Tucked near the zoo and Remington Park horse track in north Oklahoma City is a gem that annually pumps millions of dollars into the economy.
The USA Softball complex, finishing two years of upgrades, renovations and additions in April, is home to OGE Energy Field at Hall of Fame Stadium, the National Softball Hall of Fame and Museum, and multiple playing fields and practice facilities.
The complex will host the Women’s College World Series for the 30th time May 28-June 3 and has a contract with the NCAA to host through 2035.
Craig Cress, CEO of USA Softball, says his group’s partnership with Oklahoma City has made it the Softball Capital of the World. A 2017 bond issue sent about $22.5 million to the complex. OGE Energy and other donors pitched in another $7 million.
“We’re the mecca of softball,” Cress says. “ESPN broadcasts the Women’s College World Series every year. We’ve had the world championships here. We had tryouts for the national team that will go to the Tokyo Olympics this summer. Oklahoma City is known nationally and internationally because of this.
“Our member teams want to play in this facility. We do 31 other weekends besides the World Series. It doesn’t take long to get a return on the investment.”
Tom Anderson, with the OKC city manager’s office, says last year’s Women’s College World Series drew 80,041 fans, whose spending totaled $18.8 million with $1.6 million in sales taxes.
“That’s what was spent at hotels, on souvenirs and in restaurants,” he says. “A lot of people in Bricktown say they get more business during the World Series than any other event.”
Cress, who touts softball’s fast pace, speed and power, says Susan Harkness, OGE Energy’s brand manager, pushed the company to secure naming rights for the stadium’s field. Harkness, a longtime advocate for women’s sports, died last year.
“OGE saw this is an opportunity to focus on female sports,” Cress says.
Anderson notes that OKC and Omaha, Nebraska, which hosts baseball’s College World Series, are the only permanent homes for NCAA championships. The finals of other sports rotate to different cities each year.
“We have the finest collegiate and amateur softball complex in the country,” Anderson says. “Our goal is to have a great experience for the players and fans.”
Cress says new to the stadium this year are a 4,000-seat expansion of the upper deck (bringing capacity to 12,900), the playing surface (grass in the outfield, dirt on the infield and artificial turf in the wings) and additional ticket booths, concession stands and restrooms. Last year’s renovations included new locker rooms for players, a press box and expanded areas for media.
Anderson says the stadium “looks great on TV. ESPN crews really like working the World Series; there’s something electric about the athletes and fans. It’s an intimate setting. There are a lot of people from different states. Fans come every year and get together with friends from previous World Series.”
Cress says Women’s College World Series fans “love the great progress being made and they appreciate Oklahoma City and its residents because they know where the money came from.”