Celebrating the Economic Impact of Sports Tourism
In our special 'Champions of Economic Impact in Sports Tourism' awards feature, Sports Destination Management honors the people and places scoring big in the sports travel industry
On some levels, it would seem relatively easy for individual cities and towns to calculate the overall economic impact for specific sports events that come into their communities. However, our industry has yet to develop a definitive, overall and comprehensive national survey to determine the “total sports travel market economy”—one that takes into account, and breaks down, sports tourism from all sources—youth and amateur events, regular season college and professional events, and other special tournaments.
But, based on data that is available, including anecdotal evidence from CVBs and sports commissions around the country, along with industry experts, we have reason to be positive about continued growth in the sports travel industry at all levels.
A big reason for our optimism is that the sports event industry continues to show its resilience despite overall U.S. economic downturns in recent years. Because of this, our industry has often been described as “recession-resistant,” if not “recession-proof,” and with good reason.
Consider the nature of the sports travel industry itself: Many events—whether for youth or adult, amateur, college or professional—must take place every year, so the demand for venues stays high. In fact, that demand appears to be continually increasing, as we constantly hear about CVBs and sports commissions looking to expand, improve or build more facilities. (In addition, according to a recent white paper by the National Association of Sports Commissions (NASC) on the economic impact of sports events, many host organizations continue to develop their own yearly events designed to attract out-of-town teams.)
Often cited is that families will travel to attend tournaments and events to support their young athletes, frequently turning the trip into a mini-vacation. Finding quality “family time” continues to be more and more important in American life, and we should expect this factor to increase in the future.
To some extent, we also can say this is a self-perpetuating industry: As locations build and improve their sports facilities to attract tournaments and out-of-town visitors, those quality facilities become available to the local population, too—thereby increasing the number of overall athletes in the U.S., which we hope will bode well in the future for more sports events. (In fact, for many localities, to be most cost- and use-effective, new sports facility development should first meet local needs, so they will be assured of covering their operating costs.)
Total 'Value’ of the Sports Travel Market?
So, what is the “value” of the sports travel market? Well, an overall number for both amateur and professional events is hard to come by. But for the amateur sports travel market, a research team from The George Washington University Sports Management program surveyed NASC members, which included CVBs and sports commissions in markets of under 100,000 population to more than a million, and calculated that nationally in 2014, “visitor spending” for the sports travel industry was $8.96 billion, up three percent from 2013.
In the GWU study, attracting visitors and their dollars to the community was, of course, the top priority for respondents, followed by: marketing their region, supporting their local sports venues and franchises, representing the sports industry in the community, creating community activities, sports advocacy, sports philanthropy and health & fitness.
Another study by the University of Florida indicated that overall spending on travel expenses (food, accommodations, fuel, airline tickets, etc.) for just youth sports, which includes families traveling with their child, totaled $7 billion a year. The U of Florida study also found that nearly 60% of parents wind up returning to the city for a vacation, and 74% recommend the location to others. The same study looked at spending at a recent Traverse City, Michigan, event and concluded that each non-local family spent $985 on accommodations, restaurants, concessions, etc.
A study by Sports Marketing Surveys USA (SMS) shows that in 2014, there were 34.9 million people who traveled with an overnight stay to participate in or watch an amateur sports event, a figure that has remained fairly consistent going back to 2008. While 18 percent of these sports travelers were ages six to 17, about 51 percent were ages 25 to 54, more evidence that families are accompanying their young players to events. On average, according to the SMS study, sports travelers in 2014 spent $256 per person per year—which might seem low on the face of it, but that number is consistent with the GWU study for visitor spending, when you consider spending a night or two at an event, sharing rooms, etc.
‘Specialization’ Helping Fuel Youth Sports Travel
Of concern, however, is that while the George Washington University study determined there were 25.65 million “visitors entertained” in 2014 sports travel across the U.S., that number is down 10 percent from a year earlier, indicating that the increase in visitor spending was most likely due to rising travel costs and associated expenses.
This decrease in the number of visitors may track with another study, by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA), that shows over the last five years, there has been a slightly shrinking market for team sports in the U.S. overall in terms of raw participation. For 2014, there were nearly 63 million participants of all ages in team sports (taking into account all participants, not just travel team players), which is a 1.2 percent decline from 2009.
But what is significant for the amateur sports travel market is the rise in “specialization” in youth sports, particularly for so-called ‘niche sports,’ such as gymnastics, cheerleading, swimming, ice hockey, field hockey, lacrosse and rugby.
So the bad news/good news here is that while specialization appears to be a contributor to declines in overall sports participation, it also is a prime driver in the sports travel industry, as families invest more in the development, training and competition for their young athlete. In fact, many households consider it an investment in their children’s future as they look to use sports participation to help gain athletic scholarships for college.
Also, participation in team sports by girls ages 10 to 12 appears to be a bright spot, up nearly three percent since 2009, according to the SFIA. In fact, the five-year trend in gender mix for team sports shows women overall moving strongly into sports like ice and roller hockey, along with increased opportunities in traditionally male-dominated team sports like baseball and football. Males are also having a larger presence today in sports like gymnastics, swimming and competitive cheer.
Despite SFIA data showing declines in team sports participation, several high-profile initiatives continue to gain traction in helping to address the “inactivity epidemic” and drive more sports-related activities for both youth and adults. Among those campaigns are the “Let’s Move” initiative and PHIT America. Using health and fitness to increase the pool of overall athletes, especially for children, simply makes sense.
Benefits Beyond Big Revenues
For many cities, sports tourism has gained serious momentum over the past decade and has even become an economic engine. Major college and professional seasons and events rake in millions for their host locations while providing spectators with one-of-a-kind entertainment. On the amateur/recreational side, hundreds of communities around the country are providing athletes and their families with solid, high-quality tournament experiences that have the ability to change and influence young lives.
Take, for instance, the National Sports Center in Blaine, Minnesota, billed as the largest amateur sports and meeting facility in the world, and a model when it comes to youth sports facilities. In 2000, the annual economic impact from out-of-state visitors was $30.2 million; in 2011, that figure topped $50 million. For the same time period, attendance at the National Sports Center went from 2.5 million to 4 million.
And smaller markets are also seeing big gains, too. According to the University of Florida study, Greenville, South Carolina, is earning up to $10 million a year in sports-related tourism revenue. The sports facilities that communities like Greenville build and maintain for hosting events continue to have incalculable benefit for local residents of all ages.
Sports can strengthen not just athletes, but also communities. With SDM’s “Champions of Economic Impact for Sports Tourism” awards, we’re pleased to be able to celebrate all that sports travel brings not just to the venues themselves, but also to athletes, families and spectators.
2015 CHAMPIONS OF ECONOMIC IMPACT IN SPORTS TOURISM
Born from a media company focusing on markets significantly impacting economic growth, SDM appreciates the cause for celebration in the achievements of event organizers and host cities coming together to execute successful events.
This recognition of the economic impact from our industry continues to build on the Sports Destination Management mission: dedication to the advancement in understanding the distinctions of planning, implementing and managing sports events and travel, particularly the event-destination relationship.
As the cornerstone for successful events, the relationship between the event organizer and host city is a frequent topic throughout the pages of SDM. Here, we are pleased to share quantifiable success stories resulting from the event-destination relationships. So successful, in fact, the following event-destination relationships are responsible for contributing over $100 million to our nation’s economy last year.
We were overwhelmed with the number of nominations we received, as well as the enormous variety of sports they showcased. From team sports to individual pursuits and from traditional activities to the offbeat, entries ran the gamut. The one common thread was that they all played a vital role in the economy of sports tourism.
It is our pleasure to honor the most outstanding of those nominated, and recognize each of the partnering organizations involved.
Mid- to Large Market Champions
Forrest Wood Cup
Capital City/Lake Murray Country Regional Tourism Board
Columbia/Lake Murray, South Carolina
Total Room Nights: 9,916
Total Economic Impact: $25,754,745
For the Forrest Wood Cup, Capital City/Lake Murray Country RTB brought FLW (Fishing League Worldwide) and the state together on a marketing campaign to have both a major four-day fishing outdoor show & tournament and a barbecue competition with 40 of the best barbecue chefs in the state. Comprised of fishing enthusiasts and the general public alike, over 43,000 tourists enjoyed the barbeque and live music presented throughout the event. A truly collaborative effort (over 12 organizations contributed time and service), the event is expected to return to the area, thanks to the success it enjoyed.
USSSA Fastpitch Eastern World Series,
MAASA - Mid Atlantic Amateur Sports Alliance &
Maryland Sports/TEAM Maryland
Salisbury/Ocean City, Maryland
Total Room Nights: 16,041
Total Economic Impact: $19,885,037
The event has played a vital role in lifting the economy of a section of Maryland that was hit very hard by the recession. Three jurisdictions (Wicomico County, Worcester County and the Town of Ocean City) on Maryland’s lower Eastern Shore work to host the event together. The event has grown tremendously since its inception in 2007, when it had between 30 and 50 teams. These days, it has nearly 400 teams and every ball field is pressed into service. Hotels, restaurants and other businesses benefit greatly from the stream of visitors, who return year after year.
Visit Greenville SC
Greenville, South Carolina
Total room nights: 11,000
Total economic impact: $17,000,000+
The Bassmaster Classic is considered the Super Bowl of professional fishing, with more than 50 top professionals competing. More than 300 media reps covered the Classic and the event generated tens of millions of page views on Bassmaster.com, received 12 hours of TV coverage on ESPN2 and 12 hours of coverage on ESPN Classic. Hosting this tournament for the second time gave Greenville the chance to shine on a national stage. The event showcased the region's remarkable outdoor beauty and natural assets. Fans enjoyed events at our convention center, arena and the fishing action at Lake Hartwell.
US Youth Soccer Region III Soccer Championships
Carolina Elite Soccer Academy
Greenville, South Carolina
Total Room Nights: 10,000+
Total Economic Impact: $10,000,000+
The US Youth Soccer Region III Soccer Championships have been held previously at the MeSA Soccer Complex, a 16-field facility in Greenville. The event is the country's oldest and most prestigious national youth soccer tournament, and the 2016 event, also booked for Greenville, is expected to draw more than 3,600 players and an estimated 12,000 spectators. The tournament typically attracts more than 200 boys and girls teams, ages Under-13 through Under-19, from the 12 Southern US Youth Soccer State Associations that make up Region III. Over 400 volunteers were involved in the 2015 event, and support from local businesses was also a key factor in making the event a success.
ASA USA Girl's 18U Class A Fastpitch National Championship
Spartanburg Convention & Visitors Bureau
Spartanburg, South Carolina
Total Room Nights: 2,673+
Total Economic Impact: $7,400,000
It might have been Spartanburg’s first time hosting the ASA USA Girl's 18U Class A Fastpitch National Championship, but if Spartanburg has its way, it won’t be the last. A total of 104 teams from 24 states came to Tyger River Park in Reidville to play in the ASA/USA Class A 18U Girls Fast Pitch National Championship. Spartanburg CVB worked with the Spartanburg County Parks Department and City of Spartanburg Special Events in order to manage the event. There were record numbers for hotel occupancy and revenue, as well as hospitality spending during the time of the tournament.
SAC Columbia Invitational
Maryland Sports/TEAM Maryland
Total Room Nights: 15,898
Total Economic Impact: $7,200,000
Elite Tournaments brought this event back to the area, continuing to positively affect Maryland's economy, as it had for the past six years. The event literally played out across the state, spread over four counties with over 1,000 games played in 16 different locations on 54 fields. Approximately 60% of the teams came from outside the state of Maryland, with teams from states including Connecticut, Florida, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, and Massachusetts. As the event has expanded, it has gained state and national sponsorship.
USA BMX Grand Nationals
Tulsa Sports Commission
Total Room Nights: 14,087
Total Economic Impact: $6,002,396+
USA BMX Grand Nationals is the culminating event of a season long 40+ racing series. This event has been held in Tulsa, Oklahoma, for the past 18 years and each year, it is the largest BMX Race held in the world. With its large attendance and being held over Thanksgiving dates, the Grand Nationals are a valuable part of the sports tourism fabric in Tulsa each year. In 2014, nearly half of the 48 BMX competitors from the London 2012 Olympics were competing, along with more than 3,500 amateur competitors from 34-plus states.
USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships
Total Room Nights: 2,000
Total Economic Impact: $5,327,959
This event originally was awarded to Milwaukee for only two years (2013 and 2014). USA Triathlon is the national governing body for this event, which was such a success for the city and organization that Milwaukee was awarded it for a third and final year in 2015. That event had the most economic impact, with more than 5,000 athletes alone participating. In addition to attracting some of the nation’s top multisport athletes, the event was live-streamed by USA Triathlon, which generated further exposure for the sport as well as for Milwaukee.
US Youth Soccer Region IV Presidents Cup
Snohomish County Sports Commission
Total Room Nights: 4,315
Total Economic Impact: $4,587,060
This was the first year Snohomish hosted the Presidents Cup. The event was granted to the area following Snohomish Youth Soccer Club's success in presenting other competitions, including Snohomish Bigfoot Soccer Tournament. Also playing in Snohomish’s favor were the abundant facilities at Stocker Soccer Fields. The Presidents Cup allowed Snohomish to host 120 boys and girls (U13-17) soccer teams from across 14 states. As a result of hosting, the area is able to cement its status as a soccer community and can demonstrate its capabilities to host future national championships.
NSA Northern B Fastpitch World Series
Hamilton County Sports Commission
Hamilton County, Indiana
Total Room Nights: 3,827
Total Economic Impact: $3,800,000
The Grand Nationals have grown five to 10 percent year over year for the past decade. The 2015 event hosted a total of 263 teams, with players ranging in age from nine to 18, including 4,000 athletes and 7,600 spectators. There was tremendous support from Hamilton County itself, including the local softball community, whose volunteers helped run the tournament. One factor in the excellent economic impact of the event was its participant demographic: Girls’ sports events tend to attract more friends and family members who travel with players, contributing significantly to local tourism.
Small Market Champions
American Taekwondo Association Class "A" Tournament
Chicago Southland Convention & Visitors Bureau
Total room nights: 300
Total economic impact: $730,800
The martial arts competition, a new and highly successful event for Lynwood, Illinois, brought in a total of 947 competitors (representing a total of 24 different states) competing in more than 3,000 total events. The event, whose national governing body was the American Taekwondo Association, drew upwards of 3,000 tourists to the area. The CVB worked with the Southland Center Ho-Chunk Nation on preparations for and implementation of the event. The tournament will be returning to Chicago Southland in 2016.
Queen of the Mountain Volleyball Tournament
Rocky Top Sports World
Total room nights: 257
Total economic impact: $523,638
Queen of the Mountain was a new event for Rocky Top which worked with Signature Volleyball to create the tournament, bringing in 1,285 tourists. While there are larger events held at Rocky Top, what made this event significant in terms of impact was the influence of an ice/sleet and snow event that landed upon the Smoky Mountains that weekend. Below-zero temperatures and treacherous road conditions deterred many tourists from visiting the Smoky Mountains, but not the volleyball players. A total of 54 teams attended (only one team actually cancelled), and the Rocky Top Food and Beverage Department set a two-day record.
Dixie Boys Pre-Majors World Series
Washington County Tourist Development Council
Total room nights: 500
Total economic impact: $359,775
This event was new for the Washington County Tourist Development Council (TDC) and attracted a total of 665 tourists. It was the first event of this magnitude for the small community and it took three years of planning to implement. Overwhelming support from the local business community drove the success of the event, which including sponsorships and providing meals for the banquet and during the games at the fields. Approximately 100 volunteers worked the entire six-day event. Feedback was overwhelmingly positive, and the TDC plans to apply for hosting duties in 2018.
U.S. Lawn Mower Racing
Foley Sports Tourism
Total room nights: 149
Total economic impact: $345,000
The U.S Lawn Mower Racing Association (USLMRA) brought its STA-BIL Series event to the Foley Sports Tourism Complex for the first time in August of 2015. From the onset event organizers were impressed by the marketing and community outreach provided by Foley Sports Tourism. Despite inclement weather challenges, the event attracted over 2,800 spectators. USLMRA attributes the success of this event to Foley Sports Tourism, touting the service was “far above any our organization has seen in quite a while.” The outstanding management on the part of Foley Sports Tourism and support for the racers and others resulted in “one incredible event” with significant promise for the future.
Columbia County Convention & Visitors Bureau
Total room nights: 600
Total economic impact: $304,756
The Wildwood Games, a premier event for Columbia County, has doubled in economic impact since it was first offered in 2014. In addition, it has grown in participation, as well as in complexity and sophistication with multiple sports now being offered, including the showcase event, the USA Cycling Marathon Mountain National Championships as well as a trail run, open water swim and disc golf tournament. Organizers have created a strong brand recognition for the event, using the motto of ‘Own the woods.’ One direct result of this successful event is the fact that mountain bike tourism is on the rise in Columbia County.
Event Series Champion
ISSA Senior Softball Championship Series
The ISSA Senior Softball Series ran from January through October with a total of 11,398 participants in 17 different markets across the United States. Partnering destinations include:
Tampa Bay, FL; Panama City, FL; Myrtle Beach, SC; Burlington NC; Manassas, VA; Charlotte, NC; Jacksonville, NC; Drifton PA; Maryville/Knoxville, TN; Sioux Falls, SD; Roanoke Valley, VA; Auburn, AL; Morgantown, WV; Crown Point, IN; Rockford, IL; Salisbury/Ocean City, MD; Cincinnati, OH; Virginia Beach; VA; Palm Springs, CA
Total Room Nights (across all markets): 19,224
Total Economic Impact (from all markets): $12,010,531
The event drives approximately 23,000 total visitors into all markets for all 2015 events in the series.
The series has the unique ability to match an event to the available facilities in order to provide all communities an opportunity to be part of this sports tourism event. A number of tournaments allow nearby communities to work together to bring an event to their destination (Roanoke Valley, for example, organized two cities and two counties to host the ISF Senior World Cup.) The ISSA events bring to town the senior players (defined as those age 50 and up), the demographic with the most disposable income. The result is positive impact for the community.
Independent Event Champion
Warrior AAA Invitational
Sanctioned by USA Hockey, LEGACY Global Sports owns and operates the event that started in 2004. This high-profile boys’ ice hockey tournament has grown from 32 teams to 350 teams in 2015, despite the lack of CVB or sports commission support.
In the face of the recent economic climate of Detroit, this tournament has grown over the last 11 years to be the second-largest tournament in North America and the largest in Michigan. It uses multiple facilities, all within 75 minutes of one another. On the weekend the tournament was played this past October, between Friday and Sunday, there were 770 games on 43 sheets of ice in 21 different arenas. Hotels in the Detroit area were used to accommodate the athletes, their families, friends, officials and others. The city is able to benefit significantly from the event, and athletes give uniformly positive reviews, adding to the buzz.
Due to lack of local governmental support for the event, as well as our own unreturned phone calls from the city, no hard data is available to report. If available, we imagine it would be impressive.
Proving Economic Impact: Making the Case with Bryan College Station
“Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted.”
The quote is attributed to Randy Pausch of The Last Lecture, and perhaps no one agrees with it more than the Bryan College Station Convention & Visitors Bureau. The CVB recently gained quite a bit of experience in explaining economic impact when local officials challenged the CVB not just to justify its budget request but its work as a whole. The experiences shared by Bryan College Station include an important lesson for everyone in the industry.
It was back in mid-July that the CVB – which actually works with two entities, the City of Bryan and the city of College Station – was making its annual budget request to the College Station City Council. (Its budget request to Bryan is made separately.)
The budget request to the College Station City Council included more than $2 million, some earmarked for operations and maintenance, some for its grant program, some for a new advertising campaign. The funding was to come out of the income that resulted annually from hotel occupancy taxes, also known as HOT taxes, paid at hotels and motels in Bryan and College Station.
What Bryan College Station CVB hadn’t expected was a negative reaction from the College Station City Council in response to its request for funding. Among the objections raised:
People already come to this town without the CVB’s help
A new logo and branding message won’t put heads in beds
We don’t see an ROI
The CVB's funding should be based on how many tourists it brings to town and how many are spending the night.
According to an article in the Bryan College Station Eagle, one council member was blunt: “I have a hard time taking the money from the hotels and putting it toward something I don't think is going to benefit them in the least. If we can't come up with a more creative, definite way of seeing a return on our investment, I'd be up for cutting the [hotel] tax rate back to where it used to be before we started looking at a convention center, and letting the hotels keep that money.”
Those were strong words, and might have sent any number of tourism officials into a tailspin. But it wasn’t that the questions raised were unreasonable, said Bryan College Station CVB’s Shannon Overby, CEO, and Kindra Fry, vice president of sales. It was simply that they were unexpected – particularly in light of the fact that no such objections had been raised in response to previous budget requests. But instead of going on the defensive, the CVB took an introspective approach.
“What we decided to do was take a step back,” said Fry. “We wanted to figure it out: ‘Where’s the disconnect?’ We said, ‘Maybe we’re not communicating our message correctly. Maybe we aren’t sharing our story about what we do, the way we should.’”’
At the time of its budget request, the CVB had partnered with the City of College Station Parks and Recreation staff in order to craft successful bids to host, among others, the 2018-19 Texas Amateur Athletic Federation state games, a 2016 American Softball Association National Championship and the 2016 U.S. Youth Soccer Region III Presidents Cup.
As it turned out, though, that information was not being relayed. To those who were not familiar with the business relationship between the CVB and the parks and rec department, for example, it might have seemed the CVB was not involved with the recruitment and bid process at all. And therefore, clarification was needed to illustrate how the organizations worked together in order to attract rights holders and event owners, and convince them to choose Bryan College Station for their events.
“I’ve always said we’ve done a good job of doing our job, but not of telling the community and our local partners what it is we’re doing and why – that was the part we needed to pull together,” said Overby.
The CVB called upon a liaison it had used previously. The liaison sat down with the city council to discuss its objections, and then came back to the CVB to discuss specific materials Bryan College Station needed to provide in order to validate its request.
“In some cases, we had already provided the information but it was not laid out in a way that the council found useful,” said Fry. “So it became a case of finding out exactly what they wanted to see, and then providing it to them the way they wanted.”
Unfortunately, the local press had picked up on the story, compounding the problem by reporting on the amount requested and what it perceived as an inability to justify that request.
“It was a media storm,” said Overby, who noted that she refused to make comments to reporters on the developing issue.
“I opted to be silent most of the time, and I was positive when I was asked to say something. The one thing I did not give them was a rebuttal to anything that was being said.”
Instead, the CVB was gathering all its materials and preparing to present its case. Fry and Overby are both strong proponents of using all the measurable professional instruments available in order to demonstrate the positive economic impact tourism has on the community, and they employed this data to help answer the College Station City Council’s questions.
“DMAI has done a phenomenal job with its materials,” said Fry. “Their event impact calculator is the industry standard and they have so many other tools available as well.”
Ultimately, funding was approved – although the council still had plenty of questions before it gave its final word. But that, say both Overby and Fry, is the responsibility of the council – to make sure the money it invests is well-used. And now, looking at the whole event in the rear-view mirror, Bryan College Station’s Overby and Fry can say it was a valuable learning experience.
“The silver lining in all this is that it taught us as an organization to be more prepared,” said Overby. “We don’t just say ‘Here’s the amount we need and here’s why.’ We are more prepared with the facts and numbers and with the measurable metrics.”
And, said Fry, she has discovered that objections to budget requests are not a unique situation in the industry.
“It’s going on everywhere. Every meeting I attend for NASC, I hear someone telling me it happened to them. We tell our counterparts across the United States, ‘Here’s what we did and here’s what we used. Go to DMAI, go to NASC, get all the tools in place. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Utilize your counterparts and latch onto their best practices. You want people to learn from what you went through, and you can learn from them.’”
“I would say I’m stronger as a leader and our organization is stronger as a result of what we went through,” said Overby. “But it was no fun going through it.”
Lessons in Leadership: Key Takeaways from Bryan College Station
If questioned about the impact your organization is having…
Stay calm. “Don’t have the knee-jerk reaction,” says Kindra Fry.
Try looking at the situation through different eyes; Bryan College Station used a contact who could talk to the city council and find out what information was needed.
Be proactive rather than reactive: Work toward a solution rather than being defensive.
Keep media contact positive and upbeat; don’t engage in arguments in the press.
Have measurable data; economic impact calculators and other materials used by the industry have credence that is lacking in simple estimates and participation figures.
Keep the lines of communication open: Bryan College Station CVB is making itself readily available to the city councils throughout the year, and is providing information on an ongoing basis.
Don’t lose the lesson: Share it with others.