By: Eric B. Hansen, AIA, ISHC
I recently attended the National Association of Sports Commissions 25th Annual Symposium in Sacramento California. The event brought sports authorities and event rights holders together in an atmosphere of congenial interaction for education and advancement of the sports travel industry. Hotel & Leisure Advisors is an allied member of the NASC and provides our clients (private developers, hotel chains, lenders, and municipal jurisdictions) with feasibility analyses, appraisals, and economic impact studies for various sports venues, hotels, and leisure attractions throughout the U.S. The following are some key take-aways, salient points, and trends occurring in the sports travel industry.
- State of the Industry: The sports travel industry is a $10.47 billion industry with visitor spending increasing 10% over last year, and up 26% since 2012. The average sports commission hosts 53 events per year. Emerging trends within the industry include increased health and wellness initiatives, the shift toward digital communications, and the increase in event ownership by local communities.
- Health and wellness initiatives are realized through the development of community engagement opportunities when events come to town. Recognizing increased levels of physical inactivity, and providing local assistance to under-served community youth, are becoming methods for communities to differentiate themselves in the industry. Community engagement programs during sporting events are becoming commonplace.
- The shift toward digital communications advances the industry through various technologies. Opportunities for growth exist in the digital space. Live-event streaming, digital access and marketing platforms within an ever-changing sports environment continue to keep the industry relevant. Social media tools are well-ingrained into the sports travel industry.
- Communities seeking to grow revenues from sport events are becoming event rights holders themselves. Whether it is an endurance event (5k, 10k, marathon), a community sport camp, or hosting a weekend tournament, the grassroots efforts of organizations to create sustainable events helps fill the annual calendar and assists with destination branding. A secondary trend is for a community to “add on” complementary events to existing events creating extended presence within the area for out of town athletes. With communities becoming event rights holders, more dollars are retained in the community increasing economic impact.
- Opportunities for growth in the sports travel industry are found through increased visitor spending, innovative use of social media, and local event ownership. Growth in these three areas is expected to continue into the foreseeable future.
- According to the Sports Industry Fitness Association (SFIA) nationwide physical inactivity is increasing as overall core participation in team sports is declining. The key buzzword is “specialization” and it has a detrimental affect not only on youth athletes, but their families as well. The industry baseline metric is now at less than two sports per player, and this figure is continuing to decline. Specialization means children are playing a single sport (specializing) during the entire year, and foregoing opportunity to play in other sports and activities. Children are starting younger and specializing sooner. Thus, other sports are not being considered and athletes wanting to try a new sport (say at age 10) do not find the same opportunities as those kids that have been involved in the sport since they were six. This results in reduced participation. Participation is further reduced when only a limited number of players are allowed to play for the high school team. The industry needs to work on creating more opportunities for people to participate in a variety of sport activities for a longer period of time.
- The SFIA collects data from 118 different sports. Niche sports are those sports that are highly specialized and played by a select demographic (smaller populations). They are in contrast to traditional sports. The fastest growing niche sports are: 7 v 7 football, field hockey, rugby, and pickleball. The fastest growing sport (representing a year-over-year participation increase of 116%) is Stand Up Paddling or SUP. Adventure Racing (Spartan Race, Tough Mudder, etc.) is the second fastest growing sport. The fastest growing team sports remain Basketball, Baseball, and Outdoor Soccer, although core participation is down.
- Legislatively, the NASC and the industry support a federal bill known as the PHIT Act. The PHIT Act or the Personal Health Investment Today Act will allow individuals to use pre-tax medical accounts such as an HSA to pay for physical activity expenses. The intention is to increase physical activity and health of Americans, while reducing medical expenses. The bill is currently in the House Ways and Means Committee.
Other topics that were discussed include stay to play policies, ever-increasing hotel rebates and commissions, family time-poverty, sports as vacation, and various social and political issues within the industry i.e. bathroom bills, drone bills, open carry bills, etc. Hotel & Leisure Advisors maintains its knowledge of the latest trends in the sports travel industry in order to continue to credibly serve our clients with the latest information for our feasibility and market analyses.