“People want to be in Happy Valley”


by Holly Riddle

If you attended the recent Hoppy Valley Brewers Fest at Beaver Stadium, which attracted more than 3,000 attendees and 70 breweries, or perhaps the 2024 Olympic Wrestling Trials at the Bryce Jordan Center, then you’ve witnessed the work of the Happy Valley Sports & Entertainment Alliance.

Officially launched last year and helmed by executive director Eric Engelbarts, the Alliance’s aim is, in a way, to make the region a better place to live, work and play, and it does this by bringing world-class events to the area. These events attract not only tourists to the region, who spend their dollars supporting our businesses, but also provide livability-related amenities to locals, for fun things to do right in their own backyard.

“People are excited about being here”

Many destinations, Engelbarts said, see sports as their number one driver of hotel stays, and Happy Valley is very similar. Easily, Penn State football brings in massive amounts of sports tourists; however, what about when it’s not football season? Or when other Penn State sports, for that matter, aren’t in season? That’s where the Alliance comes in, filling in the gaps and bringing events and business to the region.

“We represent Happy Valley and try to convince [organizations] to host their events in our area. With these events, people travel in with their money, stay in hotels, eat at restaurants, shop at businesses…” explained Engelbarts. “So we look at the types of events our venues, hotels and restaurants do well with and are strategic about going out and finding the right business to come in and fill…our market.”

People want to be in Happy Valley

On a more granular level, this work looks like putting together bids for events, providing organizations with all the information they need to know about what makes Happy Valley a great place to host an event. Among the area’s top selling points for decision-makers who may be considering destinations all across the country, Engelbarts said, are Penn State’s brand recognition and the region’s convenient proximity to so many large metros on the East Coast.

Beyond Penn State, though, he said that Happy Valley gets a little recognition on its own, too, saying, “People want to be in Happy Valley. It’s really encouraging, coming into this role and talking to people. People are really excited about being here.”

Still, Penn State’s prowess in certain areas definitely helps.

Engelbarts added, “It’s no secret that Penn State is great at wrestling. There’s a dynasty. When you’re fortunate enough to host the U.S. Olympic trials for wrestling, and then you’re able to go out and sell that same venue to potential wrestling groups, saying, your [event] could be held in the same venue as the U.S. Olympic trials, that’s a strong statement. It’s hard to deny.”

Attracting the U.S. Olympic wrestling trials is definitely one of the Alliance’s biggest successes to date and, for an organization that’s just a little over a year old, it’s had its fair share of successes. Others include the highly successful 2023 Ironman event. Engelbarts also mentioned that he’s finalizing a bid for the State Games of America, which would bring up to 12,000 athletes to Centre County, along with spectators.

As for the Ironman event, which returns to the area in late June, Engelbarts said, “It really does showcase what Happy Valley is all about. It takes you from our beautiful outdoor scenery at Bald Eagle State Park, through our excellent maintained roads and countryside, and then finishes up at Beaver Stadium, the fourth-largest stadium in the world and an icon in itself. When you look at the Ironman and impact it has and the amount of people that traveled in from around the world to compete, and the fact that it showcases our assets, that’s a homerun.”

The alliance expects the 2024 event to attract about the same number of attendees, and have about the same economic impact as last year, which was more than $4.4 million.

“It really does showcase what Happy Valley is all about.

In addition to Ironman 70.3, other notable events that the Alliance is bringing to the region this summer include the PIAA Spring Sport Championships Festival, several USA Softball events and the Happy Valley Music Series.


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