Last year, a consultant on youth sports facilities development named Dev Pathik explained to reporter Jon Frankel that $9 billion is spent per year on youth sports travel. Pathik went on to say that this number is growing by 20 percent annually.
Team travel is a growing business, with cities across the country racing to become travel destinations. Major cities are booming from sports tourism. Cities are Investing in stadiums, programs and multi-sport complexes with the hope of increase revenue and even exceeding expectations.
Promoting sports and getting money into the community is a worthwhile project to many public and private investors.
Youth Sports Tourism
The Name of the Game
With youth competitions evolving to resemble professional leagues, travel has become an integral part of youth sports today. Families and friend are willing to make the trip to see their young competitors. Because of this some cities are becoming tournament hot spots throughout the year.
“Tourna-cations” – tournament vacations – are a rising trend, a new phenomenon of the recent age of young athletes.
The cover story in last September’s issue of Time magazine cites the U.S. youth-sports economy as a $15 billion market, with 55 percent growth since 2010, according to WinterGreen Research, a private firm that tracks the industry.
The evolution of the industry can be traced to the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, a 220-acre site that opened in 1997 on the grounds of Orlando’s Disney World and provided an all-in-one tournament, hotel and theme park experience.
The ESPN Wide World of Sports
Opened in March 1997, the alternative Disney theme park launched what would become a huge industry boom. By consolidating many sports into one complex, they were be able to invite all athletes from all over the world. With 230 acres of professionally run, state-of-the-art facilities, they are able to host 65 sports and thousands of events for athletes of all ages and distinct abilities. They offer their own training camps and can provide lodging, food and other accommodating services throughout the experience.
In addition, Disney can offer entertainment for the whole family at the rest of the theme park. The fun is centralized and is able to attract larger and more diverse crowds of families and young athletes.
Cities have looked to this model to reinvent themselves as destinations for vacation and tournaments alike.
Tourna-cations and the Communities:
The effect of this transformation in youth sports can be felt in many towns. Team travel has become a major boon to the local economy. Visits to restaurants and hotels from families in town to spectate are common and feed into the local economy. Not trying to compete with Disney, communities have found their own way to attract visitors.
One such community is Gatlinburg, Tennessee. They have constructed a $20 million athletic complex, featuring seven fields, six basketball courts, 12 volleyball courts, team rooms, and an onsite grill. Rocky Top Sports World delivered a $35 million economic impact to Sevier County during the 2016-2017 season.
Westfield, Indiana is another such community currently benefiting from the rise in the tourna-cation trend. The community of 30,000 opened a 400-acre, $49 million sports complex in 2014. The largest publicly funded complex of its kind at the time has exceeded revenue expectations. It brought in 1.5 million total visitors in 2016, which translated into approximately 60,000 hotel night stays and $162.6 million into the area’s coffers.
The Sports Travel Industry is able to convert public money into an investment towards the community. Development comes through the attraction of reinvention and tourism. Becoming hot spots for competing athletes gives cities the opportunity to invest in their own communities.
With the evidence proving that there is rising money in the industry, the race across the States is not over. Investments in new sports facilities and complex projects are still underway, turning the whole country into tourna-cation ideals.
The pace of development has become so high, some travel league executives fear of a coming dip in demands. Experts warn that before a community invests in building a sports complex, they have an independent feasibility study done to gauge demand, competition and return on investment.
Some communities are also weary of the rate of development, to the industry and their own cities. Tourism has brought higher traffic volumes and noise pollution. Some taxpayers are also unconvinced that their tax dollars will fund a winning proposition. In early March 73 percent of voters in the 23,000-strong town of Yukon, Oklahoma, voted “no” on an $18 million youth sports complex that would have raised property taxes.
The money in youth sports continues to grow. It is an investment to become a destination for team travel, as some cities have proven the benefits to the community. Sports facilities pay for themselves and become a promotional opportunity for local hotels, restaurants and entertainment avenues.