The rapid rise in sports tourism has many sports marketing professionals and destination marketing organizations feeling like spectators on the sidelines. Most feel understaffed or ill-equipped to take full advantage of the economic impact opportunities offered by tournaments and events.

If you are responsible for community recreation centers, sports facilities or other sports assets, chances are good you are very busy — perhaps too busy to take advantage of many of the ideas and opportunities that cross your desk. You may also struggle to make ends meet with your current budget, let alone obtain the funding for the additional personnel and marketing required for your community to gain entry into the sports tourism market.

And yet, most parks and recreation directors and sports complex operators have the added political or community pressure of "onlookers" who travel to other communities for tournaments only to return from such events asking, "Why can't we do that?"

It would be nice to be able to say, "We are doing that!"

The answer to the question "Why can't we do that?" boils down to six key factors that must be addressed for communities to make major strides forward in the highly competitive sports tourism business. Each of these factors can further be broken down into three critical aspects that will determine what challenges need to be addressed to bring a facility in line with others in the sports tourism business.

The Sports Tourism Success Factors Matrix was designed by The Sports Facilities Advisory (SFA) to bring clarity to the factors that hinder optimal performance of sports and recreation facilities. Once an organization identifies which aspects of its program are lacking, the next step is to ask whether the shortcomings are due to planning, funding or management. The matrix is a simple tool that often results in the realization that multiple factors and issues are at play. This template has been used to help numerous communities create plans, acquire funding and establish management teams and systems.

In Gatlinburg, Tenn., city officials observed a number of other communities that were taking advantage of sports tourism opportunities, leading them to wonder, "Why can't we do that?" City officials partnered with Sevier County Economic Development and set out to investigate their options.

When Gatlinburg's situation was analyzed, multiple advantages were identified. These included the city's proximity to major markets such as Charlotte, Atlanta and Chicago, along with its existing tourism infrastructure of hotels, dining and recreation, which already drew 12 million annual visitors. Even with these key advantages, multiple issues preventing the city from leveraging them also were identified. The community invested in a feasibility study, a program plan, funding documents and a management program, resulting in the recently completed 80-acre sports tourism destination Rocky Top Sports World. With seven synthetic turf fields and a 90,000-square-foot multipurpose facility, the complex was able to book events that will draw 40,000 visitors in its first year, making it a significant player in the sports tourism industry.

So, what to do next? If, like most communities, you have identified a number of areas to improve, the next step is to develop a team or committee and a management plan, or to bring in advisors to assist you in addressing these key issues. It truly starts with vision and strategy. A compelling vision and well-researched plan, coupled with the identification of key stakeholders who can actually effect action and political buy-in, will be the first critical steps that can eventually lead to a groundbreaking and grand opening.


Dev Pathik is founder and CEO of The Sports Facilities Advisory and an expert strategist for Fortune 500 companies, universities, governments, sports tourism councils, CVBs and other public entities. This article appeared in the August 2014 issue of Athletic Business titled, "Why Can't We Do That?"