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Birmingham ramping up preparation for 2021 World Games

The CEO of the 2021 World Games said there will be a big enough variety of sports that everyone should find something to enjoy. (The World Games)
By Michael Tomberlin
Alabama Newscenter

The World Games are coming to Birmingham in just over 500 days and the man in charge of what he calls the biggest multi-sport event to come to the Southeast since the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta said there is much work to be done.

Nick Sellers, CEO of the 2021 World Games, said the Magic City needs to put its best foot forward while it has the world’s attention.

“How many chances do you get to see the world without leaving your backyard? That’s what we’re going to offer, really, not just the city of Birmingham and the state of Alabama, but the whole Southeast,” Sellers said. “We think within a three- to four-hour drive time we can draw upwards of a half a million fans and spectators over that 10-day period.”

That 10-day period is July 16-25, 2021, following the opening ceremonies on July 15. What once seemed like a far-off date is fast approaching.

On March 2, World Games officials will hold an event in Birmingham’s Railroad Park to acknowledge the 500-day mark.

They will also announce two new corporate sponsors, something Sellers said there needs to be more of in the weeks and months ahead.

“This is a great opportunity to associate yourself with a franchise that is part of the Olympics,” Sellers said. “These are Olympic-level, elite athletes that are going to be competing in Birmingham, Alabama, for 10 days in July of 2021. It’s a great chance to associate with that and to have your brand, their corporate brand, shown to the world on international TV.”

Sellers said the 2021 World Games has raised $18 million in corporate sponsorships as well as commitments from city, county and state entities. An additional $15 million to $20 million still needs to be raised and Sellers said they will be calling on companies throughout Alabama, the Southeast and the nation.

Corporations already on board include Alabama Power, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama, Protective Life, Regions Bank and Shipt.

NBC Sports will carry live coverage over the 10 days.

“Three years ago in Poland, they had over 100 million viewers for those World Games globally,” Sellers said. “I think we’re going to far surpass that this time.”

The multidisciplinary sporting event is organized by the International World Games Association under the patronage of the International Olympic Committee and is held every four years. Birmingham will be the first U.S. city to host the World Games since the inaugural event in 1981 in Los Angeles.

Birmingham is anticipating more than 3,600 athletes and 1,500 credentialed media from more than 100 countries. An additional 15,000 to 20,000 international guests and up to 500,000 fans and spectators from Alabama and surrounding states could attend.

Competitions will take place at 20 venues across the region that will be showcased on international television.

“We’ve secured all of our venues,” Sellers said. “Now we’re working with the city and the county and the state on look and décor – really creating an atmosphere that will present a once-in-a-lifetime experience, not just for the athletes, but also for the fans.”

Sellers said the world will get a look at places like around Birmingham.

“We get to show off Barber Motorsports Park, the Hoover Met, Legion Field again and the CrossPlex – and the Old Gray Lady is going to look as great as she’s ever looked for this,” Sellers said, referring to Legion Field by the historic stadium’s famous moniker.

UAB sites will be part of the World Games, as will venues in Trussville and Oak Mountain State Park.

“We really get to showcase so many great spots around the Birmingham area,” Sellers said.

Those venues will play host to a host of events with something that should appeal to everyone, be it rock climbing or drone racing; whether you’re into martial arts or gymnastics, dance, team sports and more.

“I would tell you this is the biggest, multi-sport event and opportunity that the Southeast has had since the ’96 Olympics,” Sellers said. “I would tell you that it’s probably going to be the world’s biggest sports party for 10 days in July in 2021.”

What Birmingham lacks in a major sports franchise, it makes up for in supporting major sporting events, Sellers said.

“We’re a huge big-event town,” he said. “If Birmingham knows how to do something well, it’s show up for a big event and a big opportunity. I would tell you that there is not a bigger opportunity in the foreseeable future for our community than the World Games in 2021.”

In addition to the needed corporate funding, the push is on to start stirring up interest in the games among the public and potential volunteers.

The 2021 World Games is in the midst of a media blitz in the Birmingham market. Blitzes will follow in Mobile, Montgomery and Huntsville later this year before branching out similar efforts across the Southeast and the country to help build anticipation and awareness.

“This is going to take a Herculean effort of support,” Sellers said. “We will be needing upward of 2,000 to 2,500 volunteers. Our volunteer recruitment program will launch later this spring and I want to encourage everybody to go to our website, www.theworldgames2021.com, where you will find more information.”

The website will allow ticket purchases in the days ahead.

“The ticketing will look just like it does for the (2020) Tokyo Olympics,” Sellers said. “We will sell tickets by venue, by day and by sport – a lot of different packages and options for the community.”

Pre-sales for tickets for international federations and volunteers go on sale May 15 and tickets will go on sale to the public on July 15 this year.

There will be special music and cultural events around the World Games to create a party atmosphere. Work is being done to ensure everyone can move from place to place safely and easily using a combination of the Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority and ride sharing.

“We’ve got a lot of detailed plans,” Sellers said. “The city is stepping up with BJCTA and we will be working with Uber and Lyft to make it very easy to get from the airport to the hotel venues and from the hotel venues to the competitions and from the competitions to the parties and (from) the parties back.”

Sellers said while he is excited to see some of the competitions, he is most eager to see Birmingham and Alabama presented in a positive light.

“That’s the great thing about where we are in this community – it’s really a great time to be alive in Birmingham and work and live in Birmingham,” he said. “This is a community that’s finally coming to grips with who we are, getting comfortable in our own skin and embracing our diversity. And we get to showcase this new Birmingham and this new Alabama to the world.”

Sellers said Birmingham and the state will use the World Games to boost economic development.

“We’re working with Alabama Power, the Department of Commerce and other partners on trying to create some unique experiences for industrial prospects,” he said. “It’s a huge event and I think it will be a benchmark to opening new opportunities not just for Birmingham but for the entire state.”

With the 500-day mark in sight, Sellers said it’s time to start getting excited in Birmingham.

“I just want to encourage everybody to lean into this moment,” he said. “There are few opportunities that you get to really get up to the plate and swing the bat hard at something that could be very special. This is our opportunity. Lean in, be a part of history and join us as we really make history here in Birmingham, Alabama.”