By Kathie Stamps
During baseball season, visitors to Northern Kentucky can join the roar of the crowd at Cincinnati Reds games at Great American Ball Park, a modern facility on the Ohio River banks with a traditional feel, probably because the Cincinnati Red Stockings were the first professional baseball team in 1869.
If it’s later in the year during football season, they’ll want their seats to be next door at stunning Paul Brown Stadium, capacity 65,535, where since 2000 the NFL’s Cincinnati Bengals thrill the fans. The Bengals had an abbreviated beginning in the late 1930s, then coach/owner Paul Brown revived the franchise in 1968.
The side-by-side stadiums right across the river are part of the compelling everyday visual landscape in Northern Kentucky, where there is a significant spectator and participant sporting event most days of the year.
On feet, hooves and wheels, sports in Northern Kentucky are fast, faster and fastest.
In June 2000, drivers started their engines at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta, Ky. NASCAR comes roaring in on weekends in July and September, and NASCAR fans can rev Kentucky Speedway to its full 107,000 seating capacity. There are 4,000 campsites on the property for the many fans who like to come early and stay late.
In 2017, the Sprint Cup Series Quaker State 400 takes place July 6-8, complete with pre-race concerts and hospitality events. Sept. 22-23, 2017, Kentucky Speedway will host the ARCA Racing Series Crosley 150 and the NASCAR XFINITY Series.
On the first Sunday in May at 6:30 a.m., runners are toeing the starting line for the annual Flying Pig Marathon. The 26.2-mile course starts and ends in Cincinnati, with miles of Kentucky vistas in the middle, in the cities of Newport and Covington. There were 6,163 registered runners for the 1999 inaugural event. By 2016, participation was 39,692 people from all 50 states and 17 countries for the marathon, the Flying Pig half-marathon, 10K, 5K, plus fun runs and relays. Spectators are “street squealers” and marathon runners end the foot race at the “swine line.”
More than $1 million was raised for 200 charities. According to a study conducted by Xavier University, the economic impact of the Flying Pig Marathon in 2016 was $13.31 million.
Spectators have collegiate teams to cheer for also. In Highland Heights, Ky., the Norse of Northern Kentucky University play to an average 2,297 fans per men’s basketball game and 1,435 for women’s basketball games. There are 17 sports programs on the campus.
Thomas More College, located in Crestview Hills, has 22 intercollegiate athletic teams, having added four in the past three years: wrestling, women’s lacrosse, and men’s and women’s bowling. Home attendance for the Saints last year was 35,141. The economic impact of 79 visiting teams spending an average $85 room charge for 15 rooms for at least one night is $100,725.
For outdoor enthusiasts, Big Bone Lick State Park offers 62 campsites for camping, 4.5 miles of trails for hikers, a 7.5-acre lake for fishermen, plus tennis courts, picnic grounds, a miniature golf course and plenty of birdwatching.
Holding down the winter dates of Kentucky’s year-round racing circuit is Turfway Park. The Thoroughbred horse-racing track opened in Florence, Ky, in 1959 as Latonia Race Track and was renamed Turfway Park in 1986. In has given fans several Kentucky “firsts.” It was the first track in the state to offer night racing (1968), Sunday racing (1980), simulcast wagering (1982) and Pick 3 wagering (1987). Turfway was the first track in the country to install the all-weather synthetic surface called Polytrack (2005).
The winter/spring meet at Turfway runs Jan. 1 through April 1, and a holiday meet takes place in December. For 2017, the highlight of the winter/spring meet will be the $500,000 Spiral Stakes in March, a Grade 3 prep for the Kentucky Derby.
Turfway Park was also among the first tracks to support aftercare efforts, helping to take care of Thoroughbreds after their racing careers end. Turfway began helping fund four Kentucky-based agencies in 2012 and now participates in the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance.
FCC, the Fùtbol Club of Cincinnati, debuted in 2016. Based on a study done by the University of Cincinnati Sports Administration (UCSA) in July, an estimated $384,919 of direct spending was attributable to the local area by spectators of the FC Cincinnati soccer matches hosted at Nippert Stadium. l