Derby Field

After 150 Kentucky Derbys, Louisville Knows Sports

Louisville is more than a one-horse(race) town

by: Karl F. Schmitt Jr., president and CEO, Louisville Sports Commission

The garland of roses has been awarded, the grandstand emptied and the infield cleaned up.  And while the 145th running of the Kentucky Derby is behind us, Louisville’s focus on hosting top-quality sporting events remains in full-stride.

The famed Run for the Roses is our greatest opportunity to showcase Louisville’s many attributes to tens of thousands of guests from around the world who visit and experience what makes our community special.

As part of this amazing event, many businesses entertained clients and prospects. Our hotels were booked, restaurant reservation sheets were full, and Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport experienced its busiest weekend ever. Combine the $400 million collective economic impact with the extensive global TV viewership – delivering the highest overnight ratings in nearly 30 years – and once again the Derby delivered as Louisville’s leading ambassador.

Congratulations and thank you to Churchill Downs, Louisville Metro, the Commonwealth of Kentucky and all the hospitality industry employees and volunteers who made Derby 2019 a resounding success.

However, we are more than a one-horserace town; the Derby is one of several sporting events that serves as a valuable business and economic development tool. Earlier this year, with University of Louisville Athletics at the helm, the community hosted successful NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball First and Second Rounds and the Division I Men’s Basketball South Region Championship, which produced the eventual national champion. Over the years, we also have successfully rolled out the red carpet for some of professional golf’s most highly attended and remembered PGA Championships, as well as the 2008 Ryder Cup and numerous Breeders’ Cup World Championships.

In addition to these nationally and internationally recognized major events held in our community, the Louisville Sports Commission (LSC) and Louisville Tourism (LT) work with the Kentucky State Fair Board and other partners to host multiple, less visible professional, amateur and youth sporting activities. And while not as widely known or attended, these events are vitally important and play a crucial role in economic development.

For example, from April through July, our community will host the Junior Volleyball Association World Championship, Varsity Brands U.S. Nationals, Lenny Lyles / Clark Wood Invitational Track & Field, National Archery in the Schools Tournament, the NCAA Division I Men’s Golf Regionals, TFN’s Classic girls’ basketball tournament, Pastime Tournament Mid-South TOC, Pastime Tournament 16U National Championships, Run 4 the Roses, Battle of the Boro, National Veterans Wheelchair Games and All-In Hoopfest. Together, these events will attract more than 125,000 athletes, plus families and other attendees who will experience Louisville’s signature hospitality.

Our track record of successfully attracting and hosting sporting events has gained recognition around the country. The partnership between the LSC and LT is a model many cities covet and that event planners and promoters seek out. The LSC is an independent 501(c)(3) and LT is a funding partner that helps provide resources for sports event recruiting and support efforts. Together, we work with local partners to package the right mix of event logistics and services with the venues, hotels, travel options and hospitality amenities that make our city attractive to sporting events of all varieties and sizes. For the past seven years, this effective partnership has helped make sports-related activities the largest share of inbound events across LT’s markets, generating an additional $40 million in economic impact and paving the way for LSC’s recognition as Sports Commission of the Year in 2018.

One notable result of this partnership is Louisville’s recent selection as host of the 2019 GK U.S. Classic – a top caliber women’s gymnastics event that showcases Olympic champions and Olympic hopefuls. On July 20, the GK U.S. Classic will make its first appearance in Louisville, featuring athletes competing on the junior and senior levels, and is the last opportunity for female gymnasts to qualify for the U.S. Championships. This event required a high-quality venue – the KFC Yum! Center – along with access to nearby hotels, restaurants and amenities, as well as multiple air and vehicular travel options.

Events like these need the community’s time, talent and treasure. The GK U.S. Classic, for instance, is a great opportunity to purchase tickets to watch Olympic-caliber athletes in gymnastic’s most exciting and popular disciplines. Other events, such as the National Veterans Wheelchair Games, need volunteers to help with registration, setup and fan experience. And some events such as the globally renowned IRONMAN® Louisville triathlon ask for patience and understanding when road closures and detours may cause temporary inconveniences. We ask the community join in our efforts at Derby time and throughout the year.

Visit the Louisville Sports Commission website ( to learn about upcoming opportunities to attend, volunteer, cheer or support sports activities. Sports are more than just competition. For Louisville, they are part of our economic engine, and you can play a role year-round.