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Sports Tourism Offers New Ways to Get in the Game

The growing field of sports tourism offers a variety of opportunities to get in the action. There are many arenas open to those with the right background and education.

Sports tourism is defined as the use of sports as a vehicle for tourism, says Frank Verschuren. He works with a tourism commission.

"Basically, it is taking advantage of sports that are being held in the various communities and deriving the economic benefits through travel that can occur through hosting these kinds of events," he says.

Jim Murdy is an assistant professor in hospitality and tourism at the University of New Haven in Connecticut. He says sports tourism is made up of leisure travelers who participate in sports, go to sports events or visit sports museums.

There are a lot of people and jobs associated with this field, Verschuren says. One area is promoting sports tourism or travel to communities through visitor's bureaus, sports bureaus and sports commissions.

"There are also all of the national sports organizations or multi-sports organizations that hold the rights to actually stage the events," he says.

Other opportunities exist within sports and events businesses, like travel companies and hotels. These businesses reap the benefits of having events held locally.

Lisa Delpy Neirotti is an associate professor of tourism and sport management at George Washington University. She says probably the biggest job opportunity in sports tourism in the United States is with sports commissions.

"There are 250 cities and areas around the United States that have sports commissions, convention and visitor's bureaus or chambers of commerce," she says.

"Some only hire one person whose responsibility it is to go out and attract sports and events to the area. And others, like the Palm Beach Sports Authority, are large with 20 employees...whose job it is to also help put on sports events."

Hotel chains offer another avenue into the business. Hotels hire people to go after the sports groups going into their area arenas, according to Neirotti.

These people identify all the different groups who might come into the area and try and book them into their hotel. They also try to get sports-related conferences to use the hotel.

Arenas and stadiums also need people who can bring in events, Neirotti says. Arenas often have professional teams as tenants. But there are other events, like the NCAA tournaments, that could bring people to the arena.

Hall of fame organizations and recreational resorts also offer job opportunities, Neirotti adds.

Murdy says there are many entry-level positions in sports tourism. "Professionals new to the field could enter marketing, public relations. [They could be] activity programmers, facility managers, tour operators, tour suppliers and almost any management field," he says.

The job market is very competitive in this field, according to Neirotti. "You need the right educational background as well as experience."

A bachelor's degree in sports management is necessary. You'll also need internship or volunteer experiences.

"If you don't get your degree in sports management or a similar program, then it is wise to get that at a master's level," says Neirotti.

Murdy agrees that an internship is a great way to get experience. If a student is interested in pursuing a career in sports tourism, he recommends they spend at least one term working for an organization such as the International Olympic Committee or a professional sports team.

"This experience often provides insight into the world of sports tourism that is difficult, if not impossible, to bring into the classroom," he says.

"In addition, students who are good at creating professional networks often find their future employer while interning."

A tourism and hospitality education or background also can be a plus. "Then you have that basic understanding of the industry from a tourism point of view," Verschuren says.

"The ideal type of thing is looking at it from both perspectives -- looking at it from the perspective of how the whole sports organization thing works and how the tourism industry works. If you understand those two elements, you can put them together.

"But if you had to choose from either side, I would have a tourism bent before I had a sports management bent."

Salaries for entry-level positions in this industry can range widely, depending on where you work. In the United States, Neirotti says, entry-level jobs within sports tourism can pay between $35,000 and $55,000. "And you can progress from there when you have some experience," she says.

One area with a potential to make a bit more money is in the travel industry, according to Jay Smith. He is the owner of a travel agency that specializes in sporting events.

Entry-level positions pay at the low end -- about $8 to $10 an hour. But at the upper end, the sky is the limit, Smith says. "Because it is a travel company, there are big commissions available. It all comes down to how good someone is and how hard they work."

According to the Travel Industry Association of America, two out of five U.S. adults attended an organized sports event, competition or tournament as either a spectator or as a participant while traveling in the past five years. That translates to some 75.3 million U.S. adults.

Smith says sports travel isn't really growing at this point.

"Corporate America is cutting back. And the general fan is not traveling as often due to the economy," he says.

"As far as the outlook, there is no doubt that the resiliency of the sports fan is probably more so than the normal person. So is the outlook strong? In my mind, yes."

Overall, sports tourism is a strong field with many opportunities for people looking to get in the game.

"There is a potential for both entrepreneurial and traditional students to enter the sports tourism industry, as well as a plethora of organizations to work for," says Murdy.


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