Sports Tourism Matters

By Sherri Middleton, Executive Editor of SportsEvents Magazine

In May, VISIT Milwaukee released its final data from the Wisconsin Department of Tourism indicating strong growth in the tourism market for 2019.

Direct visitor spending totaled $2.2 billion.

The West Michigan Sports Commission (WMSC) announced that they had hosted the most youth and amateur sporting events in a single year in the organizations’ history with 99 events in 2019 and 230,282 athletes and visitors generating $54.3 million in direct visitor spending and a record 50,245 hotel room nights in the region.

In Erie, Pa., the 2019 Mid-Atlantic Broomball tournament was held over three days with 150 players from Pittsburg, Baltimore, Minnesota, Washington D.C., New York, New Jersey, Indiana and Ohio in November 2019.

Erie also announced that Champion Cheer Central was named the 2019 event series of the year for the second consecutive year. Their events in 2019 boasted an economic impact of $2.3 million — up from $1.3 million in 2018.

It is a sobering look at where we were last year and the path we were on in this booming industry.

The Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) also reported that the sports and fitness industry performed well in 2019 in its annual State of the Industry Report.

In 2019, the industry grew 3.9 percent in one year, representing the largest annual growth in 17 years.

The SFIA report consolidates data and analysis on product sales, industry trends and sports and fitness participation rates.

“Given the dramatic downturn so many in our industry are currently experiencing, it’s a bit challenging to highlight last year’s healthy performance; but the pre-COVID evidence should give companies encouragement that the sports and fitness industry was strong, sustainable and central to the American way of life before the pandemic, and should return to vitality as we recover,” said Tom Cove, president and CEO of SFIA. “Now more than ever, Americans’ health is top priority and being physically active is key for every individual, family and community. Our industry can be part of the long-term solution in inspiring and facilitating the country to be active and healthy.”

The fitness category excelled, with increased participation in nearly every measured subset. Dance, step and other choreographed exercise to music (7.0 percent); aquatic exercise (6.4 percent); rowing machine (5.9 percent); treadmill (5.7 percent) and yoga (5.0 percent) represented the greatest year-over-year growth. Institutional fitness equipment and consumer fitness product sales grew 3.8 percent and 3.1 percent respectively.

Team sports participation also increased. The growth in the category overall is attributed to traditional sports attracting more participants in 2019, namely basketball (2.9 percent), outdoor soccer (4.5 percent), flag football (3.2 percent) and volleyball (2.7 percent). While these mainstream sports drove total category growth, the research found only fewer than half of the 23 team sports measured increased participation.

The report examines industry trends around consumer behavior, inventory management, technology investments and the impact of increasing tariffs on sourcing decisions.

And most recently the Sports Events and Tourism Association (Sports ETA) released its State of the Industry Report that found that U.S. sports travelers, event organizers and venues spent a total of $45.1 billion in 2019, an increase of more than five percent from 2018. 

The study presents data quantifying the value of sports-related travel in the U.S. Conducted by Tourism Economics, an Oxford Economics company, the report incorporates data from Sports ETA with Longwoods International Travel Survey Data, Bureau of Economic Analysis and Labor Statistics data, U.S. Travel Association data and NCAA and annual sports attendance figures.

“This industry study will set a benchmark for the sports-related travel industry to use as we plan for a post-COVID-19 environment and sports-related travel returns,” said Al Kidd, president and CEO of Sports ETA. “While 2020s numbers will be severely affected by the pandemic, we expect the industry to bounce back once sports are able to resume.”

The report indicates $103.3 billion in direct, indirect and induced business sales, according to the 2019 State of the Sports Tourism Industry Report. The survey found that nearly 180 million people traveled to a U.S. sporting event in 2019, either as a spectator or participant. The sports tourism industry generated nearly 740,000 jobs over the year, including 410,000 direct and 328,000 indirect jobs.

Additional findings of the report found that sports tourism generated $14.6 billion in tax revenues in 2019 and the number of sports travelers grew two percent from the prior year. The number of people traveling to sports events in the United States has increased by more than 10 million since 2015.

Overnight sports travelers grew to 96.4 million in 2019, an increase of 1.4 million from the previous year and those travelers, event organizers and venues spent $12.5 billion on transportation, $9.2 billion on lodging and $8.6 billion on food and beverages.

Approximately 54 percent of all sports travelers spent the night in the destination.

“Sports generate substantial economic impacts to destinations across the United States,” said Adam Sacks, president of Tourism Economics, an Oxford Economics Company. “As a result, the recovery of sports-related travel will be an important driver of the economic recovery in the coming year.”

The report also analyzed the impact of the COVID-19 shutdown on sports travel. In March 2020, nearly 10 million fewer people traveled to participate in or watch a sporting event compared to the previous year, resulting in a loss of $2.5 billion in direct spending.

The report estimates that 75 million fewer people are expected to travel to sporting events from March to December 2020 compared to 2019, resulting in a loss of $20 billion in direct spending in 2020.

What we know as an industry seems to be lost on the economy and our government.

Sports and travel have a significant impact on the market, and we drive money through sales, taxes, hotel room nights, food and dining and entertainment like no other industry.

Our industry has been ignored while other industries are receiving an influx of cash and bailouts.

We need to join the fight to ask that our government recognizes the contribution the sports and travel industry creates for the U.S. economy.

I’m grateful to Sports ETA for investing in data that paints a broad stroke on the impact sports events have on our economy.

We know sports and tourism matters. Now we have solid data that shows others just how much this industry drives the economy through employment, hotel stays, dining and entertainment, travel and taxes.