We were recently invited to Virginia Beach to deliver a one-hour keynote speech on the national sports tourism landscape. Our audience was made up of largely hospitality industry representatives from the region, along with several elected officials, area attractions, and sports organization leaders. The presentation included the top ten trends we see in the marketplace today, as well as several “worst practices” relating to destination marketing in sports tourism. Finally, we talked about the primary characteristics destinations can emphasize in order to deliver superior customer service to sports groups.
The session was very interactive, including a lengthy question and answer period. The most lively portion of the back and forth between speaker and audience was about the future of their destination. What areas did we feel they could exploit in the future? What sports would be hot commodities in the coming years? Our answer was simple, but also complicated.....The only constant in the sports tourism and events world today is – CHANGE.
Sports organizations, whether a host community, rights holder, or a National Governing Body, need to be on the lookout for opportunities that today may not exist. The sports market we know today will be different tomorrow. How different? It’s hard for anyone to predict the future, however here are some examples of things that have changed in our industry over the past ten years:
- If you correctly predicted that Quidditch would become an actual sport, complete with an international and national governing body, go to the head of the class. Founded in 2010, US Quidditch has over 4,000 members and conducts a nine event national tournament series. Thanks Harry Potter!
- E-gaming is exploding across the world. Major brands such as Turner Broadcasting are investing hundreds of millions of dollars into this emerging market. Is it a game or a sport you ask? ESPN is dedicating time on its various platforms to cover E-sports, including broadcasting live tournament play.
- There are over a dozen specialty runs or dashes that didn’t exist seven years ago (Color Run, Diva Dash, Color Vibe, etc.). Founded in 2012, Color Vibe conducts over 300 races per year totaling more than 1,000,000 participants since its inception. In the hyper competitive culture that we live in today, when did untimed social races become so popular?
- In addition to the more social running events, an entire industry of obstacle course races has emerged since 2005 (Warrior Dash, Spartan Race, Mud Run et al). In 2014, Shark Tank investor Mark Cuban purchased 25% of the Rugged Maniac Race Series for $1.75 million, giving the franchise a $7 million valuation. Not bad for a company that was only founded four years prior.
- One of our past clients hosts the US National Kubb Championships each year. The 2016 edition is nearly sold out with 128 teams competing from all around the globe. Never heard of it? Check out www.usakubb.org.
- USA Pickleball is a member of the Association of Chief Executives of Sport (ACES), which is largely made up of Olympic and Pan American member sports. Pickleball is also one of the fastest growing sports in the country. USA Pickleball’s membership has more than quadrupled in the past three years. Could we one day see Pickleball players going for the Gold?
Add to these examples more emerging sports like cornhole, longboarding, dragon boat racing, and ultimate and the point is easily made – the only guarantee for the future is continual change. So what does this mean for us as sports industry leaders? We recommend three tactics for dealing with change:
1. Talk about it. All the time. Make time for discussing change on meeting agendas. Ask people for their independent viewpoint on the work of your organization. That crazy guy in accounting may have an interesting thought to share, we just need to ask.
2. Engage outsiders. Just like cross training in different sports, bring people to the table that are from other (non-sports) disciplines than yours. They will have a unique perspective on the world, and most likely on your business as well.
3. Put someone in charge. When a new concept comes to light, we must empower change agents to follow through on them. That means giving them the time and budget to make something great happen.
Author, speaker, and leadership expert John C. Maxwell once said, “Change is inevitable. Growth is optional.” So how will you handle change? Wait for it, or create it?