Clay Partain, director of sports market sales for Visit Salt Lake
, is on the frontlines of sports tourism trends. This year, Salt Lake City will host the USA Fencing National Championship and July Challenge Athlete Packet and USA Judo Senior National Championships. “Destinations are lucky to usually get one or two of those every couple of years, and we are now averaging one of those a year,” he says.
The timing couldn’t be better. Partain says he’s seeing a “huge rise in sports” where fans are more interested than ever. “It’s like a gold rush and everybody is realizing their potential and wants their events everywhere,” Partain says.
As a result, sports planners are becoming more educated on what destinations can provide them, he says. That, in and of itself, is a trend driving the industry to new heights. To get an idea of what’s ahead, we consulted leading minds in the field to compile this list of 17 sports tourism trends to watch in 2017.
1. Authentic experiences.
Event planners want an experience they can only find in your city, says Jennifer Hawkins
, executive director of sports development at SportsPITTSBURGH
. Decide what makes your city unique, whether it’s a museum or new restaurants, and celebrate the hot spots.
2. Growth of nontraditional sports
. Think e-sports, which have sold out Madison Square Garden, Staples Center and Oakland, California’s Oracle Arena. “These tournaments are garnering more attendance than NBA games,”says Lawrence Hamm Jr
., sports development manager at Destination DC
. “Cities are going to be looking at what’s next for competition, not just traditional sports.” Hamm also points to a Spikeball
national championship held in October 2016 on the National Mall and Washington’s bid to host the Gay Games in 2022. Other growing sports include gay flag football, wakeboarding, drone racing and orienteering.
3. Visitors want a vacation after the event.
“Millennials are looking for cities that offer an extra day or two of activities,” Hawkins says. “They want outdoor adventures, Airbnb and attractions, such as a craft brewery, only a short stroll (or Uber ride) from a lively downtown with great food and nightlife.”
4. Cities are chasing futbol.
The heavy pursuit of United Soccer League and Major League Soccer franchises is driving the development of new soccer complexes and stadiums. That trickles down to youth soccer programs because franchises want to be in cities with strong, local grassroots support for the sport, says Ray Hoyt, president of Visit Tulsa
(Oklahoma) and Tulsa Sports Commission. Hoyt says that’s led to a spike in popularity soccer hasn’t seen in this country in two decades.
5. Identities matter
. Destinations are pinpointing and developing sports identities to maximize their core sports, says Vince Trinidad, executive director of Tulsa Sports Commission
. “Developing a sports identity is an ongoing process that can take years of reinforcing and developing the targeted sports that communities can not only host, but continually and consistently host well,” says Trinidad, who helped forge a deal to make Tulsa the new headquarters of USA BMX
6. Bring on the fest
. As sports commissions and CVBs create their own sporting events, they are tacking on festivals as well. Hoyt says local events and celebrations provide an avenue for cities to show their competitive identity to the rest of the nation.
7. Going beyond the sale
. CVBs are learning event owners require servicing after the bid process, says Don Schumacher
, the outgoing executive director ofNational Association of Sports Commissions. “Some communities are so anxious to get the room nights, they promise things and can’t deliver,” Schumacher says. “They later realize people aren’t pleased, and usually it relates to the lack of servicing.”
8. The new venue race.
“DMOs and sports commissions are putting bed-tax dollars into bricks and mortar,” says Jon Schmieder
, founder and CEO of Huddle Up Group
. “This is a relatively new phenomenon, but it doesn’t seem to have an end in sight.” He cites places like Rockford, Illinois
; Warren County, Ohio; Monroe, Louisiana; Evansville, Indiana; Placer Valley, California; and Pasco County, Florida, as examples where new venues have been built or existing ones enhanced “to stay competitive in the sports tourism arms race.” Says Schmieder, “Is this a trend of success, or one of destruction? It’s too early to tell.”
Schumacher is certainly concerned. “Communities that aren’t even active in sports tourism have added new facilities so they can participate in the industry, and that’s backward,” Schumacher says. He says the secret to building a successful new facility requires fulfilling unmet local needs.
9. Big leadership changes
. Watch what’s happening in the C-suite, Schmieder says. Destination Marketing Association International made leadership changes in 2016, NASC is doing it this year, and a handful of national governing body executives (USA Volleyball, USA Swimming, USA Diving and USA Shooting, among them) have announced resignations since the Rio Games. “We are not sure if this is a good thing or not, but it seems to us that this is more top-shelf turmoil than normal,” Schmieder says.
10. Stay-to-play and compliance tools are gaining importance.
“They are creating visibility into the travel patterns of individual teams and team members and real policy decisions for organizers where teams have flown under the stay-to-play radar for a long time,” says Bill Barclay, vice president of software engineering at Experient, whose registration and hotel reservation platforms are used by about 4 million events attendees per year.
11. Hotel competition revs up.
Hotel demand will rise again in 2017, creating compression and putting further downward pressure on the rebate discussion in markets that have other events occurring during the same timeframes, Barclay says.
12. Large special events are collaborating with DMOs.
“Planners of large special events are feeling the pressure to provide a return on investment from the community,” says Hawkins. “They’re asking DMOs to assist in upgrading these events to become destination events that will draw overnight visitors and generate a measurable economic impact to the city and businesses.” One example is the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix
, which expanded into a 10-day event. “They asked us to help with measuring number of visitors and marketing ancillary events and the event to national and international racers, auto organizations and international media,” she says. “This year, we will plan a press tour around the race.”
13. Smarter volunteers and coordination platforms
. With universities offering more sports tourism departments, there’s a larger, more educated student group that wants to volunteer at sporting events, Hamm says. At the same time, volunteer-coordination platforms are helping with the identification, verification and deployment of volunteer resources at the event site. Barclay says mobile-location awareness and check-in systems are increasing overall event safety and expanding the communication reach of volunteer organizers.
Sporting events are trending toward geofencing—where a virtual border is created to tell when a mobile phone enters or leaves a sporting event. Hamm uses the example of a Washington Wizards game, where planners can use the event hashtag and other social media platforms like Snapchat and Instagram to reach audiences.
15. Seniors staying strong
. Event communities are trying to attract and bring in seniors, especially with fitness programs that will reach locals, Schumacher says. Think pickleball
, tennis, cycling, running and swimming. “The boomers are a good part of the reason,” he says. “They are generally physically active and more patient than the average millennial.”
16. Host cities must know laws
. “Major event rights holders have become more sensitive to social issues that may impact their athletes and fans,” Hawkins says. As a result, she says DMOs are taking on the responsibility to ensure lawmakers understand the possible ramifications of certain legislation and work with political consultants to modify or stop bills from proceeding
17. People want to play
. "Participation rates are continuing to grow," Barclay says. "Some organizers are forecasting double-digit growth rates, particularly in emerging sports and premier national providers."