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Blog: Get a Piece of the Sports Tourism Action

With the new year lurking, I've noticed a bump in the number of prospective members taking guided tours of my athletic club. I love that. It just speaks to the whole dynamic of new beginnings and new goals, and it makes me optimistic for our entire industry.

For a lot of prospective club members, getting in shape is only the first step. Ultimately, many want to tackle a marathon, hike the entire Appalachian Trail or check off some other box on the bucket list. It's one of the reasons sports tourism is a burgeoning market. In fact, it is growing in ways that help round out the other sectors of the hospitality area that have been suffering.

While many people have been cutting back and taking stay-cations, sports tourism is booming. People might hesitate to go out to dinner, but they'll enter a marathon in another city, or pay for their children to go to a cheerleading competition in Hershey or a wrestling meet in Orlando. They're also likely to make a vacation of it, bookending the trip with a few days of fun before and after the sports event.

Chambers of commerce, convention and visitors bureaus and other local tourism organizations are recognizing these trends, and marketing their areas harder than ever, promoting the many sports fields, swimming pools, golf courses, tennis courts, lakes for fishing or water sports - all the things that lure organizers of sports events.

Last spring, I spent some time at the Sports Event Symposium of the National Association of Sports Commissions, the annual convention of sports event travel industry professionals. The meeting was attended by NASC members (whose job it is to attract businesses to their home states, cities and more), and by national governing bodies of various sports - those who had events to organize and who were looking for places to host those events in the years to come.

At one point, I wound up talking with a sports commission official, who told me it was her job to know pretty much everything her area had to offer in terms of athletic facilities.

"If someone says they have a youth basketball tournament, we can tell them all the places that have courts," she said. "Indoor and outdoor, lit and unlit, bleachers, concessions, parking, everything. And we tell them about fun stuff like water parks and things they can do when they're not playing."

Depending on the sport, group size, level of play and budget of the organization putting on the event, she added, the sports commission will market anything from an area's municipal facilities to its high-end pro arenas.

Something else sports commissions like to know about are their local health clubs and college wellness facilities. Those are the places they're going to find competition venues for racquetball and squash, handball, platform tennis and more. (Bulletin: Not all sports events are the Olympics or Wimbledon or the World Cup. Many require more intimate and specialized facilities.) Recently, I spent a weekend watching the Women's Professional Racquetball Organization (WPRO) Tour when it came to my area. It was held at a local racquet club, one with lots of courts, easy access, great sightlines and tons of parking.

From what I've heard, the sports commissions, CVBs and others are always on the lookout for information about facilities they can promote as possible venues for incoming events. Now there's a great New Year's resolution - getting a piece of the sports tourism action.

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