• Take Groups Out to the Ball Game

    Sports tourism in Illinois is much more than just a seat in the stadium.

     
    POSTED April 29, 2019
     

    HITS Chicago hosts hunter/jumper horse shows.

    HITS Chicago hosts hunter/jumper horse shows.
  • Take Groups Out to the Ball Game

    Sports tourism in Illinois is much more than just a seat in the stadium.

     
    POSTED April 29, 2019
     

    Busse Woods (Ned Brown Preserve) is the location of The Chicago International Dragon Boat Festival since 2018.

    Busse Woods (Ned Brown Preserve) is the location of The Chicago International Dragon Boat Festival since 2018.
  • Take Groups Out to the Ball Game

    Sports tourism in Illinois is much more than just a seat in the stadium.

     
    POSTED April 29, 2019
     

    SeatGeek Stadium

    SeatGeek Stadium
  • Take Groups Out to the Ball Game

    Sports tourism in Illinois is much more than just a seat in the stadium.

     
    POSTED April 29, 2019
     

    The Schaumburg Boomers are a professional baseball team.

    The Schaumburg Boomers are a professional baseball team.
  • Take Groups Out to the Ball Game

    Sports tourism in Illinois is much more than just a seat in the stadium.

     
    POSTED April 29, 2019
     

    Tough Mudder attracts competitors and spectators with its challenging obstacles.

    Tough Mudder attracts competitors and spectators with its challenging obstacles.

They had barely shed their graduation garb when they hit the road to revel in a little post-college freedom before launching their careers. It was on both of their bucket lists to visit 12 iconic baseball parks in 21 days. Minnesotans Drew Kiperts and Brad Fendler, friends since high school, had mapped their route and chosen their priorities. At the top of the list? Chicago’s Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs. “Wrigley was a must—its history, its legacy, its character were big draws,” says Fendler. “We were driven both by a love of baseball and an itch for adventure.”

Wrigley was everything they could have hoped for. “We could feel the buzz the moment we stepped off the ‘L’ at the stadium,” says Kiperts.

As evidenced by this road trip, sports tourism is a big deal in Illinois—a boon to both the state’s economy and quality of life. And one might think that Kiperts and Fendler define the typical sports tourist: sports fans who will travel almost any distance to see a game, but think broader.

WILL THE REAL SPORTS TOURIST PLEASE STAND UP?

“The definition of a sports tourist is as large and varied as Illinois itself,” says Cort Carlson, executive director for Aurora Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. “The sports tourist to Chicago may be very different than the sports tourist to the Aurora area.” Carlson explains that sports tourists visit the Aurora area primarily to participate in some type of tournament or event, or to cheer on participating family or friends. Chicago, on the other hand, attracts many who travel simply as spectators to enjoy a professional sporting event.

The sports tourist varies by age and gender as well, Carlson says. “A youth sports tournament not only draws young participating athletes,” he explains, “but also their families. They often come with mom, dad, siblings, aunts, uncles and grandparents in tow.”

In short, then, a sports tourist hails from outside the immediate area where the athletic event is taking place, often traveling from a distance great enough to require overnight lodging, and spending money on restaurants, transportation, souvenirs, shopping and more. They generally fall into one of two categories: participatory travelers (youth and adults traveling to play in a tournament or event along with their families), or spectator travelers (visitors traveling to watch a professional or college sporting event, like Green Bay fans who flock to Chicago to watch the Packers take on the Bears).

“I really don’t believe there’s a ‘typical’ sports tourist who attends events in Bloomington-Normal,” says Matt Hawkins, sports director for Bloomington-Normal Area Sports Commission. “From 80-year-old Midwesterners participating in a triathlon to golf tournaments with 7-year-olds from South Africa, our participation base is pretty wide.”

THE DOLLARS AND CENTS OF IT

There is no question that sports tourism in Illinois brings a boatload of money into the state. Aurora’s Carlson reports that the projected economic impact of sports tourism in the area will exceed $4 million for the past fiscal year. According to Hawkins, overnight sports tourists in the Bloomington-Normal area spent $4.8 million in 2017.

“Major events mean sold-out weekends and high foot traffic for our local businesses,” adds Ryan Reid, director of sports and special events for Visit Champaign County. The Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon in April, for example, attracts runners from 48 states and 13 countries hoping to qualify for the Boston Marathon. Economic impact: $10 million.

Sports tourism in and around Rockford over the past year contributed significantly to a total tourism yield of $6.8 million in visitorgenerated tax receipts. “What may be even more telling is the number of jobs—3,080— that tourism supports in Winnebago County,” says Nick Povalitis, director of sports development for Rockford Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

It’s no wonder, then, that sports tourists— spectators and athletes alike—are treated like royalty. “The staffs at our hotels, attractions and sports venues are in the business of making memories,” Hawkins says. “As a community, we treat each tournament director, athlete and fan like they’re the only thing that matters.”

But again, think broader. President of Meet Chicago Northwest Dave Parulo cautions against undervaluing the potential of sports tourism to help cities and communities reinvent themselves. “There’s an impressive trend among communities and individual investors to reimagine their use of buildings and even regions toward adding a whole array of sports facilities,” he says.

IN WITH THE NEW, BUT LONG LIVE THE OLD

Indeed, new sports venues around the state are making headlines, and the expectation is that they will profit the local and state economies in the same big ways their older counterparts have always done. Wintrust Arena and the United Center Atrium are open for business in Chicago. Rosemont has a new baseball stadium and Peoria is home to the relatively new Louisville Slugger Sports Complex.

Even Wrigley Field is undergoing renovations. It’s been a few years since the pals from Minnesota visited that landmark stadium during their memorable ballpark road trip. Fendler looks forward to sharing the Wrigley experience with his wife and kids someday. “I’ve been back more than once, and I know we’ll go again,” he says. For Fendler, it could be a matter of destiny. “I love Chicago,” he enthuses. “I go back as often as I can—the Wrigley vibe is true of Chicago in general. It’s irresistible.”

So heads up, Illinois. Sports tourism may benefit the state in yet another way, morphing at least one baseball fan into a permanent resident.

BY THE NUMBERS
Sports tourism figures significantly in these travel spending totals for Illinois in 2016.

Food Service $9.4 billion // 25%
Public Transportation $9.1 billion // 24.1%
Auto Transportation $7.2 billion // 19.1%
Lodging $7.2 billion // 19.1%
General Retail Trade 7.4%
Entertainment and Recreation 5.3%

Aventri, a leader in events management software (EMS), recently released ‘The Top 100 Meeting and Event Venues in the United States’ for 2019. The company took the ten top-rated meeting and event cities in the United States and picked the top ten venues in each area, compiling a list of 100 highly-regarded spaces. 

The guide identifies the two most valuable factors in attendee satisfaction as venue location and activities in the host city, followed by capacity, uniqueness and proximity to local attractions.

 

Andrea Hahn, general manager of Chicago’s new MB Ice Arena, knows her way around an ice rink.

 

Held at the United Center Sept. 21-23, 2018, the Laver Cup—a men’s tennis tournament pitting six top European players against six of their counterparts—marked the first time this major event has been held in the United States. Total event attendance was more than 93,000 people, with fans from around the world traveling to Chicago for an unforgettable experience with the game’s best players. “The Laver Cup was a huge win for Chicago,” says Kara Bachman, executive director of the Chicago Sports Commission.