Comparison is Key when Concerning Trends

This past year, the sports industry’s main goal was not rebounding, but looking at past year’s data and comparing when it came to rebuilding. While some say comparison is the main thief of joy, when it comes to sporting events and gatherings, comparison should make all of us ecstatic.

In the 2021 Trends Report, survey responders estimated it would take anywhere from two to five years to fully recover from the pandemic. However, in this year’s survey, multiple responders say they were currently seeing recovery happen before their own eyes—a drastic change from the five-year expectation just one year prior.

While current industry numbers are not as low as 2020 or 2021, the 2022 numbers are set up to rival 2019 numbers. Currently, more than 4000 events have been held this year in its first quarter, which is more than the total of events that were held in the first quarter of 2021.

An anonymous taker of SportsEvents’ host destinations survey says, “we expect to achieve over 120 percent of last year’s figure.” Another responder added in that, “the General Situation of International Sports Industry Experts predict that our industry will become one of the four major industries in the world in the 21st century, with an average annual growth rate of 20 percent.”

While this pertains to all sports, keep in mind that this will trickle down into the youth, amateur, and lesser-known professional sports industry as well.

Tammy Dunn, the executive director of Snohomish County Sports Commission in Washington says when it comes to her CVB, “the number of events we will be hosting in 2022 will be a little more than 2021 and 2019.”

While only time will tell, our industry’s numbers are certainly on the rise in comparison to last year.

Over 88 percent of survey responders says, “we have been hosting events throughout the year, and our next event will be in April and/or May.”

Eighty-eight percent of sports events planners that were surveyed also says COVID-19 was still directly contributing to their numbers in 2021. Since this year’s report is all about comparison, last year, most respondents say they were planning their next event for mid-2021 or even early 2022. When it comes to 2022’s data, only around 75 percent of planners claim COVID-19 as a direct contributor to their numbers. While it is only a difference of 13 percent, it is important to remember that we are still in the first quarter of 2022, so rollover numbers and data can be expected.

Even though we are well on our way to reaching previous numbers, since multiple high schools and teams across the nation ceased all sporting events for two years straight, many athletes unfortunately quit. Since these athletes quit, when it comes to college athletics and recruiting, numbers are hitting an all time low. While the athletes being recruited are still advanced, the level of intensity has dwindled thanks to less conditioning upon return to the field. Since conditioning is a big part of any athletic program, we can expect to see less intense games well into the future to keep athletes safe—which should always be a number one priority across the industry.

Pamela Minix, co-founder and CEO of Lasso Safe, a certification program used by facilities to measure athlete safety when it comes reducing emotional, physical, and sexual abuse says, “these next few years will show a growth in youth sports that we have never seen before. Strongly driven by the NCAA endorsement rules, college athletes have joined the professional’s industry, which trickles down to high school athletes now poised as college students were last year. This is going to bring an influx of marketing and scouting to youth sports like we have never seen before—driving parent-spending and league recognition to new heights too.”

Even though events were put on hold in 2020 and 2021, we are seeing events come back at a rapid rate. Thanks to new technology from a partnership with Sports ETA and EventConnect, those in the industry can see in real time what sporting events have occurred to date in each state. Some states like Texas have held nearly 400 events this year, while other states like South Carolina have only held around 40.

But why such a drastic difference?

For starters, even though these numbers are so far apart, the country as a whole shows an increase in the frequency of events.

Jon Schmieder, founder and CEO of Huddle Up Group (HUG), says, “recovery from the pandemic is happening now around us.”

Schmieder’s statement goes hand in hand with levels of uncertainty decreasing. Since there has been little to no spike in COVID numbers in the last month, while we cannot predict the future, we can estimate and hope for these levels to keep lowering. For further proof, while many events were postponed at the last minute in 2021, this year we are seeing less cancellations signaling a return to being somewhat normal.

It also boils down to certain states having stricter COVID-19 guidelines than others. For example, most Southern states have not had a mask mandate since early 2021, while most Northern and West Coast states are still under a mandate or are under a high recommendation to wear a face covering when entering crowded spaces.

While mask mandates may be different from state to state, 50 percent of all survey respondents says they were still requiring masks at all events. Other common protective measures include temperature checks, social distancing, exposure quarantining, hosting only outdoor events, participation restriction, in-house training of officials/volunteers, and setting up hand sanitizer stations across the venue.

Even though there were a high number of respondents that are still abiding by COVID-19 protocol, nearly 10 percent of planners says they were not abiding by any at all. Whether the number is due to personal beliefs or informed decision making, in 2021, 100 percent of planners were implementing precautions in their events.

Hybrid Events Are Here to Stay

Hybrid options could also be a reason why some planners are not implementing guidelines. Over 43 percent of participants stated they had included a hybrid evet in their 2021 repertoire, and out of those 43 percent, 86 percent will continue to host hybrid events in 2022. As a whole, 100 percent of planners are interested in hosting a hybrid event this year or next. While 71 percent say hosting a hybrid event directly affected their participation numbers in 2021, hybrid event platforms such as Socio, Cvent, and LiveBarn could very well be a main reason for the change.

While some events can not be a hybrid event—unless you get creative—there are plenty that can. For example, Disney Princess Half Marathon officials have recently said they were planning to stay hybrid well into 2023. All types of running events can stay a hybrid staple and may even pave the way for more events to go this route. Other events that could easily be hybrid are spelling bees, dance competitions, cheer competitions, karate, weightlifting, cycling, climbing, gymnastics, and skateboarding. All events would simply require participants to send in a video to be judged before moving onto a state, regional, or national event in person.

Destinations are also hosting online event tours. Over 84 percent of destination survey respondents says their location now offers a virtual tour and site visit. In 2021’s report, only 41 percent of destinations offered a virtual visit. There are multiple reasons for a virtual event tour including: COVID-19 precautions, lower cost, easier to plan, and more. Planners should not be discouraged, however, as building a relationship with a destination does not have to suffer due to a virtual tour. Some virtual tours can even be set up to have a face-to-face meeting afterwards and can save time by only revisiting venues and sites you may be interested in for your next event.

Sustainability Methods Increase After Pandemic

This year’s trends report also saw a very interesting fact; sustainability methods are now one of the most important things when choosing a host destination. In last year’s report, sustainability was voted on as important, but only a few methods were implemented. This year, 93 percent of planners says they are more likely to choose a destination/venue if it is more sustainable than the other options. While sustainability has always been present in venues, due to the pandemic, levels have increased. In the survey for host destinations, 68 percent of respondents says they are now using only locally sourced and/or grown food and beverage options at their venues. Other popular methods of sustainability include getting GBAC STAR Facility Accreditation (measuring facilities’ ability to prepare for, respond to, and recover from infectious disease outbreaks and biohazard situations), using Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) methods, utilizing renewable energy sources, and reducing/eliminating food waste.

Last year, the only methods host destination respondents says they were using included only the GBAC STAR Facility Accreditation and alternative lighting methods such as LED lighting panels or solar based lighting.

What is GBAC STAR Facility Accreditation?

GBAC STAR is the cleaning industry’s only outbreak prevention, response, and recovery accreditation for facilities. This accreditation means that a facility has:

  • Established and maintained a cleaning, disinfection, and infectious disease prevention program to minimize risks associated with infectious agents
  • The proper cleaning protocols, disinfection techniques, and work practices in place to combat biohazards and infectious disease
  • Highly informed cleaning professionals who are trained for outbreak and infectious disease preparation and response

What is the program like?

GBAC STAR is performance-based and designed to help facilities establish a comprehensive system of cleaning, disinfection, and infectious disease prevention for their staff and their building. The program relies on GBAC’s comprehensive training, which teaches the proper protocols, correct disinfection techniques, and cleaning best practices for biohazard situations.

Successful GBAC STAR facilities can demonstrate that correct work practices, procedures, and systems are in place to prepare, respond, and recover from outbreaks and pandemics.

What is the application process for the GBAC STAR Facility Accreditation program?

GBAC STAR is a performance-based program. GBAC offers tools and documentation to assist facilities in developing the competencies, procedures, and protocols that meet accreditation requirements as needed. Those interested should review GBAC’s readiness assessment checklist and recommendations for a successful accreditation before starting an online application. The application completion process will depend on the size and complexity of the organization. GBAC STAR Facility Accreditation is an annual accreditation with a reaccreditation process commencing each year.

Who determines accreditation?

The Accreditation Council is the accrediting body of the program, and the council determines the status of all GBAC STAR facilities. Volunteers are appointed to serve in roles related to the accreditation process.

Patricia (Patty) Olinger, JM, RBP

Certified Forensic Operator, Certified Bio-Forensic Restoration Specialist

Patty Olinger is the executive director for GBAC. Prior to joining GBAC, Olinger was an assistant vice president in the Office of Research Administration and the executive director of the Environmental, Health and Safety Office (EHSO) at Emory University. During Olinger’s 13-year tenure, EHSO had university-wide responsibility for all aspects of environmental, health, and safety support, including EHS compliance support to Emory Healthcare. This included biosafety support to the Emory Serious Communicable Diseases Unit (SCDU), which cared for four Ebola patients in 2014.

Dr. Gavin Macgregor-Skinner BVSc, MSc, MPH, MRCVS

Certified Forensic Operator, Certified Bio-Forensic Restoration Specialist

Dr. Gavin Macgregor-Skinner, senior director of GBAC, has more than 25 years of technical experience in emergency management and infectious disease surveillance and response. A veteran of both the Australian and British militaries, Dr. Macgregor-Skinner has worked with U.S. and international governments, United Nations agencies, and the private sector. He currently serves as an assistant professor in the Department of Public Health Sciences at Penn State College of Medicine. Dr. Macgregor-Skinner has appeared on a variety of national and international news outlets to share his expertise on high consequence pathogens such as coronavirus, Ebola, influenza, and Zika.

Utilizing the Important

One stellar standout when it comes to comparison was the percentage of planners who use a CVB or sports commission.

Last year, only around 70 percent of respondents says using a CVB or sports commission was either very important or important, with the other 30 percent stating they were either not important or did not use one.

This year, 100 percent of planners believe utilizing a CVB is important or very important to their planning structure.

CVBs and sports commissions offer insights on the surrounding areas, making the added value of a tournament increase. Since many tournaments are expanding dates and are even moving towards a multi-weekend outline instead of cramming all games into a few days, down time at any event is now expected instead of rare. Utilizing CVBs and commissions can not only help by telling attendees what restaurants are close or what there is to do, they can also include incentives in the town for athletes and attendees. Some incentives this previous year included 15 percent off a meal at a local restaurant, 10 percent off at a local museum, and 10 percent off at several local boutiques.

In addition to incentives, host destination respondents shared several ways of making their tournaments one to remember. One respondent says they, “created a Snapchat filter for a particular event and also opened up an attraction exclusively for a group/tournament.”

Incorporating a “special something” for each tournament seemed to be a main theme this year. Other responders says they, “hosted an opening ceremony for nearly all of their tournaments this year to make the athletes feel special and excited about sports again.”

Host destinations are also extending their safety measures—and not just when it comes to germs.

Over 100 percent of planners stated in the survey that athlete safety was a large part in why they pick a certain destination over another destination. Recently, several destination/facility programs have been created to protect athletes when it comes to physical/mental abuse, overworking, eating disorders, and more.

Since several cases of athlete abuse have been recently highlighted in the media, planners and destinations are now working together to prevent another situation like the ones discussed nationwide. Programs such as Lasso Safe work with destinations and their facilities to educate them on the signs of athlete abuse, and what to do in case of suspicions it is occurring.

Spreading the Word Changing in 2022

Certain data for websites and partnership reach have changed drastically. Gone are the days of Twitter being number two behind Facebook as relationship building methods prove to reign.

Social media, paid advertising, and conferences are the top three ways planners and destinations claim to work best. When it comes to social media, LinkedIn with 30 percent, Facebook with 20 percent, and YouTube with 15 percent were voted on as the top methods of communication.

Twitter and Instagram, which have both been a top method in previous reports, have now dropped to the lowest success rate alongside Pinterest at 11.5 percent.

So, what does this tell us about the future? Social media is ever-changing. Just 10 years ago in 2012, Instagram had barely just started. Pinterest had only been available for around two years, and Facebook was in the middle of changing user interfaces which made a lot of people delete their accounts.

While we can utilize this information for the time being, keep an eye out for future trends reports, and any other social media apps that may arise. Staying on top of marketing trends are also a big deal. Now that TikTok has taken the world by storm, some destinations and planners have created accounts to market their events. TikTok challenges—which are mainly dances or short videos—have also been implemented by media managers during the event’s duration. The video with the greatest number of likes will win a prize at the end of competition, or even a pizza party for their entire team.

Another main media takeaway is millennial marketing. Now that millennials are becoming parents, it is crucial to change ongoing social media strategies to inform them about tournaments.

Studies show that millennials are mostly on Facebook and Instagram, so having a strong and algorithm friendly marketing strategy is key. Promoting giveaways and posting frequently are just two of many ways that can spread the word about an event and make the algorithm show all of your posts. The more views your post or page get, the more posts will be shown to people. However, stay away from phrases such as like, follow, and share. This commonly used phrase notifies the algorithm and will push it further down the line.

Looking Ahead

As stated earlier, our industry is predicted to grow 120 percent this year from pandemic numbers and continue to grow before becoming a top four industry worldwide.

Based on her research and experience, Dunn mentions how “more event organizers are seeking destinations for their future sports events. These sports events are mainly for the summer and fall seasons for 2022, 2023, and 2024. We have been seeing more event RFPs from various sports event organizers over the last couple of months, which is a good sign that event organizers are planning ahead again.”

When it comes to other facets of sports, what are other things we can look forward too, or keep an eye out for?

New facilities are arriving at a rapid rate. With more facilities comes the need for more tournaments. Schmieder mentions that “facility expansion rates and developments are at an all-time high.”

Gone are the days of one new facility per quarter, now, it is per month, or even per week. Organizations and private donors are committed to our industry, but it is ultimately up to us to raise the numbers. Branching out of “normal tournament territory” will do the trick. This brings back the need for CVBs and sports commissions. When branding out and planning an event for the first time in a new area, make sure to form a good relationship with the staff, as it could be pivotal to the success of the event.

Another anonymous survey responder says that race and gender equality in our industry will be extremely important moving forward.

They write, “we need to keep the focus on addressing the effects of racism and white supremacy in our industry and at our events. We need to bring more people of color into our industry. Also, how can we make our events safer for BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, and other people from marginalized communities?”

It is up to us to make this industry a safe place for all with no discrimination. Youth and amateur sports are there to be an outlet for all, not an outlet for some. Due to the lack of industry advocacy for these individuals, people who believe they are being treated less than equal are expected to drop out of sports altogether.

Another statement written in the report was, “the anti-Trans bills around the country and the lack of industry advocacy against them are very concerning. We’re a LGBTQIA+ friendly sport and these bills have a direct impact of the safety of our participants at events.”

Again, it is vital to protect all athletes in this industry.

In other news, destinations and planners are looking to team up to bring “not-so-common” sports to new areas for the first time. Several destinations and planners noted they are bringing sports such as quidditch, badminton, Esports, fencing, dodgeball, cornhole, roller derby, and pickleball to their venues for the first time in 2022. These events will not only increase the popularity of the sport but will also grow numbers moving forward. Several destinations also say they are hosting more basketball tournaments than ever this year. Basketball tournaments such as HoopSeen’s Best of the South and the recent record-breaking Minnesota youth tournament have inspired many planners and facilities to increase the number of events.

Also adding to tournament and event growth is the fact that more teams and families are willing to travel to sports tournaments and stay for a few days—increasing the number of participants and teams in each tournament.

Sporting events that were also postponed in 2020 and 2021 are also making their grand return. The Lake Stevens Regatta and the TriMonroe Triathlon both in Washington are two out of hundreds of events that will be met with applause upon return.

All in all, we can expect industry numbers to be closer in comparison to 2019’s numbers than 2020’s and 2021’s signaling a triumphant return after two years “in-the-hole.” If we keep pushing and moving forward, in 2023 our industry could possibly eclipse 2019’s numbers. This is a very exciting time for the industry, and everyone should be proud of the work they have been/are doing to make 2022 the best it can be for all sports players, fans, and workers nationwide. While comparison is not always a good idea, it is vital in remembering where we were, what happened to us, and what continues to lie ahead of us.