By Hannah Zito, SportsEvents
In an industry that produces events that bring in millions of dollars, it’s easy for us to get caught up in the dollars and cents of what we do. This market is one that others in the tourism industry are envious of – as they well should be, based on the economic impact of our events that continues to grow year after year. However, when you take a step back and you look at the overall impact of the sports events tourism industry, it is so much more than the total room nights, tickets sold and total income generated.
These numbers pale in comparison to the true impact of our events that lies in the power to bring people together, despite the size of their group or whatever else they may or may not have in common. The ability to produce something that creates such a strong sense of fellowship and fraternity among individuals that are rooting for the same team or athlete is the real and unique impact of sports events.
I’ll be honest – coming into the sports events industry, I knew little more than SEC football. I watch horse racing once a year for three months (technically about 12 minutes total) and I watch the Olympics every two years. I don’t watch soccer on a regular basis and never have. But when the Olympics come on, I become an avid fan and follower of every American competing in the Games – it doesn’t matter if I have to look up the rules of Curling or if I don’t understand how they chose the Dream Team. I just want them to win! And when the World Cup comes on, I’m glued to a television, even at nine in the morning, even if I’m at work (nobody tell Kristen!).
I love the spirit and energy that a fan base can produce. When you’re in high school, pep rallies are easy to come by. Even going to a small school on the Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay, we packed all 200 of us in the gym to cheer on everything from our State Championship Volleyball team to our varsity football team determined to make a name for themselves despite our young program. And when the cannon fired after a touchdown – even if we had no shot at winning – the elation was palpable throughout the crowd.
However, this doesn’t begin in high school. It begins with a child’s first sporting event. Everything from your first Little League game to your first horse show is something people rarely forget: the crowd (however small) is going wild for you and you walk away with such a sense of pride and accomplishment that it’s hard not to be hooked on sports. And it’s the crowd that helps you realize that you’ve just done something wonderful and amazing, even if nobody is keeping score (c’mon, we all know somebody’s parent was) because of their spirit and belief in your team, no matter how small the event is.
On a larger scale, sports events provide that “rallying” factor for fans and athletes alike. For example, after the attacks on September 11th, New York was unsure of what to do, how to carry on. When was the right time to be happy again? Would there be another attack? But on September 21st, the Atlanta Braves played in Shea Stadium against the New York Mets. They were determined that the game would go on, out of solidarity for their city and to show the world that America was not afraid. And they did it with a single baseball game.
Sports events tourism is successful because of this camaraderie and “rallying” effect that people get from supporting their team or their athlete. The saying, “If you build it, they will come” could easy be altered to “If you host it, they will come.” Even in the recession, people were willing to spend precious dollars to attend these events.
Athletes and spectators alike will travel far and wide to stand next to a person feeling that same intense range of emotions, to experience the pride and, sometimes despair, in a win or a loss. It doesn’t matter if the person sitting next to you your best friend from kindergarten or your best friend from the start of the last quarter; what matters is that your both there watching the same game, with the same goosebumps as you silently pray for the same buzzer beater, Hail Mary, goal save.
How lucky are we, the sports events industry, can bring this feeling to people on a regular basis? That the cities that host these events can be proud to host these memories as well; that the planners that spend hundreds of hours working out even the smallest details get to see their events bring such pride to their athletes and their spectators. It’s when these two groups come together that people are given the chance to experience that ultimate feeling of camaraderie and pride. And that, above all else, is the real impact and power of sports events.
Hannah Zito is marketing coordinator for SportsEvents Media Group.