Trends in sports tourism fluctuate based on weather patterns and the growth or decline of city populations. That means most members are in the Midwest and Southeast, says Don Schumacher, executive director of National Association of Sports Commissions. “That’s not going to change,” he says. “Most members are in the Midwest and people would rather see green than brown, which is why they prefer Georgia to Arizona.”
To get a good pulse on what is happening across the United States, we polled a variety of industry experts. Here are 16 sports tourism trends to watch for in 2016 and beyond according to the pros.
1. The industry will keep growing. “We will continue an industry pattern of steady, sustainable growth,” says Schumacher, predicting hotel bookings will increase by 3 to 4 percent in 2016 over 2015. The pattern means key metrics, like the number of event owners and the amount of direct visitor spending, will continue to creep up. Sports tourism had a direct economic impact of nearly $9 billion in the U.S. last year and Schumacher expects that to increase to $9.3 or $9.4 billion in 2016.
2. The rebate debate will continue. Offseason events, such as hockey tournaments in the winter, are still pushing the envelope for rebates… and not everyone is happy about it. Hotels are pushing back, as are parents. “Today we have sporting events where it’s $50 to $60 a night in rebates. You have a room rate, commission and room rebate on top of everything,” says Schumacher. “My concern is: Why are we working so hard to get people to come to our destination and make them sorry they came by charging rebates like that?” Schumacher adds the one exception is when a small-town event like a soccer tournament needs to bring in referees from other states and the host committee has to pay for the referees’ food, lodging and travel.
3. Paying staff instead of volunteers. Amid a pending lawsuit against Competitor Group—which is accused of using volunteers as free labor for its for-profit races—Josh Todd, director of sports sales at Visit Mesa (Arizona), thinks tier-one cities may move toward paying for some positions that have relied on volunteers in the past. Jon Schmieder, founder and CEO of Huddle Up Group, adds that the suit could cause costs to significantly rise to the point that smaller events don’t survive. “It could change the entire event industry in short order,” he says.
4. Guaranteeing volunteers in a bid. With potential changes happening to the pool of volunteers, some destinations are turning to local clubs to serve as bases for events, says Todd. For example, when Mesa hosts a large prestigious swim meet, the local aquatics club contributes the bulk of volunteers from its huge membership of parents and coaches, says Todd. “This can even be part of the bid: guarantees on volunteers,” he says.
5. The parks and rec role is evolving. More parks and recreation departments are operating like sports commissions, says Schumacher. As a result, they are increasing the creation of local events, which means more CVBs and sports commissions are partnering together to offer one-of-a-kind events.