Why “Sports Tourists” Are a Hot New Target for Marketers

by | Feb 21, 2024

Maybe you know a Ted Lasso superfan who flew to London because they wanted to see the locations from Apple TV’s soccer-centric dramedy in person. Or you heard about someone making plans to go to Paris to squeeze some of this summer’s Olympics viewing in between plenty of wine and Eiffel Tower selfies. Either way, it seems like sports are the reason behind a lot of leisure trips these days. 

The research backs it up. In Infillion’s new report, “The New Sports Fan,” one of the trends we had an eye on was the rise of “sports tourism” – planning a vacation, often an international one, around seeing a live sport. While 26% of sports fans in our survey said they’d be open to traveling outside the country to watch a favorite sport or team, that number rose to 35% for millennial sports fans and 47% for Gen-Z sports fans. When we broke this down by income level, there was no real distinction. In other words, taking a vacation to see a team play isn’t something that is exclusively the domain of wealthy sports fans.

Sports tourism is a thing. And brands should be taking action. But how?


What’s behind sports tourism?

There are two major factors that seem to be the primary contributors to the rise of sports tourism in the U.S. The first is that American sports fans are now increasingly becoming fans of sports whose fan bases and major competitions have historically been overseas. This is happening in large part due to the availability of these sports on streaming media, giving American viewers easier access to the likes of Premier League soccer, Formula 1 car racing, and Major League Cricket. Fan bases are developing in turn – and they’re excited.

In Infillion’s research, which used our Phonic AI-based voice survey technology, this came up over and over again in voice responses. You can read some of them in our full report. But overall, these fans of once-niche-in-the-U.S. sports – both longtime fans and newcomers – are newly willing to make a trip out of seeing the game in person. Don Steele, a New York City resident and lifelong fan of North London’s Arsenal FC, says he’s now taken three different jaunts across the pond to see the team play. “As special as the games are, there is something magical about the walk from a tube stop to a stadium with the other fans, walking by (and going into) the pubs along the walk, buying scarves that relate to the team’s histories, and of course hearing songs you can only faintly understand on TV,” Steele explains. “The atmosphere is truly second to none and I always feel uplifted by the experience.”


American sports go for destination games

The second factor at play in the rise of “sports tourism” is that American sports leagues are increasingly looking to international audiences for growth. (That ad about football in Ghana during this month’s Super Bowl was not a coincidence.) The NFL has been playing games in Europe for several years, and a few teams like the Jacksonville Jaguars – whose owner also owns a Premier League soccer team – have built up sizable overseas fan bases. So has the NBA, where a high number of foreign-born players have drawn followings in their home countries, and some teams like the Brooklyn Nets regularly play outside the U.S. That means opportunities to see a favorite American team play abroad can be the catalyst for an international vacation.

New York City resident Tanya Giles, a diehard Buffalo Bills fan, learned that the team would be playing a game in London, “thought it was the perfect opportunity to visit London with my family and support my team,” and booked tickets. “Even though the Bills lost, it was a highlight to my year,” she recounts.

For San Diego-based soccer fan Kara Fitzpatrick, sports tourism is a lifestyle. She flew to France to watch the U.S. women’s national team play in the World Cup finals in 2019, and was ready to do it again in 2023 in Australia, except that the U.S. team was unexpectedly knocked out early. “It’s an easy win-win: cheering for your team on the world’s biggest stage, and visiting a cool place at the same time,” she says. “It also feels good to support small businesses and local restaurants. In between game days we take small side trips to other parts of the country to get the most out of our time there.”

But sports vacations don’t have to go halfway around the world. Monisha Longacre, an Atlanta resident, knows fellow Atlantans who have already booked tickets to Ireland to see Georgia Tech face off against Florida State in college football’s ACC season opener in Dublin. But her own itinerary currently points to Las Vegas. She and her family are hardcore followers of Louisiana State University’s football team – they regularly travel to see the team play, and this year there’s a Labor Day Weekend game in Vegas against the University of Southern California.

“As soon as we got the 2024 schedule and saw they were playing in Vegas, we all made it a priority to go together,” Longacre says of her family. But they’re planning to do much more than just watch the game; it’ll be the first trip to Las Vegas for her two children, both of whom are now over 21 and can now legally gamble and drink alcohol. “They are excited to experience the full breadth of ‘Sin City’ now that they are of age, so to speak.”

Sports tourism, indeed, is a big part of Las Vegas’ recent draw as a sports hub, from the Formula 1 Grand Prix to the recent Super Bowl LVIII: People are more likely to fly in for a game in an exciting resort destination, and they’re also more likely to plan additional entertainment activities like dining and live music while they’re in town. Who wouldn’t want to check out a show at the Sphere, after all?


So, what can brands do?

Knowing that sports fans, especially younger ones, are increasingly interested in making a vacation out of a big sports event, brands with an interest in can see U.S. broadcasts and stadiums as an outlet for getting these passionate audiences interested in a sports-themed trip abroad.

If we’re using the Super Bowl as a bellwether for marketing to sports fans, travel brands that advertise there tend to be as mass-market as they get – booking platforms, airlines, and cruise ship companies – without a specific pitch to sports fans. Travel and tourism bureaus rarely pop up in the heavily scrutinized ad lineup; 2018’s Crocodile Dundee trailer fake-out for Tourism Australia was very much an exception to the rule. So there’s not much of a “playbook” for marketing to sports tourists. But a couple of easy tactics can get the creative juices flowing…

  • Go where the fans are. This may seem painfully obvious, but it really does make a difference to catch sports fans when they’re likely to be at their most rapt attention. And that can mean when they’re watching a game. The younger sports fans who are most likely to want to travel to watch sports are also the most likely to pay attention to ads in sports stadiums (62% of millennial fans and 67% of Gen-Z fans say they often notice which brands sponsor in-person games). Consider making a play with dynamic stadium advertising, like Infillion’s InStadium.


  • Think omnichannel. Even though sports fans are often eager to take a vacation to see their favorite team, advertising a vacation in a sports arena isn’t like advertising 2-for-1 pizza slices if the home team wins. It’s a bigger purchase and requires more thoughtful consideration. That’s why it’s smart to retarget fans with dynamic display advertising once they’ve seen video ads during a broadcast game or digital billboards during a live game. Continuing the message can help them realize they’ll be in for a real adventure.
  • Emphasize what else fans can do. On a similar note, for many sports tourists, a trip abroad to see a game is a big investment. That means prospective travelers will want to get the most out of it. Offering a special package to fans that includes several days in their favorite team’s surrounding city, or playing up the entertainment and dining options in the local area, can help spark ideas for creating a truly bucket-list experience.

And you don’t have to be a travel brand to get in on the action – nor do you need a scheduled game to get the eye of sports tourists. Just ask Jameson whiskey, which made a whole campaign out of the idea of bringing the NFL to Ireland.


Want to reach sports fans through streaming video, live stadium advertising, and more? Reach out to Infillion, and we’ll kick things off.

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