When Ottawa first hosted the Bell Capital Cup in 2000, 94 teams took part. Now, the annual minor-hockey tournament draws about 500 teams – and the event’s economic benefits have grown, too.
A survey of the 2005 championship found that it generated an estimated $11.1-million in economic activity, led to 162 new jobs, and attracted more than 16,000 visitors that year.
The tournament is just one example of how sporting events can give cities a serious financial boost. Sport tourism is the fastest growing segment of the tourism industry; in Canada, it yields approximately $3.4-billion in annual spending by domestic travellers alone.
And it’s not just larger metropolitan areas that stand to benefit. The effects of sport tourism are being felt everywhere from Moncton (home of next year’s Canadian Figure Skating Championships) to Prince George, where the 2015 Canada Winter Games will take place.
Sport tourism is defined as “anything that involves people travelling to a location from outside the region to participate in or watch and enjoy a sport event,” according to Rick Traer, chief executive officer of the Canadian Sport Tourism Alliance, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting Canada internationally as a preferred sport tourism destination.
“It’s a grassroots economic development initiative,” he explains. “You’d be hard-pressed to find a community of any size that’s not interested in generating more economic activity, and this is one area where most, if not all, communities are involved and have been involved for many years. It’s only recently that communities have begun to take a much more strategic approach to grow the industry in their communities.”
Formed in 2000 in partnership with the Canadian Tourism Commission, the CSTA started out with 18 municipal members.
“Now we have more than 400 members, including 135 municipalities,” Mr. Traer says. “The increase in our membership has been an indicator that this industry segment is continuing to grow.”
Their members include sport organizations, sports-equipment manufacturers, hotels and car-rental companies.
“The growth is being driven by intercommunity events,” he says. “Almost every weekend in every community across the country, you can find some sort of athletic competition – whether it’s an intercommunity tournament, or provincial championship, or school sport.
“Schools drive significant activity, I can tell you. My kids [play] basketball, and it’s every weekend. We’re no different from many parents of aspiring young athletes who travel with their kids throughout the competitive season and [we]do a fair amount of spending when we’re on the road.”
Events that involve the participation of young female athletes, in particular, are gaining prominence in the industry.
“We know now, based on research, that there’s a higher propensity for parents to travel with young girls to competitions than with young boys,” Mr. Traer notes.
Event planning is becoming more common among communities. Take the Bell Capital Cup, which caters to nine- to 12-year-old players: It was deliberately scheduled between Christmas and the New Year, when kids are out of school, many parents are off work, and hotels are quiet.
Sometimes, this planning goes awry. Bob Yates, principal with Yates, Thorn and Associates, a Victoria, B.C.-based consulting firm that specializes in regional and community planning, says communities sometimes make the common mistake of investing in infrastructure before planning specific events.
“It’s hard to justify spending $50-million on a swimming pool just to host an event there,” Mr. Yates says. “But if a community needs a new facility, then there’s justification for it. Instead of [building]a basic swimming pool, it’s worth adding money to make it the very best swimming pool so that it [can]be used to host events as well.”
Cities should also note the visitor profiles of certain gatherings. Consider the Pacific Northwest Over 40s Rugby Association’s world invitational rugby festival, which happens in the Vancouver area every summer.
“Those players are likely professionals who play golf and who are bringing their spouses and maybe dropping $500 a day,” Mr. Yates says.
To help communities prepare, plan, and promote sport-tourism events, the CSTA has established industry tools, such as its sport tourism economic assessment model (STEAM).
Developed in association with Sport Canada, the Canadian Tourism Commission, the Conference Board of Canada and the Canadian Association of Convention & Visitors Bureaux, STEAM is the first web-based predictive economic-impact model specifically designed for sports gatherings.
The tool allows cities to take into account everything from estimated number of visitors to infrastructure investment costs and organizing committees’ expenditures.
Other CSTA tools include a sporting event bid template, and a marketing template.
All this effort is worthwhile, according to Mr. Traer, because even when financial markets weaken, sport tourism stays strong.
“The sport-tourism segment really has become a stabilizing force within the tourism industry during times of volatility,” Mr. Traer says, pointing to 9/11, SARS, the currency crises, gas prices and border-documentation issues as just a few factors that have taken a toll on the tourism industry.
“As much as the industry has been plagued by those events over the course of the last 10 years, sport tourism has remained strong,” he says.
“After 9/11, a sense of normalcy returned once the games got rolling again.”