9 Sports Tourism Trends to Watch in 2019

By Dawn Reiss, January 28, 2019

Every year, we ask some of the brightest in the industry their thoughts and ideas for trends to watch in sports tourism. Although trends come and go, here are few that will likely stay.

1. Jump for rights holders, but not too quickly.

Associations, rights holders and national governing bodies are relocating in a desire to increase resources that often includes financial considerations, a new motivated marketplace, new intellectual capital and organization expansion. In some cases, geographic movement has occurred to aid their athletes and training resources.

For many it’s about finding a thriving culture that allows them to be more successful than their previous location, says Lawrence Hamm, sports development manager for Destination DC. Adds Al Kidd, president and CEO of NASC, “Destinations are becoming more careful about jumping at these opportunities and are spending more time conducting due diligence toward the impact in their markets.”

To lure rights holders to a new place, many destinations are using financial incentives coupled with deeply discounted office spaces, says Jon Schmieder, founder and CEO of the Huddle Up Group. 

2. Continued gold rush for esports.

Think of esports as the wild, wild west, says Linda Logan, executive director of the Greater Columbus Sports Commission.

“Esports is growing faster than any market we’ve seen in the last 10 years,” Hamm adds. He doesn’t see that changing any time soon with events like Red Bull Conquest where regional fighting game champion from 15 cities and online competed at the St. Elizabeths East Entertainment and Sports Arena in D.C.

How much will it affect tourism is still being determined as many of the attendees come from a local drive market, Kidd says.

3. What’s hot (and what’s not)

“It’s a battle between broadcast streaming and live events,” Hamm says. “Events with high participation will continue to succeed even if they aren’t broadcasted or streamed.” His case in point: Mizuno Capitol Hill Volleyball Classic always draws more than 12,000 female athletes.

Female sports, especially volleyball, are big winners, Logan says. Just look at the NCAA Women’s Final Four and championship game that have had consecutive sellouts.

Other upticks include BMX and pickleball.

Thanks to concussions, tackle football is seeing the biggest decline, which leaves the door open for other sports. Also on the slide: golf, thanks to the time it takes to play and financial means to access it.

“With the major decline in tackle football participation, parents and their kids are looking towards other contact sports to fill that void,” says Clay Partain, director of sports market sales for Visit Salt Lake.

That’s made lacrosse a winner. For example, Utah High School Activities Association recently sanctioned lacrosse as an official sport in the state, which Partain says opened the flood gates. In addition to lacrosse, Mike Higgins, director of championships at NAIA, is seeing growth in women’s wrestling, men’s and women’s bowling, weightlifting beach volleyball, archery and men’s volleyball.

Other winners are rugby and hockey.

4. More diverse inclusions.

Look for sports commissions and CVBs to court LGBTQ sporting events more than they have been in the past, say Logan and Partain.

“Salt Lake has fully embraced this, and we are very active in promoting and bidding on events like the National Gay Basketball Association, North American Gay Volleyball Association, National Gay Rodeo Association,” Partain says.

5. Bigger isn’t always better.

On the outs are mega facilities without a roof. Ones with an indoor component will continue to grow, Hamm says, be cause they can host tournaments, expos, on-field experiences and corporate events.

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