Top 10 Sports Tourism Trends for 2024

From site selection to experience enhancing, we look at the top trends in sports tourism.

Top 10 Sports Tourism Trends for 2024

The trends in sports tourism for 2024 highlight a diverse and evolving landscape, catering to a wide range of interests and leveraging the latest technological advancements. Here, we take our annual look at the lay of the land.

Emphasis on Experience: Participants travel to play in the games, but any athlete will tell you there is much more to tournaments than what happens inside the lines. Sports planners are seemingly doing a better job at recognizing this fact by building on downtime for teambuilding activities and securing locations that provide enhanced opportunities. “My memories are at the hotels and restaurants, and traveling to the cities and having these awesome experiences that weren't always on the court,” recalls Team Travel Source Chief Experience Office Ainsley Harris, who was a top volleyball player in her youth. 

Common itinerary items, particularly among high school students, include stops at universities and Halls of Fame to get a better sense of what awaits them in the future, says Steve Goris, senior vice president of KemperSports Venues. “I don't think the experience has to be tied to more of the you know, traditional vacation amenities like ziplining, etc. I just think it needs to be tied to a diverse set of entertainment opportunities that are different from what they would experience in their hometowns,” he said.

Focus on Families: There's a notable division among sports tourists between those actively participating in sports, those attending events, and recreational athletes seeking to include sports activities during their vacations. Just as the athletes are being more purposely driven to activities before and after games, parents, siblings, and other family members are being treated as more than simply “heads in beds” by savvy destinations, says “We look at tourism as a gateway to the county,” says J.C. Poma, executive director of sports, visitation, and entertainment for Chesterfield County, Va. “Heads in beds is a funding mechanism. It completes the model.”

The end game for CVBs and sports commissions is obvious: Make the case for families to return, regardless if a competition is at the center of a trip.

Sports as Marketing: Many destinations are owning their passion for sports as a way to recruit tournament planners and athletes. Visit Hattiesburg, Miss., says its “Baseburg” campaign–including a World Series advertisement–is a smashing success for the community once best known for its public arts. “Everybody is searching for that authentic experience that helps you be part of something bigger than who you are,” says Visit Hattiesburg CEO Marlo Dorsey. “We have a collective ambition to really position Hattiesburg as something very special.”

Girls Sports Step Up: The most eye-popping numbers in sports tourism are coming from the women’s side, particularly in volleyball. The University of Nebraska vs. Omaha game in Lincoln drew national headlines when more than 92,000 fans attended. Two weeks after that game, Marquette and Wisconsin set an NCAA regular season indoor attendance record (17,037) during a match at Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee. The trend continued at the women’s Final Four in Tampa, Fl., in December: the national semifinals between Nebraska-Pitt and Wisconsin-Texas at Amalie broke the indoor record at 19,598 and the record then fell again during the national championship with 19,727 in attendance to watch Texas sweep Nebraska. USA Volleyball Director of Events Kristy Cox adds that the NCAA’s decision to move the championship to a Sunday also meant a larger TV audience. Cox adds such big numbers are representative of a larger movement. 

“I think that it's a lifetime sport and once girls get exposed to it and boys get exposed to it, they just love it,” says Cox. “ I think that they're getting exposed at a younger age now. Everybody's working really hard on the grassroots movement of getting it out there in the form of clinics so that they can get a taste for it. I also feel like everybody's doing a really, really good job with all our junior clubs.”

Overseas Influx?: There is a growing appetite for more than traditional American favorites. Rugby has an opportunity to find a niche with the buildup to the men’s and women’s World Cups coming to the U.S. in 2031 and 2023, respectively. “This is going to be our springboard for our development as a sport, not only in terms of huge numbers and people watching, but in terms of our competitiveness at the national team level,” predicts Brandy Medran, USA Rugby’s general manager of commercial and events. Another internationally adored game with a chance to make a move in the States is cricket, which won a spot in the 2028 Summer Games in Los Angeles. If the U.S. fields a competitive team, there will be a lot of chirping for more leagues and tournaments.

The Paris Effect: Leap years make NGBs jump for joy as the Summer Games put the spotlight on sports not necessarily in the spotlight otherwise. How will rock climbing and break dancing capitalize the upcoming exposure? This will certainly be a pivotal year to recruit new athletes to sports in an era with so many options.

Data Driven: While sports emphasize statistics, sports tourism is still playing catch up with data-driven decisions. Greater reliance on technology is important across all fields of sports tourism, says Mike Hill, vice president of sales and business development at GroupHousing Travel. “Certain housing companies lack real-time technology, leaving them blind to current housing situations,” he warns. Participants and families need information distributed quickly and accurately or the entire experience could be derailed.

Don’t Call It a Fad: Pickleball is certainly having a moment with the opening of Rhythm & Rally in Macon, Ga., the sport’s largest indoor venue. USA Pickleball is also moving its headquarters to Pure Pickleball, a massive new facility coming to Scottsdale, Az. “We’re busting at the seams,” says Jose Moreno, the NGB’s chief marketing and strategy officer. “We’re growing like crazy.”

The Game’s Afoot: Beyond the huge ratings both the NFL and college football get, flag football is arguably the world’s fastest growing sport. It, too, is headed to the 2028 Summer Games, which will only feed the passion–particularly among women, whether they are Swifties or not.

Eight states, including Arizona, New York, Georgia, and Florida, have already made flag football a varsity high school sport. Hundreds of intramural teams compete at a high level on college campuses, which leads Izell Reese, CEO of RCX Sports and executive director of NFL FLAG, to believe major conferences could jump in within the next year. The Summer Games could end up being a similar catalyst for the women’s game, just as has occurred with women’s college and professional basketball.

To say the least, Reese is high on the sport’s global prospects. “The playbook is already there,” he says. “Now, we’re going to see how we replicate what we’ve done in the U.S.”

World Cup Site Selection: Last but not least, the biggest sports tourism news this year could be when FIFA announces where the 2026 World Cup quarterfinals and beyond will take place. The cities chosen in 2022 are certainly anxious awaiting the decisions, each with different goals. No destinations are shooting higher than Dallas and New York, the favorites to host the championship.