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Sports Tourism Trends for 2024 “Lead OR Follow”

This week's Monday Huddle Up is our annual Sports Planning Guide Trends article. Thanks to Jeff Gayduk and his team for their ongoing partnership. If you want to see a digital version of the entire guide, visit sportsplanningguide.com. We hope you enjoy our top trends to watch for 2024.

With the pandemic in our rear view mirror, sports tourism has garnered a bigger seat at the proverbial tourism table the past few years.  Given the positive impact sports had on the overall tourism marketplace during those challenging times, destinations now realize that what we have been saying for decades is actually true….. 


Sports tourism is immune to nearly every negative thing our country could encounter. 


No matter what challenges we have, we are never going to cheat our kids out of the chance to compete.  So while meetings and conventions are still trying to recover, the sports tourism industry is thriving above all other tourism sectors. 


For our ninth edition of the Sports Planning Guide trends article, our team at Huddle Up Group looked back at the past year to craft and share the trends to look for in 2024 and beyond.  Without further ado, we offer you the top 10 trends we are closely following as we move into the new year.

 

  1. Leadership – Impactful DMOs and sports commissions are leading the facility development conversation in their communities.   This is especially true from a planning and funding perspective.  If you want tourism driving facility assets developed, the tourism community needs to take the reins.

  2. Tourism Improvement Districts (TIDs) – This is a tool that many of the destinations we work with are putting in place to help develop tourism driving sports facilities (and convention centers as well).  Hotels assess themselves some amount (usually 2%) to use for the specific purpose the TID was created for, which is usually some mix of business development and facility creation.  This is worth exploring at the state and local levels for destinations of all sizes.

  3. Saturation – When asked about when the facility arms race will end, we used to say, “Not in our lifetimes.”  The data now says that we are on the brink of overbuilding diamond and flat field facilities.  We are approaching a level where there are more major tourism ready venues of these types than there are events to populate them.  Definitely worth watching.

  4. Highest Best Use – The three biggest parks/city trends we see across the country on the facility side are: (1) get pools off our books, (2) get golf courses off our books, and convert tennis courts to pickleball.  The theme here is what is our highest and best use of the real estate and facilities we have?

  5. Overflow – Our country is about to host two of the largest events the world has to offer (World Cup and the Olympics).  You may say, “Our destination isn’t in the mega events game.”  However, the spillover of these major events offer opportunities for international visitation for communities both large and small.

  6. Esports – It’s still the wild wild west.  While it’s a trend to monitor here, we are still looking for one entity (or two) to take the lead on the rights holder side and be able to prove to the destinations what their true impact is or can be.

  7. Expanding Scope – The skills to help put on a sporting event are not that different from producing a festival or special event.  Many of our destination partners are adding special events to the job description of the staff responsible for sports tourism.

  8. Leisure Sports – Somewhat of a carryover from last year, silent sports are booming (canoe, kayak, paddleboard, archery, cycling, hiking, etc.).  Many of the destinations we serve are asking about how they look to promote their natural assets in addition to their sports complexes, specifically for leisure (non-competition) travelers.

  9. Data – There has never been more research and data specific to the sports tourism industry than there is today.  Those that lean into it will be able to make intentional and intelligent decisions on where they invest their time and money.

  10. The West – Las Vegas is now able to host NCAA events.  There is new leadership in Phoenix with a great sports background.  California has formed a state sports coalition.  Salt Lake is doubling down on professional sports and also amateur competitions.  Medford (OR) is opening two new facilities on the heels of Spokane’s successful launch of the Podium.  Western destinations are upping their game.  We see some major growth in the market share destinations near the left coast will capture in the future.


Sports tourism entities, be they DMOs, CVBs, or sports commissions, are taking a much larger role in leading the communities they serve through sport.  Those that take the reins and lead, have a much better chance of positively impacting their destinations than those that follow.

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