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Sports Tourism For Smaller Destinations: It’s Not All Just Hallmark Events

Sports Tourism For Smaller Destinations: It’s Not All Just Hallmark Events

The FIFA Women’s World Cup came to a dramatic conclusion with Spain emerging victorious against England. The July 20 - August 20, 2023 tournament, hosted between nine cities in Australia and New Zealand, boasted record match attendance and tickets sold, not to mention both destinations being beamed into millions of homes internationally. The United States now looks forward to co-hosting the next FIFA Men’s World Cup 2026 with Canada and Mexico in 11 cities. Additionally, Los Angeles, Calif. Is already preparing to stage the 2028 Olympics and Paralympics.

Many U.S. destinations are competing to attract major sporting events to benefit their visitor economy through their DMOs and/or Sports Commissions. In 2021, Sports ETA, the only trade association for the sports events and tourism industry, released its Annual State of the Industry Report for 2021 showing this sector of the tourism industry generated a total economic impact of $91.8 billion in the United States, resulting in $12.9 billion in taxes collected and supporting 635,000 jobs. However, for smaller destinations, the concept of sports tourism may seem out of reach, only destined for these bigger cities. So how do smaller communities vie for a piece of this economic pie?

The answer lies in youth and amateur sports. On any weekend across the U.S., there are countless amateur tournaments taking place across a wide variety of sports – baseball, swim meets, softball, soccer, football, volleyball, tennis, and pickleball to name a selection. At the youth level, there are different age groups creating a tournament multiplier. Pair this with geographic competitions – regional, state, national - and the opportunities are endless. Families also travel to attend these games, often staying in low to midrange hotels, dining out, visiting attractions, and shopping at retailers, spending an average of $700 - $1,000 a month on
youth sports
.

So, what steps can smaller DMOs take to attract youth and amateur sports to their communities?

  1. Undertake a Destination Audit
    This is vital to understanding what sporting infrastructure your community has –a tennis complex, baseball fields, college facilities, community halls etc. The completion of this first step will provide an understanding of which type of sporting events can be successfully hosted.
  2. Know your community's accommodation capacity and their assistance needs
    Undertaken as a part of the destination audit, it is important to know how many rooms are available, especially at the low to mid-price end. Also, engage with local hoteliers and the local hotel association to understand when help is needed to fill available capacity, knowing most youth sports events take place during the weekend. If hotels are already full in the summer, a focus on attracting fall and winter sports will be more beneficial.
  3. Reach out to sports associations in your community
    Local amateur sports associations are needed to host the bid to attract the targeted sports events. Reach out to those in your community to see which are interested in bringing a tournament to the destination. They’ll also already have established connections with venues that can be used.
  4. Develop your strategy
    After undertaking the first three steps, create a strategy to focus on pursuing those amateur and youth sports that can be successfully hosted.
  5. Research grants for funding infrastructure improvements
    If some of the identified infrastructure in your community needs to be improved to make it event-ready, research which grants are available to assist. Check out this list of nationwide, state, and specific facilities grants available. Inquire at City Hall if any additional grant programs can be accessed.

What success has your destination had in attracting amateur and youth events? Let me know! Send me an email at Malcolm.griffiths@turnerpr.com

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