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WCWS: A look at the strength of OKC's hold on the event

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.
by Jenni Carlson and Scott Wright Published: June 2, 2013
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photo - A crowd fills ASA Hall of Fame Stadium during the Women's College World Series softball game between Nebraska and Florida in Oklahoma City, Saturday, June, 1, 2013. Photo by Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman
A crowd fills ASA Hall of Fame Stadium during the Women's College World Series softball game between Nebraska and Florida in Oklahoma City, Saturday, June, 1, 2013. Photo by Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman

“It's a nominal fee, and it's a great right to have,” said Lee Allan Smith, an Oklahoma City civic leader who has been heavily involved in working to keep the Women's College World Series at the stadium. “This is a very visible stadium through ESPN and all the attention the sport brings.”

The All-Sports Association is pursuing a long-term contract with the NCAA to keep the WCWS at the stadium, and likewise, they're interested in doing the same thing with the naming rights — perhaps up to 20 years.

Once a softball field, now a stadium

Back in the 1990s, when the Women's College World Series was gaining its footing in Oklahoma City, ASA Hall of Fame Stadium was an ideal setting for the event.

The 2,000 seats were enough for the crowds coming in at the time. The grass hills down the outfield lines allowed families to bring a blanket and watch the tournament in a relaxing environment.

It wasn't much different from the way many softball fans spent their summers at ball fields for weekend tournaments around the country.

But as interest in the WCWS spiked, especially following Oklahoma's national title in 2000, the event quickly outgrew the quaint setting.

And the push to build Hall of Fame Stadium into the mecca of softball began.

More permanent seats were needed, so the berms down the outfield lines gave way to expanded stadium seating.

Many other amenities were refined and improved, while maintaining a family friendly atmosphere.

Outfield bleachers beyond the fences, with a new video board and scoreboard. Additional bathrooms and concessions. Practice fields and other things that many people might not even notice, like a permanent warning track and outfield fence.

But the next wave of plans for the stadium blows away past improvements.

The three-phase project, which the All-Sports Association is working to gather funding for, includes improvements that will benefit everyone who comes through the gates of the stadium, from teams to fans to the growing media contingent covering the event.

Among the improvements are:

* Upper-deck seating above the current bleachers along the first- and third-base lines, as well as two luxury suites.

* More locker rooms and warm-up rooms for teams.

* New media work areas for print and radio, as well as a television booth for ESPN.

As part of the project, the outer facade of the structure will dramatically change, while bringing the seating capacity up to 12,500.

WCWS moments in OKC

There have been several milestone moments during the Women's College World Series' run in Oklahoma City that have helped the city put a stranglehold on the event.

1997: The WCWS returns to Oklahoma City after being played in Columbus, Ga. It was moved to the site of the 1996 Olympic venue as a test run of sorts for the Games after having been in Oklahoma for six years. Crowds in OKC before the WCWS's one-year hiatus had been decent — growing from 12,073 in 1990 to 20,000-plus the last three years — but after the series returns, attendance blossoms. Crowds top 24,000 each of the next three years.

2000: Oklahoma makes its first appearance in the series, and the Sooners give it a shot in the arm like nothing else could. Attendance skyrockets to 38,102, which bests the previous series high by more than 10,000. A phenomenon is born.

2002: ESPN decides to broadcast every WCWS game live on either ESPN or ESPN2. The telecasts take the event to a broader audience, growing the fan base and luring even more people to Oklahoma City.

2003: Major stadium renovations prove that Oklahoma City is serious about staking a claim in the WCWS. The $5.1 million overhaul adds 3,000 seats, expanding capacity to 5,500; 500 parking spaces; and two practice fields. There are also upgrades to concessions, bathrooms and walkways.

2011: Attendance numbers had hit a plateau between 59,000 and 62,000, but when Oklahoma and Oklahoma State make the series for the first time ever, it kick starts a new spike in attendance that continues to this day. Attendance in 2011 is a record 67,631, which was broken last year with 75,960. That number is expected to be shattered again this year.

What they're saying about the WCWS in OKC

What do you think about the Women's College World Series being in Oklahoma City?

Kim Bruins, Texas pitcher: “This has been the spot for the World Series for as long as I can remember. After this past week, I just think it brings the city together and brings the community together and I think it's a great way for people to bond. I think the atmosphere (makes it special). And then it's just great for the fans, for the little girls, to come out and be inspired.”

Christy Thomas, fan from Tulsa: “It's neutral for everybody but close for us.”

Shauna Brown, fan from Salt Lake City: “It would be nice if it could move around occasionally just to be more accessible, but it's also nice knowing it's in one spot.”

Raven Chavanne, Tennessee third baseman: “Just growing up, every major tournament has always been in Oklahoma City, whether it was 18-and-under nationals, the Hall of Fame, the World Series. So, to me, when I think softball, I think OKC and Hall of Fame Stadium. This is my third time back here, and every time, it's just as magical even more so stepping out on that field.”

Rick Liner, fan from Chattanooga, Tenn.: “I like it fine. I've never been to Oklahoma City; this is my first time. I like the environment and the atmosphere. It seems to support the sport. My daughter is playing in the Hall of Fame qualifier next week, so we came here to see this and the play at this level.”

by Jenni Carlson
Columnist
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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by Scott Wright
Reporter
A lifelong resident of the Oklahoma City metro area, Scott Wright has been on The Oklahoman staff since 2005, covering a little bit of everything on the state's sports scene. He has been a beat writer for football and basketball at Oklahoma and...
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