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Game On! Niche Sports Destinations

Sports tourism, especially for sports at the middle and high school level, has become a major buzzword and income source for communities that have the resources to capitalize on this trend.

Whether because of belt tightening during the recession or simple convenience, “a lot of families are planning their vacations around their children’s sporting activities,” said Donna Abbot, director of tourism at the convention and visitors bureau in Ocean City, Maryland.

Although beach and ski destinations may seem to have a leg up in this department, many CVBs have found themselves able to carve out a niche with an unusual sport, from cheerleading to bobsledding to water polo, that allows them to become a national name in sports tourism. Below, five destinations share how they have harnessed often overlooked resources from a flexible venue, an unusual sporting facility and an enthusiastic local club to position themselves for sports tourism.

Colorado Springs, Colorado

Colorado Springs has turned its Olympic connections into a valuable asset for sports tourism. Colorado Springs is home to the headquarters of the U.S. Olympic Committee, more than 23 national sports governing bodies, and an Olympic training center with a velodrome, an inflatable pressurized dome that allows for all-season indoor cycling events; it is one of only two of its kind in the country.

“We’ve been able to host the USA Pro Challenge in 2011, 2012 and 2014 and the U.S. Grand Prix series for four years; but some events we have to work hard at getting while other events come to us because of the Olympic training center,” said Rio Porter, sales manager for sports and special events for the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Porter has had great luck in connecting with new events to bring to her city by attending conferences and trade shows but cautions destination marketers not to try to be something they’re not.

“Know your venues and what you’re good at,” she said. “We have great relationships with people we’re good at holding events for, and you can go to local sports clubs and work with them to leverage those relationships. We’re a two-person team, and we can’t do everything these RFPs need. When they need a local organizing committee, that’s going to be the local chapter.”

Ocean City, Maryland

As home of the Reach the Beach National Recreation and School cheerleading championship, Ocean City has carved out an unusual niche for itself as a cheerleading destination.

“We are a beach community, so we’ve been recreation-minded from day one,” said Abbot. “The sports segment has ticked up in popularity in recent years, and we’ve been well positioned for that trend in terms of what we offer. We’ve been able to stretch the season with the cheerleading events because they’re indoor, so we’re able to put heads in beds during times our beach offerings are not available.” As the events have grown, they have moved into the convention center, taking advantage of a time at the beginning of the year that is often a lull for meeting business as well.

Ocean City has also long drawn typical sports teams in clubs and leagues in the summer as well as indoor soccer in the winter that takes place in a local recreation complex. But the city has been able to combine its position as a soccer destination with its beaches to host competitions in sand soccer, a growing sport that has established events, clubs and leagues in the area.

“Not every event is going to be the right fit timingwise, so you have to be positioned so it’s a win-win for the event and the destination,” said Abbot.