Field Day

Meetings take to sports arenas and stadiums for wide-open spaces, fun activities, and first-class service

LMCU Ballpark in Grand Rapids
LMCU Ballpark in Grand Rapids || Courtesy of West Michigan Whitecaps

Planners looking for a fun and versatile venue in Michigan would be remiss not to consider one of its many stadiums or arenas—in fact, the state is home to the largest stadium in the U.S., the University of Michigan’s Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor. This huge venue, along with many others throughout the state, offers numerous options for event spaces that can be booked for meetings, trade shows, and the like. The University of Michigan football stadium contains premium facility rentals like the Jack Roth Stadium Club, which features breathtaking views of both the stadium and university campus, and is perfect for an elegant gala or banquet. At sports facilities like this, planners can take advantage of the sheer square footage and the opportunities such space allows.

For more than 10 years, Electro-Matic of Farmington Hills has held its annual two-day Manufacturing in America event at Ford Field in downtown Detroit. Marketing Manager Amy Tylutki says as many as 3,700 participate, including manufacturing executives, engineers, industrial automation customers, vendors, first robotics teams, and company employees. The space works because it provides plenty of room to spread out for a flagship thought-leadership event, 15 breakout spaces, a vendor exhibition area, and room for other activities.

The Atrium at Ford Field in Detroit
The Atrium at Ford Field in Detroit || Courtesy of Ford Field

“We have used most of the south side of the stadium each year, from the basement [which has locker rooms, interview rooms, etc.] to suites, and all the way to the press room on the seventh floor,” she says, adding that a trade show takes place in the concourse and atrium spaces, and that the company also has hosted in the Gridiron Club, running the length of the north side of the stadium. Attendees like the venue because it’s, well, fun.

“This event space fits our event needs along with adding the excitement of a sports venue, including tours and field goal kicking,” Tylutki says. Sports stadiums across Michigan provide similar degrees of opportunity for private business and association gatherings, often with exciting add-ons to get the group engaged.

Activities Abound

Gatherings of as few as 25 all the way up to 1,000 can be accommodated at Dow Diamond in Midland, home to the Great Lakes Loons Minor League Baseball team. Dave Gomola, general manager of events at Dow Diamond, says the stadium is a good spot for special events and private gatherings. Besides hosting the annual Great Lakes Beer Festival every August, Dow Diamond also holds several trade shows each year along with expos featuring golf equipment, hot tubs and swim spas, home and outdoor living products, and more.

Private gatherings are typically centered in the 16,000-square-foot second-floor concourse. “It has retractable glass bifold walls so the space can be open-air during the summer and enclosed and heated in the winter,” Gomola explains, adding that it offers views of the ballpark and a large stone fireplace. In addition, the third-floor Tri-Star Club—5,000 square feet complete with a stone fireplace—is an elegant setting that includes a large island bar and multiple flat-screen televisions. Several 20-by-20-foot suites are available for breakout meetings.

Dow Diamond in Midland
Dow Diamond in Midland || Courtesy of Dow Diamond and Dave Gomola

“Most of our clients are searching for a unique venue to hold their corporate meeting, awards dinner, holiday party, wedding reception, etc.,” Gomola says. “We are able to not only offer full-service catering and an assortment of meeting spaces, but we also are able to offer fun group activities for icebreakers and team building.” Activities include indoor batting cages, on-field batting practice, cornhole, kickball, softball, and mascot appearances.

Detroit’s Ford Field Director of Sales Katie Gonyeau says the venue provides “the ultimate facilities for trade and consumer shows, meetings, banquets, galas, and a wide variety of special events.” Besides the NFL’s Detroit Lions football stadium, the Atrium is the largest space and can accommodate more than 1,000 for a seated dinner. Ford Field’s Hall of Legends provides a more intimate setting with views of the stadium from its indoor patio—up to 350 can be served banquet-style here, with the option to divide the room into smaller sections for breakouts or small board meetings. Those who are looking to stage trade shows are likely to select Ford’s Adams Street concourse, offering space for about 100 10-by-10-foot vendor booths.

Groups can arrange for behind-the-scenes stadium tours, visits from the Detroit Lions’ mascot, and personalized digital messaging inside the stadium. Gonyeau says the venue provides tables, chairs, linen, security, housekeeping, audiovisual services, parking, and catering.

A Full-Service Experience

Northern Michigan University’s Berry Events Center in Marquette is known as a space for hockey, basketball, concerts, and other big shows. Events Manager Joanna Emigh says corporate groups can access discounted ticket prices, receive a videoboard welcome during the event, and take advantage of pre- and post-event party space adjacent to the arena that can accommodate about 75 people.

“The Berry Events Center is one of the larger venues in the Upper Peninsula,” Emigh says. “There is no bad seat in the arena.” The center’s staff provides on-site catering including beer and wine service; audiovisual support; and all event equipment including tables, chairs, and staging. The building is not typically used for trade shows, Emigh notes, although groups outside of campus are able to rent the facility to hold other events. Additional venues including the Physical Education Instructional Facility’s recreation center and the Superior Dome are nearby.

Jimmy John’s Field in Utica certainly does not disappoint when it comes to service, says Deanna Morley. As the vice president of education at the Southeast Michigan Construction Academy (SEMCA), she was looking for a new venue to host the students’ graduation ceremony. Her thought was to find an alternative that might be more appealing to the young, mostly male graduates than the banquet-style facilities SEMCA used previously. It was also just as the COVID-19 pandemic surfaced, so health and safety considerations were top of mind as well. When Jimmy John’s Field came on her radar, she thought it would be the perfect choice: lots of room for social distancing and an enjoyable venue for all ages.

“It worked out well from the get-go,” Morley says, noting that after the ceremony, graduates received vouchers to treat themselves and guests to food and beverages on-site. “The staff is so professional, so organized—they did everything for us. We didn’t want to have to bring tables and chairs and do the catering, and it was a one-stop shop with Jimmy John’s Field.”

Jimmy John’s Field in Utica, set up for a private event
Jimmy John’s Field in Utica, set up for a private event || Courtesy of Jimmy John’s Field

Dana Schmitt, president of the United Shore Professional Baseball League (USPBL) and Jimmy John’s Field, says the facility offers multiple spaces for large group outings during games. The Chevrolet Pavilion features picnic table seating on an elevated patio and includes a big tent, large fire pit, food service (often a barbecue buffet), and a private bar with capacity for 400. Trion Solutions Left Field Pavilion can hold up to 300, also with picnic table seating and a tent, food, and bar. The Metro Detroit Chevy Dealers Right Field Family Patio can accommodate up to 600 and is adjacent to the Kids Zone that contains a play structure, Wiffle ball field, and speed-pitch game.

“Jimmy John’s Field also is host to many corporate groups that entertain during our USPBL games in our 26 luxury suites, each of which can accommodate up to 20 people,” Schmitt notes. Beyond games, the field also can be rented for corporate events including business meetings, company picnics, team-building outings, charity softball games, 5K races, and cocktail and holiday parties. Depending on the space and time of year, there is room for 200 to 3,000 attendees.

SEMCA returned this year to host its graduation ceremony at the field for the fourth year in a row. “We love it,” Morley says. “We love being outside, and we love the unique feel of the venue.”

Diverse Spaces

Special Events Manager Courtney Prins at Jackson Field in Lansing says the stadium’s location in the state’s capital as well as its variety of options for spaces and groups of all sizes have led to a steady following of organizations wanting to hold events there. Some come to attend a Minor League Baseball game (Jackson Field is home to the Lansing Lugnuts) and take advantage of group ticket prices, premium seating options in private spaces, and on-site catering to feed attendees, while others arrange for private gatherings and trade shows.

The View is a 2,000-square-foot, year-round special events venue at Jackson Field that is frequently used for private events including corporate meetings, association gatherings, employee functions, and the like. A variety of other spaces, indoors and out, can serve from 100 to several thousand attendees. For example, more than 1,000 can gather at picnic tables on the Tailgate Terrace, the Plaza can hold more than 2,500, and the entire space can accommodate 7,500-plus if planners opt to rent out the whole venue. “From smaller, more intimate trade shows, which can utilize The View, to larger trade shows using up the entire concourse, we have something that can cater to each group,” Prins says.

The View events venue at Jackson Field in Lansing
The View events venue at Jackson Field in Lansing || Courtesy of Lansing Lugnuts

Home to MLB’s Detroit Tigers affiliate West Michigan Whitecaps, LMCU Ballpark in Grand Rapids also has hosted multiple other events including major concerts, festivals, a holiday light show, and one of the largest cybersecurity conferences in the world, CloudCon. Special Events Manager April Butler says the park’s concourse, suite level, and Pepsi Stadium Club have all been pulled into service for trade shows. The facility also is undergoing a renovation over the next few years that will result in more meeting and event space.

“We truly pride ourselves on using our spaces all year long in unique ways,” Butler says. “People can rent just one section of the park, the parking lot, or all of the above.” Those booking LMCU Ballpark receive what its staff call “turnkey planning” from the team, who take care of everything from equipment rentals to in-house catering.

“There is something magical about sports meeting venues,” Butler says. “It doesn’t get more unique than having a baseball diamond as a backdrop.”