When Lee Allan Smith thinks about the Women's College World Series, and the potential the Oklahoma City could lose the event, he remembers all the unhappy people he encountered when Oklahoma lost the National Finals Rodeo to Las Vegas in 1984.
“Let's not do that again,” said Smith, a longtime civic leader in the state. “It's more dollars for Oklahoma today than it was for us when we lost the NFR back then.
“We need to keep this (WCWS) franchise in Oklahoma. It's a fabulous franchise, from economic development and the nationwide publicity that comes from it.”
Oklahoma City's contract with the NCAA to host the Women's College World Series runs through 2014, and officials with the city, the All-Sports Association and the Amateur Softball Association want to secure a long-term contract to keep OKC as the home of college softball's biggest event — and in essence, maintain the city's stature as the sport's premier destination.
As part of the pursuit of a multiyear contract — something in the 20-year range, similar to what Omaha got for college baseball's College World Series — local entities have developed a plan to add 4,200 upper-deck seats to ASA Hall of Fame Stadium, along with providing other updates and improvements for fans, teams and media.
With the upgrades, the All-Sports Association hopes to provide the NCAA with a suitable facility to be the long-term host of the WCWS, address some of ESPN's desires — because their push to broadcast all of the WCWS games was one of the cornerstones of growing the event — and improve the overall fan experience for the thousands of people buying tickets to watch the event.
Additional locker rooms and warm-up rooms for the players are the first phase of the three-phase plan. The central structure of the stadium will be improved in the second phase, with the upper-deck seats coming in the third phase of an overall plan targeted for completion in 2018, if funding and everything else come together as planned.
The added seats are one of the primary needs, because the stadium, despite several recent upgrades that expanded its seating capacity from 2,000 to more than 8,000, could be in danger of being outgrown by the flourishing event in the coming years.
In both sessions of games on Saturday, All-Sports Association officials had to make the call to stop selling tickets, turning away more than 1,000 fans. Each session had more than 9,500 people in attendance, selling out all of the standing room only tickets.
It's a drastic change from the 2,000-seat stadium that first hosted the WCWS in 1990.
“When I got here in 1998, we had the berms out there and people rolling down the hills,” said ASA executive director Ron Radigonda. “We were getting 25,000 fans back then. In essence, it's the same event it was back in 1998, and this week, we'll have more than 75,000 here, so it's increased threefold in a very short period of time.”
The economic benefit of the WCWS is estimated at $12 million to $15 million for Oklahoma City, Brassfield said, adding that there are benefits beyond money, too.
“What other event do we have that broadcasts seven straight days all over the world, and talks about Oklahoma City, and showcases everything we have here?” Brassfield asked. “It's a great tourist event, with 80 percent of the people coming from out of state. The economic impact is a big number, but the visibility side, I don't think you can quantify the impact and the benefit of that. It's got a great value.”
Who is OKC's competition for the WCWS?
Over the past decade, Oklahoma City has largely been the unopposed incumbent in the race to win the Women's College World Series.
Challengers have been few.
But now the Alabama Sports Foundation is mulling a bid to lure the WCWS to Hoover, Ala. Foundation executives have indicated that they are having initial discussions but that nothing formal has been done.
If the foundation were to make a bid, Hoover Metropolitan Stadium would be the host site. It had been the home of the Birmingham Barons until this season when the minor league baseball team opened a new stadium.
The Hoover Met is the longtime site of the SEC Baseball Tournament and has also hosted football, soccer and beach volleyball. The stadium seats 10,500-plus and has 12 skyboxes, a banquet room with patio overlooking the field, a picnic area and a double-decker press box.
Hoover is no stranger to NCAA championships. For the past two years, the city has hosted the College Cup, the Division I men's soccer national championship.
The Alabama Sports Foundation also has history with NCAA events. It successfully bid to bring the women's gymnastics championships to Birmingham next year.
‘Your Name Here' Hall of Fame Stadium
Improvements of the scale that the All-Sports Association and Amateur Softball Association are discussing for Hall of Fame Stadium don't come cheap.
And a big part of the project is their work to raise the money. The cost of the project is estimated at $20 million, with about $7 million coming from private sources and $13 million from public funds, including a potential future bond issue.
As part of the fundraising efforts, the naming rights for the stadium are being made available for purchase.
The naming rights for ASA Hall of Fame Stadium won't be as costly as what Chesapeake paid for the downtown arena, or what the Chickasaw Nation paid for the Bricktown Ballpark.
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