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The Value of Sports Tourism

Research shows that sports fans are keen travellers and with sports events taking place all over the globe, the synergies between sport and travel are clear for all to see. It is therefore no surprise that the travel and tourism sector has among the largest sponsorship outlay in sport.

Airlines in particular are one of the most prominent spenders with Emirates and Etihad topping the list. The Middle Eastern carriers reportedly spend in the region of $250 million between them on multiple sports rights annually.

Global hotel chains and other tourism companies have also increased their sponsorship spend; however one of the most noticeable trends over the past few years has been the emergence of tourism boards partnering with sports rights holders. From cash rich destinations such as Qatar to smaller provinces such as Trentino, destinations are embracing sport by forming strategic alliances that go beyond hosting events.

Tourism Boards Spend in Football

Across the five major football leagues in Europe, 25 clubs have signed partnerships with a tourism authority. Champions League clubs PSG (Qatar Tourism Authority) and Manchester City (Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority) boast the largest deals, which is unsurprising given the size of their fan bases and the global exposure both teams receive. The deals also follow the trend of club owners signing deals with their country of origin which is becoming increasingly common with the rise in foreign businessmen investing in European football clubs.

Using Sport within a Commercial Strategy

For destinations, it is no longer just about hosting major events; governments and tourism authorities now understand the power of sport and the effectiveness of sponsorship as a marketing tool to enhance the economy, image and quality of life for their residents. Their sport tourism and wider commercial strategies must now include strategic alliances and a calendar of events that keep visitors coming back year after year.


Qatar Tourism Authority is a prime example of an authority that is using a host of marketing tactics to achieve their ambition of becoming a world-class tourism and hospitality hub through sport. Their sponsorship of two of the biggest European clubs, Barcelona and PSG is helping to drive high levels of awareness worldwide, but in particular throughout Europe which is a key target market for the authority.  

In recent years Qatar has bid for the two biggest sporting events in the globe, the Olympic Games and the FIFA World Cup. Despite only winning the Football World Cup bid, they also have the rights to host smaller events such as MotoGP, handball, tennis and golf which are all events that will keep federations, players and fans returning to the country each year.

Despite negative publicity around the FIFA World Cup 2022, there is no doubt that the event will be a phenomenal showcase for Qatar and will give the country an incredible opportunity to deliver a legacy for the tourism and events sector.

Hassan Al Ibrahim, director of strategy at the Qatar Tourism Authority claims their target is to attract 7 million visitors a year by 2030, an ambitious target that is more than feasible with the strategy they have in place.


Similarly, Azerbaijan has been exploring a combination of avenues to establish itself as a sporting power. Back in January 2013, the Republic of Azerbaijan signed a deal with La Liga Champions, Atlético Madrid for €12 million, a fraction of the cost of Qatar and Abu Dhabi’s astronomical deals with PSG and Manchester City respectively.

Not only did the deal include shirt sponsorship, which has promoted the Baku 2015 logo and their slogan “Land of Fire,” the agreement saw the Atlético Madrid players and staff travel to the country to train young Azerbaijani footballers and has provided a global platform to promote the image of Azerbaijan.

The country’s capital city Baku has also submitted bids to host global events such as the Olympic Games, F1 and will be hosting the 2015 European Games in June.

Azerbaijan and Qatar are two destinations with a clear vision. When branding a city to a global audience, it is vital that there is a strong vision and the right resources, infrastructure and legacy plans in place to successfully host the games and deal with the influx of visitor’s pre, during and post event. The London Olympics demonstrated how a country’s tourism can benefit from hosting a major sporting event. In 2012, the UK welcomed 31 million overseas visitors and a further 33 million in 2013.

Sport is Not Just for the Cash Rich Regions

Sport is Not Just for the Cash Rich Regions

For smaller and medium sized cities, the costs and risks associated with hosting major events can be far too great; however this should not discourage them from hosting smaller events and maximising returns from sports tourism.


Sports tourism provides copious amounts of commercial opportunities but it is only possible with the right talent and infrastructure in place to capitalise. In 2014 the Jamaican government recognised this and set up an internal agency called Jamaica Sport.

The agency is working closely with the government and the Jamaican Tourism Board to boost tourism arrivals and raise the stature of Jamaican athletes and Jamaica as a major sport destination in the region. It is important for all regions to leverage sporting events held locally and internationally to ensure the region maximises its publicity, as well as marketing and promotional opportunities.


Another great example is the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA). Whilst the HTA do not host any top tier events, they do support nearly 20 events that result in more than $150 million in economic impact, and generate more than 350 hours in national and international media exposure for the destination.

HTA has successfully created a consistent calendar of events that continually attract visitors to the region throughout the year, particularly during the fall and winter seasons, highlighting Hawaii’s temperate climate during slower travel periods.

As the HTA continues to enhance its sports marketing program, the tourism authority is cleverly focusing its efforts on commercially stable sports such as rugby, soccer and American Football to enhance the destinations image, profile and quality of life.

So what does this all mean?

When used intelligently, sport can be an incredible platform for brands and tourism destinations to showcase themselves and to communicate key messages to a global audience. It is not simply enough to sign a deal with a rights holder and to rely on the brand exposure generated. The most successful partnerships are those that use creative activations in collaboration with the rights holder. Remember, people retain about 20% of what they read and hear, 40% of what they observe and a full 90% of what they experience.

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