9 Sports Tourism Trends to Watch in 2019

Every year, we ask some of the brightest in the industry their thoughts and ideas for trends to watch in sports tourism. Here's what they see for 2019.

Straight From the Source and 9 sports tourism trends

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.

6. Social cues.

Platforms with immediate commentary and short video snippets—YouTube, Twitter and Instagram—are all doing well, Hamm says.

But the latter two social networks seem to be the most popular. Create separate content for separate audiences. “Twitter is a space for us to engage with our community and keep in tune with what’s going on in our city,” says Logan about its @Columbus_Sports account. The Columbus commission uses Instagram to showcase behind-the-scene views of its personalities—both athletes and staffers—as well as venues, attractions, sports merchandise and events.

7. Create a trifecta.

There’s a continued push for big festival-like events. Why? Longer stays mean bigger spends. “Hospitality, entertainment and sports are all similar businesses and understanding how these components intertwine is key for the longest spend,” Hamm says.

Combining these three elements creates an in-depth experience. Consider how the NHL made the Washington Capitals’ Stanley Cup victory a multi-dimensional event, Hamm says, with pre-performance shows and local businesses offering food and beverage deals with highly visible signage.

8. Big TID movers.

Tourism Improvement Districts are changing the game of sports tourism. “Competition is fierce and TIDs and state incentives are becoming more common,” Logan says.

Oklahoma and Texas both opened the door for TIDs in the past year. Cities in those two states will be big movers in this area when it comes to building tournament-ready sports facilities, Schmieder says. Look for other states like Wisconsin and Illinois to potentially follow. Ohio and Missouri have already passed “super funds” like Texas.

Hamm’s advice: “It’s wise for destinations to make sure they’re telling their entire story regarding why their destination is so attractive and where tourists should be spending their money.”

9. Changes in hotel bookings.

Third-party commission is always top of mind. With the numbers going down and hotels not wanting to pay as much to third parties, the sports tourism industry is watching to see if they go direct.

Some housing companies might prefer to work with hotels that will agree to pay the full 10 percent commission, but often times with larger tournaments there is no choice, Partain says.

“I hope we do not see is a rise in rebates to compensate,” he says. “This only hurts the sports themselves, and the families that participate. It also creates situations where hotels will refuse to participate, which will lead to more lost business opportunities for destinations. We have experienced some of these challenges since the commission adjustment.”

Look for technology’s role in how hotels are booked to have a bigger impact, Schmieder predicts, as the industry moves away from a high touch customer service model to a more automated, trackable, affordable version in the future.