Game Changer: Sports Events Emerge as Key Business Segment for Destinations Industry

By Selena Chavis

In recent years, the potential of the sports events market has garnered notable attention from destination marketing groups, carving out a respectable, sustainable niche. While meetings and events are rebounding across the board following a few turbulent, lean years, the sports events industry has maintained a strong, steady presence, propelling its way across a recession-ridden landscape with few roadblocks while other market segments faltered.

Sustained Market GrowthScreen Shot 2015-09-23 at 1.52.48 PM

“While corporate meetings shrunk during the recent downturn of the economy, sports events grew,” said Christine Simmons, director of operations for USA Fencing, who predicted that the sports industry will continue its current growth trajectory as parents increasingly support sports activities for their children. “I think the meetings and events industry finally sees sports as a stable and growing piece of business.”

Statistics suggest a healthy outlook for the sports market. The 2014 State of the Industry report sponsored by the National Association of Sports Commissions reports year-over-year growth with visitor spending up three percent in 2014 ($8.96 billion) over 2013. Total visitors entertained in 2014 equaled 25.65 million.

According to Nicole Seltzer, director of convention center sales with the Memphis Cook Convention Center (MCCC), destination-marketing strategies aimed at sports are paying off well. “Since 2012, we have almost tripled the number of sports events in the building,” she said. “I now have a sales manager here who focuses on sports events and works in tandem with the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau’s Vice President of Sports.”

MCCC has hosted everything from gymnastics tournaments and dance competitions to volleyball and basketball tournaments and fencing. “These events are integral in rounding out our convention calendar for the year,” Seltzer said. “Those gymnastics and dance competitions fill in weekend holes.”

A group sales manager for the sports market was also recently hired by the Von Braun Center in Huntsville, Ala., Marie Arighi, CHSP, CMP, director of sales and marketing with the facility, further confirmed the growing importance of the sports market noting that sports events round out the facility’s “government and corporate business nicely since that market is during the week.”

Simmons pointed out that she has certainly seen an uptick in the outreach efforts by destinations, increasing competition between cities to win bids and improving the outlook for event planners. Robin North, vice president of sales and services with the Macon-Bibb County Convention and Visitors Bureau, pointed out that while sports was once considered “filler” between other business groups, “the sports market has become an economic driver in its own right” for hotels, restaurants and local services.

Appealing To Families

Screen Shot 2015-09-23 at 1.43.36 PMDestinations that provide solid sports infrastructures and packages that appeal to families can expect to be better positioned for attracting sports groups going forward, suggested James Linderholm with the Alabama-based Huntsville Gymnastics Center, as families are increasingly looking to combine sports travel with vacations.

“The scheduling of the event must leave time for the family to undertake some other activities together – more than just going out for a meal,” he explained. “Hotels need to be family-friendly, and shops and restaurants ideally should be very close by and higher-end.”

Hosting sports events can be more complex on some fronts than other types of events and destinations need to be skilled in understanding the nuances, North emphasized. “Like most groups, sports events have their peculiarities. They typically have a good idea of their needs for their participants but not as strong an idea of their spectator base,” she said. “That means we have to be more aware about the timing of the booking to make sure there are adequate hotel rooms available.”

Additionally, North pointed out that there is often a sponsorship requirement or participation in a bid fee that is not encountered with convention groups. “For a destination, that means being diligent in verifying the historic economic impact of the group and forecast- ing future economic impact realistically,” she emphasized.

Regardless of the effort, there are definitely more pros than cons to working with sports groups, according to Seltzer.

You can view the full digital version of this month’s ConventionSouth Magazine market segment feature HERE.

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