Sports tourism is a massive and growing market. According to Grand View Research, the “global sports tourism market was valued at $587.87 billion in 2022 and is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate of 17.5% from 2023 to 2030.”
The popularity of events such as the Olympics, the FIFA World Cup, the NBA, and others are the major driving growth factors in the industry. Governments are now making spending on sports infrastructure a priority to continue that growth and bring the tourism dollars to their regions, according to Grand View Research.
The city of Anaheim is no stranger to local, state-to-state and international tourism. Disneyland – arguably the biggest of all single-attraction drivers of this level of tourism – celebrates its 68th anniversary in July 2023. As the Disney Theme Parks have grown and expanded, so has the city surrounding it and is now home to Angel Stadium, Honda Center, the Anaheim Convention Center, Downtown Disney, Anaheim GardenWalk and many other shopping, dining and entertainment destinations that support the daily influx of visitors.
Not one to rest on its theme park laurels, the city’s visitor and tourism bureau, Visit Anaheim, recently did a study that shares how the city is a major “player” in the sports tourism front. It released the results in April.
Among the national survey of 2,000 adults, findings included:
- 45% have left the country to see a game, and that 35% have specifically planned a vacation based on when and where their favorite team is playing.
- The average respondent would be willing to travel five hours and 48 minutes for a game (driving or flying).
- Fans are willing to spend an average of $762.20 on tickets.
- 44% already have a trip planned to seep a specific sporting event in 2023.
“Whether fans have it on their bucket list to visit every ballpark in the U.S. or they plan an annual trip around seeing their favorite team play, sports venues are not just filled with locals and home team fans anymore,” said Jay Burress, President and CEO, Visit Anaheim. “If you are a die-hard sports fan, a live music aficionado, an adrenaline junkie, a self-proclaimed foodie, or a brew connoisseur, there’s plenty to do in Anaheim.”
The biggest sports draws vary country to country, of course. In the United States, the big three are football, basketball, and baseball with hockey as number four. But for Canadians, (our closest international market, along with Mexico), hockey is the top draw and soccer is massive throughout most of the rest of the world.
Baseball is seeing an influx of Japanese tourism, particularly for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. This Los Angeles Times story details how a Japanese couple chose Anaheim as their honeymoon destination, not for Disneyland or the beaches, but to see Angel phenom Shohei Ohtani in action.
“With Ohtani and Mike Trout, we’re fortunate that the Angels have two of the best players in the league who are driving attendance and interest from around the globe,” says Burress. “Though they’re both well known throughout the world, with Ohtani the Japanese visitation has been up. Tourism Economics now ranks Japan as the third largest international market for Anaheim after Mexico and Canada. And they buy every type of Ohtani souvenir. Mike Trout is from New Jersey, so he draws East Coast fans and he played for the Salt Lake Bees, a Minor League feeder team for the Angels, so we get his fans from all over the U.S. as well.”
The 2022 numbers showed Anaheim welcomed 1.6 million international tourists with Australia and New Zealand behind Mexico and Canada, with Japan fourth. Though the numbers for 2023 are just entering peak summer season, it will be interesting to see how they eventually rank.
“Summer is the most popular time to visit Anaheim and is a peak season for tourism in general, with kids being out of school,” says Burress. “But in winter, we’ve noticed when the Canadian hockey teams are in town to play the Anaheim Ducks, the hotels are packed with fans. We visited with some and learned it was often tough to get a ticket for their team’s home games. So they come down here for a game, spend of their tourism dollars in Anaheim and watch their favorite team.”
This has led to a new partnership plan Visit Anaheim is implementing this year with the three Western Canadian teams – Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton – where they will do promotions for Anaheim. Flight times between Orange County and those three cities are between two and a half and three and a half hours, so not a difficult trip.
“We’ll be placing signage in their arenas and doing giveaways and competitions during the games,” says Burress. “The Canadian teams have been very receptive to it and it’s a marketing activation that we’ve not tried before. We’re very excited to see where it goes.”
Sports aficionados don’t just travel to watch a sporting event, but to participate as well. runDisney races through the Disney Theme Parks are now making a return and they could result in 40,000 additional rooms sold for each race. Competitions such as the college basketball tournament now known as the Paycom Wooden Legacy, named after legendary UCLA coach John Wooden, historically has called Anaheim home.
“That tournament draws the great top college teams from around the country it’s gone through some changes – they’re now playing in the arena at the Convention Center as opposed to Honda Center but I’m a basketball fan so I always enjoy following basketball,” says Burress. “There are some great events such as bull riding and figure skating as well. The bull riding has a large fan base on TV and attending live. Figure skating is one of the fastest-growing sports in Southern California and so we’ve had many events at Honda Center. We’ve had major championships there and Stars on Ice, which is a huge draw.”
Burress points out that Great Park Ice in nearby Irvine, is now the official training center for the Anaheim Ducks and many high-performance competitive skaters.
“One other thing in sports tourism is the whole amateur market and the competitions that bring in youth and families from around the country for everything from cheer to volleyball to all different types of events,” says Burress. “This was the first market back after the pandemic and one that has really grown in Anaheim over the past few years because it’s largely recession proof. If you promise your daughter or son they get to go to that one big tournament, you may not do much else during a recession but you’re going to do that.”
The Orange County Sports Commission – a leg of Visit Anaheim – was established in 2019 with the aims of drawing more youth sporting events such as the cheerleading competitions or the SCVA Junior Boys Invitational Volleyball tournament that takes place every January. A steady stream of this type of event can bring strong economic impact to the area.
When the Summer Olympic Games come to Los Angeles in 2028, the indoor volleyball events will be played at Honda Center and in July, the USA Volleyball Men’s FIBV event will be held at the Convention Center.
To ensure fans and participants enjoy their time before and after the games, the city – which already has a world-class hospitality infrastructure – is now nurturing an emerging microbrewery industry.
“We have, I think, 20 craft breweries now,” says Burress. “The city made it so there’s less red tape to establish a license to start microbreweries and once that began, the OC Brewers Guild was formed, and they really helped advance these businesses in Orange County and Anaheim.”
It’s clear as sports tourism continues to grow – drawing fans and participants from youth, college, amateur, minor league and professional levels – surrounding areas reap major benefits with the influx of those visitor dollars. Businesses and investors should consider it a strategic market to tap.
Editor’s Note: Terry Gardner contributed to this article.
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