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Article co-authored by:
Andria N Godfrey, Vice President, Longwoods International
Dr. Jennifer Stoll, Research and Education, Sports ETA
Sports events and tourism is an integral part of American life and economy. Before the pandemic, Sports ETA began looking into these impacts by partnering with Tourism Economics and Longwoods International. This year, as stadiums sat empty, kids’ lacrosse sticks laid unused, and Americans commiserated on missing their favorite pastimes, Longwoods International expanded upon its research to explore American sentiment toward sports events and tourism and its broader benefits to resident lives.
In 2020, Longwoods International, who first pioneered research looking at Resident Sentiment towards tourism in 2018, conducted the largest National Resident Sentiment study to date, using a national consumer research panel of 4,000 respondents, and in doing so, expanded the scope of study to capture American Resident Sentiment towards sports and sporting events.
With more than 180 million people traveling for sporting events in 2019, the economic benefits supported communities across the country, totaling $103.3B according to Tourism Economics. There is no denying that sports tourism is a valuable component of the economy with nearly 740,000 jobs created last year; however, the benefits of this industry span beyond economics to areas such as providing greater quality of life for residents and increased destination brand perception and awareness. “The sports events and tourism industry is gaining more clarity on the widening role our work plays in the community,” commented Sports ETA President and CEO Al Kidd. “Gauging the sentiment of the local populous toward these efforts is an important way to ensure an expanded and aligned value proposition back to the destination.”
According to Longwoods’ 2020 National Resident Sentiment study, 51% of Americans agree that hosting youth and amateur sporting events improves the quality of life in their communities.
This sentiment is consistent across the country, and results reveal a somewhat stronger agreement among respondents that hosting these events benefit the local economy, 53% nationally. Further, when analyzed regionally, data suggest the agreement increase to 57% and 55% in the Midwest and South, respectively. This finding is logical as it corresponds with the areas of the country with the highest frequency of proactive sports tourism efforts, as reported by Stoll, et al. (2020).
Longwoods International also asked Americans about their support of hosting college and professional sporting events, and the alignment was consistent, with half (51%) agreeing that they support hosting these events in their community.
Throughout the study, one outlier emerged, Generation Z. While general sentiment towards sports and sporting events aligned across generations at regional and national levels, Generation Z (18-23 yr. old) tended to show significantly lower agreement on the benefits of hosting sporting events in their community. For example, when asked if hosting youth and amateur sporting events improves the quality of life in their communities, only 32% of Generation Z agreed in contrast to 51% of Americans overall. Anecdotally, this sentiment may stem from fewer Generation Z members likely owning homes or with kids in the youth sports pipeline.
While the fact that around half of Americans are in support of hosting events and see sporting events as valuable to their local economy is encouraging, it should not be taken for granted. An ongoing engagement of this young adult segment of potential advocates to educate them on the benefits of sports tourism and demonstrate the industry’s value proposition is warranted. With Generation Z entering the life stage of financial independence from their families, as well as approaching the time in which they are likely to have children participating in sports, education of the value to both their lives and their communities is key to growing engagement and support of sports tourism. This perspective is especially true as Generation Z grows in proportion of the American population (i.e. Baby Boomers passing away).
One other area of opportunity is the significant number of respondents who were neutral on these items related to sports tourism sentiment. They represent a cohort that, with a little bit of education and information regarding value, could become advocates…but could also sway positive sentiment away from the sports tourism industry should the personal and community value of sports not become evident to them.
By evaluating and tracking the impacts and perceptions of local communities towards sports tourism and the economy, policymakers can inform decisions regarding funding and prioritization of the sector’s development over time. Monitoring sentiment can also help determine the engagement strategy for residents that is essential to garner support for initiatives that at their core are intended to improve the overall quality of life in the community. “What we have learned through our research over the past several years is that Resident Sentiment is a vital insight to fully inform both advocacy and planning for any type of development, including sports,” says Amir Eylon, President and CEO of Longwoods International.
Tourism Economics projects the COVID-19 pandemic to result in a loss of $20B in direct spending in 2020 alone, and approximately 75 million fewer people will travel to sports events compared with 2019. With projections for the sports tourism industry recovery lagging behind that of the U.S. economy’s recovery, leaning into understanding support and perceived value of this industry will help foster partner and community engagement as the sports tourism industry evolves into the “next normal”.