveiling of it and the future of it, that was why we really did want to come back.”

 

She said the ease of getting to Des Moines and moving around the city, as well as the arts and culture scene, restaurants, and other amenities make the city a good fit for the Dew Tour.

 

“I think that’s a huge draw for anyone,” she said. “But if you’re a fan and you’re coming from Chicago and you’re going to stay the weekend in Des Moines, chances are you’re going to run into one of your favorite skaters because they probably just skated from their hotel to go get a bite or skating around Des Moines to see what it has to offer. I think that it’s a little bit more intimate than other cities and has so many great things to experience is what I really love about it. 

 

“When I talk to people, they’re like, ‘Des Moines? Really?’ I’m like, yes it’s one of the coolest cities.”