More destinations are realizing the benefits of working with their major-league sports teams to promote tourism—particularly international visitation. IPW 2018 in Denver offers a wealth of opportunities for travel professionals who want to build these relationships.

IPW 2018 in Denver is nearly upon us—and this year’s gathering will highlight a new arena, if you will, for attracting global visitors to your destination: major league sports teams.  

Sporting events are part of American culture, and naturally should be a bigger part of the international inbound traveler’s U.S. experience. Many major-league sports in the U.S. are ripe for building international fan bases for a variety of reasons. With five leagues encompassing 105 professional sports teams in 32 U.S. locations, dozens of U.S. destinations can net serious gains for their local economies by partnering with their local sports franchises (pun intended).

Destination marketing organizations (DMOs) are taking notice of these opportunities, and they are partnering with their local major-league sports teams in growing numbers. This year in Denver, a record number of sports teams will have a presence at IPW, either with their own booths or sharing a booth with their city. Five Colorado-based major-league teams will be there to help Visit Denver welcome the world to the Centennial State. Representatives from dozens more will also be there to see how IPW works, and how it can help their franchise.

It’s a win-win-win situation: sports teams will gain firsthand knowledge of the business of attracting international travel, destinations can forge stronger relationships with their sports teams, and over 1,300 buyers and tour operators will have an unprecedented chance to build sporting events into their itineraries. If you're a DMO or a major league franchise at IPW, and want to learn how to attract new business (and new fans) worldwide, you are invited to attend an onsite panel discussion about sports and tourism working together. Industry experts will share insights and best practices, outlining how sports teams and destinations can partner effectively to jointly market and promote sports tourism to international operators. Details to come soon! 

IPW attendees who have traveled abroad will likely report seeing citizens of multiple countries proudly wearing American sports team gear, even if they’ve never been here, and notice the fame enjoyed by U.S. athletes abroad. The numbers back up the international appeal of American sports.

For example, 30 percent of current MLB players were born outside the U.S., creating a major potential draw for visitors from their home countries to the city they play for. The cultural power of U.S. sports teams is a major draw as well. In China, nearly eight percent of the resident population reports an interest in the NFL, up six percent from the percentage interested in 2013—which translates into 31 million new Chinese fans. That’s 31 million more potential visitors to the home cities of their favorite teams.

Several U.S. sports team have already begun to capitalize on this potential. The Orlando Magic shares a city with world-famous amusement parks and attractions popular with international visitors—and they enjoy one of the highest seat occupancies in the NBA, north of 75 percent per game. They do this by marketing the opportunity for international visitors to see their favorite NBA players whenever their teams are in town to play the Magic, encouraging them to add another night to their stay in Orlando and “be a part of the Magic.”

Other teams, like the San Francisco Giants, take a “non-game day” revenue approach. International visitors can tour AT&T Park, which offers waterfront views and houses lots of baseball memorabilia; stand in the dugout and on the field; and get an insiders’ perspective of America’s favorite pastime. They can do the same at iconic venues such as Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox, which is full of both sports history and local flavor (though this Orioles fan will always prefer Camden Yards in Baltimore).  

Sports and tourism are a natural combination, but these partnerships are still growing in most U.S. cities. U.S. Travel is actively working to help DMOs develop working relationships with their sports teams, and welcome major league sports franchises to our membership roster. We believe that within the next five years, sports teams will have a major presence at IPW—and stronger sports-tourism partnerships will mean destinations, attractions, hotels, restaurants and other businesses will score big on increased international visitation.

Appointment scheduling and exhibitor registration is still open and closes April 9, so now is the time to bring your destination, your team and buyers together to book some business. Don’t strike out on this opportunity at IPW 2018 in Denver.

U.S. Travel Association

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