Sacramento must meet attendance goals to guarantee the return of U.S. track championships

Sacramento is making a major push to reclaim its heritage as a track and field capital, with officials announcing Wednesday that a successful hosting of the USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in June will ensure the event returns in 2017.

The championships, a four-day event to be held at Sacramento State, were awarded to Sacramento in October and will be held from June 26 through June 29 at Hornet Stadium.

Organizers say the sport’s governing body has promised to award the championships to Sacramento again for 2017 if at least 22,500 tickets are sold this year, a figure they say they are confident they can surpass.

“We’re going to be doing a lot this year to promote the championships,” Mike Sophia, director of the Sacramento Sports Commission, said at a news conference overlooking the 20,000-seat stadium.

To date, track and field fans have purchased 727 four-day tickets, translating to 2,908 of the tickets they need to sell to ensure the event returns. Those tickets range in price from $50 to $125, and the commission plans to begin selling two-day packages starting March 24, with single-day tickets going on sale later in the spring.

“It’s a very affordable event,” Sophia said.

Tickets are available at the Sacramento State ticket office and online at www.sacsports.com, and officials are hoping for a repeat of the 2000 and 2004 U.S. Olympic track and field trials held at Sacramento State that averaged attendance of well over 20,000 each day and drew fans from around the nation.

Sacramento also hosted NCAA championships at Sacramento State from 2003 through 2007, but the area largely fell off the map for such events after Eugene, Ore., began competing aggressively with funding help from Nike.

This year’s championships, portions of which will be broadcast live by NBC, mark the first time in a decade that Sacramento will host the sport’s premier competition, and officials made it clear Wednesday that they want to remain in the hunt for future track and field events.

“Sacramento showed the world in 2000 and 2004 with the record crowds that we had that it was a terrific track venue,” said John Mansoor, the executive director of USA Track and Field’s Pacific Association.

Organizers plan to install a new state-of-the-art track at the stadium that will cost $1.2 million and be paid for through room assessments by local hotels and the sports commission, which was recently revamped and placed under the authority of the Sacramento Convention and Visitors Bureau.

That revamping came after the commission lost out on attracting some high-profile events and lost $400,000 in 2011 from hosting the World Masters Athletics Championships. The sports commission also lost $500,000 hosting the 2000 Olympic trials, but Sophia, the group’s new director, said he did not expect such a result this year.

“We can survive a loss,” he said. “We don’t intend to take a loss.”

Mansoor said the new track, which will be installed starting next month, “puts us back in the game with Eugene.”

Sacramento was a track and field capital for decades, and Mansoor said the climate is ideal for such events, with hotter temperatures in the day helping sprinters and jumpers and cooler temperatures at night helping distance runners.

The heat during the 2000 Olympic trials, which were held in mid-July, turned off some fans, but Mansoor said organizers of this year’s championships plan to promote the event as a “beach party” in the stands.

“We’re going to try and bring in younger fans so we can bring in the next generation of fans,” he said. “We’re going to allow beach umbrellas, we’re going to have steel drums, we’re going to have beer. That way, instead of saying, ‘Oh, it’s hot in Sacramento,’ it’ll be, ‘Oh, it’s a party.’ ”