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Why Fans Are Spending More on Sports Travel—and How Destinations Can Capitalize on It

A recent study revealed that nearly one-third of millennials and Gen Zers want to travel to a sporting event this year. It’s the perfect excuse for event profs to roll up their sleeves and think up experiences worthy of paying top dollar.

The Rise of Sports Travel: Why People Are Spending More on Sports, Plus How Destinations Capitalize on It
The USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center’s iconic Honey Deuce cocktail is a prime example of capitalizing on a sporting event---while enhancing the guest experience.
Photo: Courtesy of Grey Goose Vodka

You’ve heard about the business-leisure travel combo, where an uptick in “bleisure” saw corporate employees bringing their family on work trips for the opportunity to squeeze in some R & R. Well, what about hopping on a plane to attend a sporting event? There’s no buzzword to mark the trend, but millennials and Gen Zers, in particular, are doing it more and more these days.

According to a recent American Express study that surveyed more than 7,000 adults, a staggering 67% of millennial and Gen Z respondents—which covers adults between age 28 and 43, and 18 and 27, respectively—said they’re interested in traveling to a sporting event in 2024. By contrast, 58% of all respondents, which includes older generations like Gen Xers and boomers, said they plan on watching live sports outside their home city.

Amex’s study shows “there is a resurgence in the term ‘DINK’ this year,” suspects Rich Tate, vice president of live events at Florida-based audiovisual firm LMG, referring to the acronym that stands for "double income, no kids" or "dual income, no kids." Because the majority of this spending is occurring among fans in their early 40s and younger, “it’s an indicator of more and more younger couples with potentially more discretionary income,” Tate adds.

Meanwhile, Brian Killian, president of event management partner Turnkey based out of Chicago, says the age group of travelers participating in this trend speaks to the power of social media.

“Millennials and Gen Zers are heavily influenced by social media, where experiences are often shared and celebrated,” Killian tells BizBash. But on the other hand, attending a sporting event provides social media-savvy youngsters “with an opportunity to capture memorable moments and share them with their online communities, thus enhancing their social status.”

The Rise of Sports Travel: Why People Are Spending More on Sports, Plus How Destinations Capitalize on ItEvent profs suspect that youngsters have a greater desire to travel to sporting events because they're more likely to be influenced by social media—and also have a greater desire to post on social media.Photo: Shutterstock

Justin W. Ball, president and founder of Denver-based experiential marketing firm Bespoke, points to the X Games in Aspen that took place in January as an example of how millennials and Gen Zers can be influenced by content they see online, but also realize that there’s beauty in the live experience. During the extreme winter sports event, Ball says, many attendees took advantage of “exclusive VIP packages offering behind-the-scenes access, premium amenities, and luxurious accommodations at renowned hotels such as the award-winning Hotel Jerome and the MOLLIE Aspen.”

An “Aprés All Day” activation perched 11,000 feet atop Aspen Mountain also buzzed with attendees in the way a Miami beach club does, Ball says. And all the while, these partygoers were livestreaming the actual sporting event from their phones.

“One thing is certain,” Ball concludes, “the future of sporting event experiences has never been more competitive for the young traveler’s dollar.”

Despite the social media pull, there’s also a cultural significance and experiential value to sporting events that Killian believes is appreciated by younger generations, who are more likely to “prioritize experiences over material possessions” and seek a sense of “camaraderie among attendees.”

Justin W. Ball of Bespoke said that during the X Games in Aspen, many attendees took advantage of “exclusive VIP packages offering behind-the-scenes access, premium amenities, and luxurious accommodations.' Visitors also attended in-person experiences surrounding the extreme winter sports event while watching the actual competition via livestream on their phones.Justin W. Ball of Bespoke said that during the X Games in Aspen, many attendees took advantage of “exclusive VIP packages offering behind-the-scenes access, premium amenities, and luxurious accommodations." Visitors also attended in-person experiences surrounding the extreme winter sports event while watching the actual competition via livestream on their phones.Photo: Shutterstock/Maxim Studio

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Amex also found that top destinations fans plan to travel to include New York, Miami, and Paris as buzz around the 305’s Formula 1 motor race on May 5 revved up—and Paris has long been preparing to welcome the Olympics this summer.

New York City Tourism + Conventions’ chief marketing officer, Nancy Mammana, confirms “there has been a notable increase in young people traveling to New York City to attend sporting events,” attributing the uptick to the “iconic” allure of Madison Square Garden—which welcomes upward of 1 million visitors in any given seven-week period—and Yankee Stadium, as well as the popularity of home teams like the Mets, Rangers, Giants, and Jets. However, the tourism bureau can’t simply rely on the city’s sports culture to draw fans.

In fact, Mammana reveals that a lot goes into not only enhancing the overall fan experience, but also capitalizing on sports travel by partnering with stadiums during travel lulls or even hotels to enhance the overall guest experience in the Big Apple. During the US Open in Queens, for example, New York City Tourism + Conventions encourages “hospitality businesses across the city to create special offerings throughout the tournament, whether it be hotel room packages and lobby activations or expanded cocktail offerings.” That includes the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center’s iconic Honey Deuce cocktail that’s served throughout the tournament, Mammana says.

And Stephane Mercier, general manager of The National Hotel Miami Beach, says that during the F1 Miami race, the 101-key hotel was “excited to flex its creative muscles,” and did so with specialty brunch and pairing menus, a walking tour, and an on-site interactive event.

“Our audience for sports travel is different than, say, an audience for Art Basel, so those interests have to be considered in terms of how much the traveler is willing to spend, the average age group, city of origin, and other demographic factors,” Mercier advises. She adds that the hotel team asks themselves questions like: “Are the main events taking place day or night?” Also, “Are guests more likely to extend their trip pre- or post-event?” Mercier has found that events like F1 are often a type of “bucket list” experience for many attendees, making it more likely that “travelers are saving months in advance.”

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