Magazine Online    The Authority On African-American Conventions, Incentives, & Leisure Travel
Issue: July/August 2014
Cashing in on Sports Tourism
By: Michael Bennett

Sports Tourism is an estimated $600 billion a year industry and growing so fast, its proving difficult to quantify with any degree of certainty.  But for those destinations that embrace sports tourism as an emerging market sector within our industry, it's proven to be a substantial source of travel and tourism dollars and a public relations windfall.

Despite the internal problems widely reported at the FIFA World Cup in Brazil and the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, the long-term financial rewards are substantial when you take into account the public relations value of a well-run event.  There's also return visitor impact and local employment.

Several reports suggest the World Cup added anywhere from $3 to $5 billion to Brazil's GDP and created one million new jobs.  For Brazil, that's just the beginning as they are also the host country for the 2016 Summer Olympics.

According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, several destinations' total sports tourism revenues are as high as 25-percent of all tourist dollars generated.

While the United States is the premiere sports tourist destination, many of our friends and neighbors around the world are creating new opportunities at a rapid pace.

One good example is The Bahamas.  According to The Bahamian Ministry of Tourism office, approximately 85-percent of their visitors come from the United States.  

Seizing on a wonderful opportunity to increase The Bahamian sports tourism brand, the Ministry of Tourism office has formed partnerships with some of America's leading sports entities.  They have deals with the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the HBCUX where they'll play host to the Historic Black College Football Classic between Central State University and Texas Southern University in mid-September, the Miami Heat, the Florida Panthers and NFL Hall of Famer Dan Marino and the Miami Dolphins.

"These partnerships are designed to create, attract and retain signature sporting events and ultimately formulate others," according to The Bahamian Ministry of Tourism.

This past May The Bahamas hosted the IAAF (International Association of Athletic Federation) Relays at Thomas A. Robinson Stadium in Nassau and was featured on ESPN.  This stadium has a seating capacity of 30,000 depending on configuration.

Many Bahamian born athletes have strong ties to the United States, none more so than Mychal Thompson, former Portland Trailblazer and Los Angeles Laker great.  He recently hosted the Mychal "Sweet Bells" Golf Challenge on Grand Bahamas Island.  Thompson is also the color commentator for Los Angeles Laker games and his son Klay plays for the Golden State Warriors.  

For those of us who have had the privilege of listening to Thompson on talk radio in Los Angeles, Thompson's love affair with his home country is contagious.  It is these and other opportunities that are driving Bahamian sports tourism to new heights and they are not afraid to take advantage of their celebrity connections.

Former Los Angeles Laker great Rick Fox is also of Bahamian descent and has been featured in a series of commercials promoting Bahamas tourism.

Before we look a little closer to home, lets define sports tourism.  Sports tourism is travel outside of your local community for either active or passive participation in competitive sport.

Sports tourism can be further broken down into two broad categories.  The first is travel for the purpose of watching a sporting event.  Think about watching the FIFA World Cup in Brazil rather than from the comfort of that big easy chair in your living room.   It typically does not include attending a game of your favorite NFL or NBA team in the city where you reside.  Think of it as bringing outside dollars into a community.

The second sports tourism category is traveling for the purpose of participating in a sports activity.  This doesn't include just professional athletes; this is anyone and everyone from the novice golfer or skier to an Olympian.

We've often heard cities bid astronomical sums of money to host events like the Olympics, World Cup and the Super Bowl.  Those bids must then be followed up in most cases by building infrastructure that costs additional tens of millions of dollars.  Why do cities bid on mammoth events?  It's about long-term recognition, perception and money.

A well-hosted Olympics, Super Bowl or an NBA All Star Game can't be measured in immediate economic impact.  Depending on the destination, the down stream value of such an event might not be known for years.

When South Africa hosted the World Cup back in 2010, one of its primary goals was to change the perception that the country was only a summer time destination.  The games were actually played in the winter (our summer in North America).  This helped reduce the gap between summer and winter tourist arrivals.

Some destinations have what is known as permanent demand drivers - those events held in the same place every year - Wimbledon, The Masters, Tour de France, the Indianapolis 500 and so on.   Not only are these events identified with their respective communities, they are also a sizable sum of revenues for local businesses, that might receive as much as half of their annual revenues from one single event.

The examples above are the professional sporting events and activities.  Lets examine a smaller and equally robust form of sports tourism that doesn't capture global headlines. 

It's the active and passionate non-professional sports enthusiast.  These are the people who have a regular job by day, and participate either actively or passively in some sports tourism activity on nights and weekends.

Within the African-American community many active participation-oriented sports organizations fly under the radar.  As a destination charged with attracting new business, ignoring these organizations is a costly mistake.

How many of you have heard of the National Brotherhood of Skiers (NBS) outside of mentions in this magazine?  If not, here's a little information.  Formed in 1973, this non-profit is one of North America's largest ski organizations.   Their annual Summit is largely recognized by the ski industry as the single largest gathering of skiers.

With 59 clubs and thousands of members across the country, the NBS hits the slopes at resorts all over the world.

The NBS 2015 National Summit is slated for February 21-28, 2015 at Aspen Snowmass in Colorado.  If previous summits are an indication, these skiers will spend $500,000 or more in the Aspen area.  

Have you heard about the National Association of Black Scuba Divers?  This organization, formed in 1991 by Ric Powell and Dr. A. Jose Jones is headquartered in Washington DC and has over 2,000 members.  Their 2014 Summit will be held this November in Cozumel, Mexico.

The National Bowling Association was formed back in 1939 to encourage Blacks to take up the sport when the main bowling congresses had "non-Caucasian" clauses in their bylaws.  As someone who supplemented his income through bowling, this group is near and dear to my heart.

Today the National Bowling Association has over 23,000 members in the United States and Bermuda, with regional tournaments all across the country.  Their national tournament was held this past May in Detroit.

These bowlers have had regional tournaments in Irvine, CA; New Brunswick, NJ; Baton Rouge, LA; and Memphis, TN just to name a few.

The American Tennis Association is approach its 100-year anniversary.  This organization has over 10,000 members and 200 clubs.

There's the National Negro Golf Association.  They recently held a summer tournament in San Diego and will hold their national tournament at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Punta Cana, Dominican Republic in October.

Here are few others that warrant your attention:  The Black Softball Circuit, there's a Black Anglers group, a Black surfers organization, a National Black Marathoners Association and others.  The opportunities to increase your sports tourism revenues within the Black community are endless.

A place that's become synonymous with sports tourism is Indianapolis.  Not only does this city host the annual Indianapolis 500, they will play host to the NCAA Men's Final Four in 2015 and the Woman's Final Four in 2016.  In 2012 they hosted the Super Bowl with gross visitor spending estimated at over $380 million.

Indianapolis also hosts running events, gymnastics, the Olympic Diving Trials in 2016, golf tournaments and rowing championships.  Indianapolis has carved out a sports tourism reputation that's second to none.

We all know about Miami's reputation as a destination city for major sports such as the Super Bowl and the World Golf Championship held at the Doral.

Among Birmingham's top sports tourism attractions are the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame, numerous softball championships and the Talladega SuperSpeedway just outside the city.

Toronto is so dedicated to sports tourism they have a branch within their CVB with a total focus on this niche market.  They are light years ahead of most CVBs in pursuit of this business opportunity.

Cashing in on sports tourism has become a super competitive landscape in recent years.  The positive economic impact and publicity for destinations with great infrastructure already in place is tremendous and long lasting. For those playing catch-up there's no time like the present.