Opportunities Abound in Sports-related Travel

In his April 2015 Media Post, Marketing: Sports column, SLRG’s Jon Last speaks to the huge opportunities in marketing sports related travel and ways in which those promoting it can resonate with this lucrative target.

Last week, hundreds of thousands of Americans hit the road for three of the most iconic events on the sports calendar. Between the opening of the Major League Baseball season, the NCAA Basketball Final Fours and the Masters Tournament, the respective host cities reaped huge financial windfalls as local hoteliers enjoyed huge increases in occupancy and yield.

I’m a capitalist at heart, so I can’t fault the price escalation, but I do marvel at how typical hotel rates in Augusta go for three times or more beyond what one pays the rest of the year. The point is that sports fans find it perfectly acceptable to pay these rates, and therein lies an initial poignant example of the value of sports-related travelers for destinations and properties hosting bellwether events.

We have the pleasure of researching consumer attitudes and behaviors for clients in sports and travel, so it’s fitting that at this time of year, we get the perfect illustration of how the intersection of these two verticals can create significant opportunities for marketers who understand what those traveling to watch or participate in sports are coveting.

Consider that our research has shown that even relative to affluent (average annual income of $100k+) travelers in general, those traveling for sports-related pursuits spend a third more on lodging and nearly two-thirds more on in-market entertainment. So what are the hot buttons to captivate the sports-related traveler?

Multi Generational Travel Hits on Multiple Fronts

You can read my previous posts for some of our insights on the similarity of mindset between Boomers and Millennials, the two largest U.S. generational cohorts, each estimated at approximately 75 million adults in 2014.

But beyond these shared values, a trend towards creating experiences that appeal to multiple generations satisfies the still-pervasive senses of time deprivation, a desire to maximize simplicity and efficiency, and each generation’s need for activities with both purpose and self actualization. What better way to meet these needs than visiting a new ballpark with dad, or discovering the unique topography of a new region, while testing that new mountain bike you’ve been eyeing, with the family in tow. The ultimate multi-generational sports vacation helps introduce the youngest members of the family to life-long activities, and converges the formerly disparate disconnect of “family time” and “me time.”

I think back to some focus groups we conducted for a hotel brand testing a variety of family-friendly golf alternatives with golfing fathers whose families did not share the passion. Upon viewing these concepts, the proverbial light bulb went on that such amenities would allow dad to “have his cake and eat it, too,” enjoying world-class golf while the family got an inviting, somewhat irreverent and welcoming introduction to the sport.

The Emerging Model for Sports Travel

In examining the “secret sauce” for marketing sports-related travel, there are a number of elements that have emerged in our research. Certainly, the appeal of unique and differentiated offerings, typically inherent in sports-related travel, create a sense of greater value and aspirational attainment, which are a compelling proposition in their own right. But equally important and often overlooked is consistently exceptional service delivery.

Personalized and dedicated “go-to” people build trust and assure the sports-related traveler that at the same time that they will be appreciating a unique experience, there will be a sanctuary or home away from home to come back to after attending the event or taking part in the featured activities. In a world where we often expect minimal levels of service, this can be a game changer. As numerous studies we’ve conducted for sports properties selling tickets and travel marketers alike have shown, it’s often the unexpected pleasant surprise that resonate in building satisfaction and the incremental sales that can result from viral endorsement and return visits.

Building a unique and poignant memory or experience sets the well-executed sports travel experience apart from the run-of-the-mill variety. This can manifest itself in exclusive access points, provision of social spaces and flexibility that create an air of community both figuratively and literally for the customer.

In the 2015 wave of our annual omnibus study with over 1,500 sports fans, the two most strongly agreed-upon statements for the third consecutive year were: “Quality service can make the ultimate difference in what I buy,” and, “It’s important to try new things.” What better way to satisfy these needs than to flawlessly deliver a bucket list sports travel memory.