When you look at the lake-city-lake landscape in Madison, it’s easy to see how the terrain inspires a “fittest city” mindset. We swim. We bike. We run. We hike and climb. You might say our perpetual playground is a natural fit for welcoming world championships. 

But there’s something else the Madison Area Sports Commission (MASC) does better than most when it comes to collaborating with clients: we get creative. 

Sometimes that means reimagining facilities. Or forging new partnerships that once seemed unlikely. Or creating efficiencies that help us beat tight timelines. Read on for three times the MASC team took challenges like these and turned them into unforgettable Madison memories. 

Flexibility: The Key to Winning the CrossFit Games 

It may have been a coincidence that Fitbit named Madison the Fittest City in America on the same day that CrossFit’s Billy Rodgers was visiting to decide whether the capital city would make a good site for the Games

Or maybe it was meant to be. 

It certainly felt right to Jamie Patrick, whose interest in CrossFit started as far back as the inception of the Madison Area Sports Commission. “Madison’s vibe and the CrossFit attitude are a perfect match: when we have a goal, we’re all in.” Patrick and his team had already proven that point by taking the bid process to new heights. Literally.  

“Word on the street was that we were competing with 100 destinations,” says Patrick. “So we knew we wanted to do some standout things that illustrated what we do best.” First, it was climbing to the rooftop of an apartment building to capture a wow-worthy view of the sports facility proposed for part of the Games. That allowed MASC to advance to the next step of the bidding process. 

Then, when CrossFit came to visit, the itinerary included climbing six flights to the Observation Deck of the Capitol building. “That birds’-eye view shows you how closely the airport, isthmus and Alliant Energy Center are connected,” says Patrick. “We could have shown them a map. But we knew this was a unique, experiential way to demonstrate how easy it is to get around Madison’s downtown.” 

But the true creativity came in setting up the Games. MASC and CrossFit worked closely with the Alliant Energy Center to push the boundaries of flexibility. Every square inch of the 164-acre campus was used strategically to create competition stages, stands for fans, hospitality facilities, a marketplace and more.  

“We even asked restaurants in the surrounding downtown to welcome athletes by offering special menus that would appeal to the athletes,” says Patrick. “It proved what I always knew to be true: as a collective community we’re thoughtful. Flexible. It was amazing to turn that energy into something so powerful.”  

In the end, the CrossFit Games extended its stay in Madison two more times, bringing $12 million in economic impact to Madison over the course of six years. 

The Relationships That Made USA Climbing a Perfect Fit 

If you’re into outdoor adventure, you’ve surely heard of Bend, Oregon. Big mountains. Small-town charm. Tech town. Craft beer. A perfect setting for USA Climbing American Bouldering Series National Championships

Until MASC set their sights on bringing it to Madison, Wisconsin. 

How a Midwest town secured an event of this scale is a six-year tale of confidence and endurance. One that began with a simple conversation and steadily built over time to show the appeal around a college town with an active climbing community.  

“At first, I simply stayed in touch with then-CEO Keith Ferguson to learn more about USA Climbing’s needs,” recalls Patrick. “When hosting in 2015 started to look like a possibility, we knew we wanted to identify a pitch partner.” In addition to working with longstanding partners at UW Hoofers, the Madison Area Sports Commission forged a new relationship with Boulders Climbing Gym. “Their athletes and instructors brought perspective and passion to the pitch.”  

“When Kynan Waggoner took the CEO role, we welcomed him to town on a familiarization tour where we introduced him to Madison’s many passionate climbers and climbing groups,” says Patrick. “Kynan was concerned about holding an event in Madison in the winter. But once he realized Madisonians embrace winter instead of hunkering down, he decided to take the leap.” 

In this case, the site visit definitely sealed the deal. Leaning into the natural beauty of Devil’s Lake and demonstrating the local commitment to climbing was an impressive start. But the strong relationship between MASC and the Monona Terrace allowed them to negotiate scheduling to offer 37,000 square feet of space for 18 consecutive days. Not to mention figuring out how to fit 18-foot-high climbing walls inside the facility so that February weather wouldn’t matter. 

On opening day, there was music, lights and drama to rival the X-Games. Inside, 1,200 national competitors scaled massive climbing walls during Elite Week. Outside, youth competitors found fun on Madison’s frozen lakes on some particularly sunny and warm Wisconsin days. 

From our 20,000-foot-view, this one was worth the climb: the championships returned a second time, bringing a total of $331,995 in economic impact to Madison. 

Quick Save: MASC Beats the Clock in Planning Window for IIHF 

And then there are times when winning an event is all about being fast on your feet. Like less than four months fast. 

That was the case when, in 2022, Sweden had to cancel the International Ice Hockey Federation’s (IIHF) U18 Women’s World Championship due to COVID restrictions. USA Hockey was responsible for finding a new location and with the competition date just a few months away, it looked like there may be nowhere to go—until they remembered it’s all about who you know. 

“USA Hockey was familiar with UW-Madison because of the strength of its men’s and women’s hockey teams,” recalls Patrick. “And our organizations were familiar with each other from meeting up on trips to Colorado Springs or at Sports ETA for about a decade. So Madison’s reputation and that familiarity were key. Immediately, we communicated that we could think creatively and move quickly to put the pieces in place that would allow this event to happen in Madison.” 

Patrick and his team knew the event would require more than 2,600 hotel rooms, plus satellite ice space. In addition to working with UW-Madison and LaBahn arena, the MASC team engaged Capitol Ice and Madison Marriott West. By assembling a local organizing team to support the championship, MASC’s proposal proved to be the total package: facilities, transportation, volunteers, marketing support and an awards program. 

And the community showed up: The USA vs. Canada game sold out. The IIHF president said LaBahn was the nicest facility they had ever played in. And MASC brought home a win for Greater Madison by creating $1,042,870 in economic impact.