10 Sports Tourism Trends to Watch in 2018

What will shape sports tourism as it grows even bigger in 2018? We identify 10 trends to keep an eye on in the world of sports events.

2018 trends, Hamilton County Indiana Grand Park

Most trends for sporting events in 2018 like geofencing and the prevalence of emerging sports will carry over from previous years.

Unless you’re a “stay to play,” it will continue to be difficult to track hotel capacities says Theresa Belpulsi, vice president, tourism and visitor services for Destination DC.

As companies like Airbnb become more trusted by the attendees, events will continue to be about the overall experience and not just the competition facility, Belpulsi predicts. That means local attractions will become more important to marry with an event. “People want the biggest bang for their buck,” she says.

As hotel rates increase, organizers will continue to search for more affordable options, which could positively affect second- and third tier-destinations, says Clay Partain, director of sports market sales for Visit Salt Lake.

At the same time, security concerns are increasing. “People want to feel safe, and there is more awareness than ever on this issue,” Partain says.  As venues and organizers work hard to quickly implement more rigorous safety standards and security measurements, safer cities will benefit.

No matter how technology plays a more profound role, it’s also important to keep in mind that it’s still the human connection to each other, not machinery, that helps bind deals together and make event operators coming back year after year.

“People make deals with people, not apps or some new technology. People make or break events,” says Jon Schmieder, founder and CEO Huddle Up Group. “We need to keep this in mind no matter what role we play in this awesome industry.”

Here are 10 trends you should consider in the coming months.

1. Bigger Is Better 

Huge one-time events are becoming more important than smaller competitions held regularly, Belpulsi says For example, the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission’s 2018 calendar includes 10 major sporting events that are projected to produce a combined economic impact of more than $30 million, according to Crain’s Cleveland Business. The biggest of the group is NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships, March 15-17 at Quicken Loans Arena. It will have an estimated economic impact of $15 million.

2. Quirky Collaborations

Special events like chicken or music festivals are being added to sports event planners repertoire, Schmieder says. “If it uses the same event production skills, and drives overnight stays, why not expand from just sports to sports and events?” he asks rhetorically.

That philosophy spills over to non-traditional partnerships like the 2017 deal in which Tampa Bay Entertainment Properties—related to the Tampa Bay Lightning’s ownership group—took over marketing rights for University of South Florida. Similarly, the Sacramento Kings hold U.S. Ski and Snowboard’s multimedia marketing rights.

Schmieder says another example of strange bedfellows is universities housing sports commissions instead of a CVB or chamber of commerce. “In today’s entrepreneurial marketplace, there are more opportunities to collaborate outside the box’ than in the past,” he says.

3. Self-Made Events

Need an event? Then create one. They are becoming more common each year. These events range from esports competitions like the XPO game festival in like Tulsa to “border war” high school showdowns to college football games at NASCAR tracks.

Schmieder says creating “owned” properties is something CVBs and sports commissions rarely tried in years past but are warming to. “The long-term benefit to the host community is a great deal of control over the event’s outcome,” he says.

4. The Continued Emergence of Emerging Sports

The number of activities that have become sports range from Ultimate, roller derby, squash, geo caching to bouldering, quidditch and pickleball. For example, Salt Lake will host the 2018 Bouldering Indoor National Championships and the USA Climbing American Open this month.

5. The Role of Volunteers Will Evolve

The law suit, Liebesman v. Competitor Group, Inc., which owns the nationwide Rock 'n' Roll Marathon and Half Marathon series, is making its way through the courts and will potentially affect the use of volunteers.

Here’s the backstory: Yvette Joy Liebesman, a cyclist and associate professor at the Saint Louis University School of Law sued after she rode her bike St. Louis Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon as an official escort for the lead runners. In the suit, she alleges the for-profit CGI obscured its status by selling "Official Charity" sponsorships in the form of paying for at least 10 runners at $165 each.

The outcome of this case could decide the requirements on how event owners classify volunteers versus an employee, Schmieder says. That definition can drastically change the way events are run in the United States.

6. No Slowing in the Facilities Arms Race

Although there’s talk of oversaturation of large multi-sport complexes, there doesn’t seem to be any end in sight. “This is a direct response in cities and destinations realizing the magnitude of sport tourism and what it can do to their community in terms of impact,” Partain says.

Although Partain says “perhaps they are spreading too fast,” he doesn’t think facility oversaturation will happen in the western U.S. for years to come.  “Salt Lake has seen monumental growth with our new Salt Lake Regional Athletic Complex, and I would build another next door if it were up to me,” he says.

7. Real-Time Feedback with More Upgrades

Social media hub technology, geo-fencing, and mobile platform systems have led to real time feedback during events. But the fan experience is still the most important. “Organizations are getting creative with how they provide sponsors a more intimate way to connect with consumers,” Belpulsi says.

This translates into a surge in national sports organizations purchasing software and spending time, money and resources to train staff on how to integrate these programs into their events. Partain points to Triple Crown Sports as an industry leader in this regard.

CVBs are also spending more money to upgrade into mobile friendly systems. For example, Visit Salt Lake offers a discounted activity pass that we sell to our attendees, which can be purchase this pass by their phone. “They can then use the phone as a pass to get access to over 14 attractions in the local area,” Partain says. “This has been a huge hit with our planners and attendees.”

8. Full-Service Treatment

Destinations that are successful hosts are ones that know how to service sports groups, Schmieder says. Think of it as one-stop shopping coupled with concierge service.

“Many of our clients are looking to be a vested partner in events, to share in the success or failure of events they host,” says Schmieder, whose group counsels organizations and venues to maximize impact. “The days of a city writing a rights holder a check and walking away are becoming more and more extinct every day.”

As host cities continue increasing their collaboration and partnership, there’s a greater focus on using social media and apps in a more relevant way. This means providing constant connectivity to attendees, as well as parking apps, rideshare discounts, push notifications for deals and updates that are fully integrated with Twitter, Instagram and SnapChat, Belpulsi says.

It’s not enough to have a presence on social channels. It also means catering to a savvy social media demographic. “An average millennial parent will not simply call the sports organizer to ask where the hotel is and where the fields are,” Partain says. “They will do their own research online," he says. "This places a larger focus on rights holders and destinations to make sure we are providing the microsites, mobile friendly systems and social media communications to ensure our attendees receive the information quickly and accurately.”

9. Sponsorships Are Evolving

Remember the good old days when paying for a sponsorship scored a company a spot on a jersey or stadium wall? Partnering is taking on a whole new meaning, says Ashley Ellefson, Drone Racing League’s director of operations. “Leagues and teams are now thinking about how to effectively immerse brand partners into the storytelling of the sport while creating compelling visual content that fans inherently want to share on social,” she says. Ellefson would know. Her company has reached thousands of extra consumers through its DRL x BMW race at the BMW Welt and by creating a series of high-intensity drone stunts with Amazon Prime Video to drive viewership for The Grand Tour’s second season premiere.

10. Stars Still Sell

NFL players taking a knee and perhaps driving away business made headlines in 2017. But Blake Lawrence, CEO of opendorse, says the stars still do much more good than harm. “’We’re seeing a continued normalization of athlete-driven media – where more brands and rights holders communicate their key marketing messages straight to the fan through athletes,” says Lawrence, whose company has activated more than 5,000 social media campaigns for brands, leagues and rights holders, including Coca-Cola, PGA Tour and the National Football League Players Association. Proof Lawrence is correct: opendorse and the NFLPA signed a five-year renewal of their partnership this week.