When 109,958 fans attended the Penn State-Auburn football game at Beaver Stadium in September, it marked the largest "in-person event in the world day," Penn State deputy athletics director Scott Sidwell said.
Beaver Stadium, with a capacity of 106,572, is the nation's second-largest venue and the fourth-largest in the world. Penn State has sought for years to use it more than seven times per year. Now, a new commission plans to bring more major events, perhaps even the NHL Winter Classic, to Beaver Stadium and the State College area.
The Happy Valley Adventure Bureau and Penn State on Tuesday jointly announced the Happy Valley Sports and Entertainment Commission, a new venture designed to elevate the region's reputation as an events destination. Organizers discussed bringing concerts, hockey games, and other events to Beaver Stadium and the region through the partnership.
"Athletics is in our DNA in Happy Valley,” said Fritz Smith, president and CEO of the Happy Valley Adventure Bureau. "We believe there is an opportunity to capitalize even more on our growing reputation as a sports and entertainment destination, and are taking the necessary steps that other communities have taken to achieve this goal. Today’s announcement ushers in a new era of collaborative town and gown partnership to strengthen the economy through sports and leisure visitation."
Here's a primer on the new commission, its plans and leadership and what it hopes to bring to Happy Valley.
What is the Happy Valley Sports and Entertainment Commission?
According to a news release, the Happy Valley Sports and Entertainment Commissions is a joint venture of the Happy Valley Adventure Bureau and Penn State designed to "elevate Happy Valley’s standing as a premier sports and entertainment destination."
The commission seeks to leverage Penn State's facilities and new regional sports venues to bring more entertainment and sports events, tournaments, camps and other tourism opportunities to the area.
"We're sitting here in the second-largest stadium in the United States of America, fourth-largest in the world," Smith said from the Beaver Stadium media room. "And it has always struck me that the very presence of this facility means that we need to stretch and we need to think big, and we need to have a vision for what we can be here in terms of sports and entertainment in Centre County."
Who's in charge of the commission?
Joe Battista, a long-time Penn State athletics administrator, will chair the Sports and Entertainment Commission. Sidwell, Penn State's deputy athletics director-external, is the vice-chair.
Battista is well-known in Penn State athletics, having coached hockey, served briefly as the athletics director and led the Nittany Lion Club. Among Sidwell's responsibilities is serving as the day-to-day administrative contact for the football team.
Does this mean hockey is finally coming to Beaver Stadium?
Organizers were vague about a timeline but said that Penn State has explored bringing the NHL Winter Classic to Beaver Stadium and "would love to host that event."
"There's a significant expense to that," Sidwell said. "But we're going to continue to try to find ways to make that happen. We would love to host that event. It's probably going to take some collaboration with the Sports Commission to come together to see how we might drive some resources for the local community to help make that an economic engine at a time of year that we don't necessarily have that."
What about international soccer at Beaver Stadium?
Organizers were less optimistic about Beaver Stadium's potential to host a major soccer event such as an international competition or a friendly match between European clubs.
"Currently, soccer wouldn't fit right now in the Beaver Stadium configuration, but we're looking to try to see if there are other opportunities that we could have events in there that might also attract a number of people to the region," Sidwell said.
What other events could Beaver Stadium host?
Organizers want to book another large-scale concert to follow the 2017 Happy Valley Jam that drew more than 30,000 people to Beaver Stadium. The venue has not hosted a concert since.
"We're actively pursuing, planning, trying to get ourselves in position to attract a big name to come to Beaver Stadium to have a concert," Sidwell said. "... I want to underscore the entertainment piece. I think it's a huge opportunity for our community. And we will continue to find ways to attract those big events here to Centre County."