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Three Cheers for the Greater Madison Region

Sporting events score a double play: fostering community and boosting the economy.

By Cary Estes on September 23, 2022

People rock climbing during a hike in the Greater Madison Region.
Joseph Leute/Wisconsin Dells Visitor and Convention Bureau

Whether you want to play ball, watch ball or just have a ball, the Madison Region is filled with regular sporting events and athletic competitions that will make you cheer.

It begins with the University of Wisconsin. UW-Madison’s various athletic programs — led by football and basketball, but also wrestling, volleyball, rowing, golf, swimming, ice hockey, tennis and more — combine to draw nearly 2 million people to Madison each year and generate a total economic impact on the state of $757 million.

“It’s a huge community builder and great focal point for people to come together, have fun and celebrate victories,” says Justin Doherty, University of Wisconsin senior associate athletic director. “It’s also a massive economic driver in the state as well.” The Madison Area Sports Commission is building off the Badgers’ base, which has helped bring numerous events to the region, including the CrossFit Games, USA Cycling National Championships, IRONMAN Wisconsin and the WIAA High School State Championships. 

Three friends help each other free climb up to Devil's Doorway. Devil's Lake State Park, Wisconsin, which is located in the Greater Madison Region.
Flickr.com/Tom Gill

In addition, Special Olympics Wisconsin provides year-round sports training and athletic competitions in various Olympic-type sports for nearly 9,000 children and adults with intellectual disabilities.

And for those who like to get outdoors, the opportunities are plentiful. Adventurous residents can enjoy the action of water sports on Lake Mendota. If you’re looking for something more relaxed, stroll the 16-acre Olbrich Botanical Gardens and 10,000-square-foot conservatory. 

Add in the state’s professional sports teams (the Green Bay Packers, Milwaukee Brewers and the 2021 NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks), and the Madison Region has a robust lineup when it comes to athletics.

People bike in front of the Orpheum Theater in Madison.
Nathan Lambrecht

“Madison is a well-rounded place that draws a variety of people and a variety of events,” says Doherty, who has lived in the region for nearly 30 years. “People like to watch sports, but they also like to take part in them. There’s a really strong participatory component to the community.” 

For example, road cycling and mountain biking are extremely popular in the region. A high percentage of people commute to work by bike. Some top places to take a ride are the picturesque 13.2-mile Lake Monona Bike Loop, the 1,200-acre UW-Madison Arboretum, Blue Mound State Park, Kettle Moraine State Forest, Devil’s Lake Uplands Loop Trail and the Quarry Ridge mountain biking trails.

“Wisconsin in general and Madison, in particular, is an outdoorsy area. People enjoy being active,” Doherty says. “There’s just a lot to do here.”

MADISON, WI - SEPTEMBER 08: Emilio Aguayo Munoz of Spain celebrates as he approaches the finish line to win the IRONMAN Wisconsin on September 8, 2019 in Madison, Wisconsin. The IRONMAN Wisconsin triathlon returns to the university town of Madison where participants from around the world converge for the mid-western race through southern Wisconsin. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images for IRONMAN)
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images for IRONMAN

A Crowded Calendar

Rarely does a day go by without some significant sporting event in the Madison Region. The various pro teams alone create plenty of spectator time, as fans enjoy watching the games in person, at home or at entertainment venues.

But there also is no shortage of athletic action within Madison, thanks in part to the efforts of the Madison Area Sports Commission, which was formed in 2010 to bring additional sports events to the community. In 2018, the National Association of Sports Commissions named the MASC the Sports Commission of the Year among cities with a population of less than 500,000.

Two of the most significant annual events Madison hosts are the IRONMAN Wisconsin triathlon (with more than 2,500 competitors) and the five-day-long NOBULL CrossFit Games (which has taken place in Madison since 2017). According to the MASC, those two events created a combined economic impact of more than $16 million.

But when it comes to pure passion, it’s hard to top the excitement generated by the Wisconsin Badgers sports teams, from the packed Camp Randall Stadium for football games all the way to the enthusiastic group of students competing in the university’s Esports Club.

Mascot and cheer squad run on to the field at a University of Wisconsin-Madison football game.
Focal Flame Photography/Courtesy of Destination Madison

“Our football program is our main driver, but our men’s basketball program has been highly successful as well,” Doherty says. “Our women’s hockey program is a perennial national championship contender. Our volleyball team won the national championship last year. We just have a really well-rounded athletic program that’s highly competitive.

“Regardless of your background or any of your views, when everybody puts on their red and white and goes to the game, we’re all together. We’re all cheering on the same group of people and having fun in the venue together. There’s no question that sports initiates a sense of community like few other things can.”

If you’d like to learn more about the Madison Region, check out the latest edition of Livability: Madison Region

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