Confession time: I love sports, but I'm actually more of a sports facilities enthusiast. When the pitcher starts kicking at the mound, I'm looking at the dirt and trying to figure out what kind of a blend it is. When I hear about a soccer complex, I want to know how many fields are natural and how many are synthetic. And don't even get me started on Olympic facilities. I turn into the most obsessive know-it-all alive. Nobody wants to be around me.
But these days, I'm not alone. A lot more people are caring about sports facilities, and for the right market segment, they're becoming a huge economic driver.
The National Association of Sports Commissions, the professional association for sports industry travel professionals, recently released its Report on the Sports Travel Industry. Sports tourism, which can be defined as the practice of traveling to attend or participate in a sports event, is becoming an increasingly desirable market, and cities are baiting their hooks to try to attract this type of business.
Because sports tourism tends to bring in families, it's a win-win for the cities hosting the events. People stay in hotels, eat in restaurants, buy souvenirs, go sightseeing, pay admission to watch the game or pay registration fees to play their sport, and ultimately, they go home happy. Often, the city gets exposure from media coverage of the event, too.
That means that, increasingly, cities will jockey with one another to be considered as hosts for these events. After all, it's not just a Little League tournament, or a marathon or a wrestling meet, it's a full weekend's worth of income, known as "economic impact" in the lexicon of sports tourism. And to nobody's great surprise, more cities are ramping up their sports facilities - fields, courts and more - in order to be considered for events either regionally or nationally. They know they're not the only ones in the bidding war, and they really want to stand out.
A direct quote from the report:
"Potential hosts need to realize that someone, somewhere, has more fields or courts that are in better condition, or are all located on one site. If one or more of those cities are participating in the bid process, chances are they will be favored."
If a city wants to dive into the market, NASC recommends a facility audit - a survey that can provide an accurate count of how many tournament-quality facilities are available in a given area. Unfortunately for some facility owners, the audit is destined to uncover deferred maintenance and other problems that may keep their facility out of the running - but maybe that's a good thing in that it can spur the owner to spring for upgrades.
For me, the best part of this whole dynamic - even better than improved facilities, even better than more people getting excited about sports and spending money on them - is NASC's note that this burgeoning market is not about competing for the next Olympics. In fact, it's not about expert competition at all:
"Host organizations should never lose sight of the fact that there are more average to below-average teams and athletes (in terms of their playing ability) than their more talented competitors. Regional events tend to draw well because of this fact, plus a shorter drive time. There may even be more time for each team or family to enjoy additional things to see and do before or after the event."
Well, thank goodness someone actually sees not just the truth (the vast majority of people aren't pro athletes) but the upside of it. There's an advantage to not being professionally sponsored and having to dash off to the next tournament. For me, it's the ability to play mini-golf with my friends when the games are done, or hit a fun local restaurant. And that means whether I win or lose, the city I'm in comes out ahead every time.