Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Q&A: How cities can profit from sports

Bob Yates

Bob Yates

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.

Bob Yates, principal with Yates, Thorn and Associates, a Victoria, B.C.-based consulting firm that specializes in regional and community planning, believes communities who want to profit from sport tourism need to be prepared.

Story continues below advertisement

Mr. Yates, a leader in sport and recreation 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."

So what's the best way to go about attracting a top tournament to boost your city's bottom line? Bob Yates joined us for a live chat.

Niamh O'Doherty - Hi everyone. My name is Niamh O'Doherty, and I'll be moderating this live chat. Please feel free to start sending in your questions now.

12:49

Niamh O'Doherty - Today we'll be talking to Bob Yates, principal with Yates, Thorn and Associates, a Victoria, B.C.-based consulting firm that specializes in regional and community planning. He'll be answering your questions and explaining how cities can best profit from sporting events.

12:57

Story continues below advertisement

[Comment From Bob Yates ]

Hi Niamh, pleased to be here and happy to answer questions.

12:58

Niamh O'Doherty - Hi Bob. Perhaps, first off, you could explain a little bit about what you do in the area of sports tourism?

1:00

[Comment From Bob Yates]

Story continues below advertisement

I have been involved for over 25 years. We first looked at sport events in teh 1980s for the provincial governments, realizing that the money in sport is in the events. Through the 1990s I worked for the Canadian Tourism Commission, developing sport tourism strategies across Canada. Since 2000 we have continued working with many communities, large and small, to help them understand and capitalize on events.

1:02

Niamh O'Doherty - Are communities getting more interested in marketing themselves as destinations for sporting events? Has there been a surge in popularity?

1:04

[Comment From Bob Yates]

Yes they certainly have. In the 1990s it was just a few communities who understood the value of sport events. Now I would say that many of the midsize communities in Canada are actively pursuing sports events as a way of meeting a number of tourism objectives.

1:05

Niamh O'Doherty - Any reason for the increase in interest? Do high-profile events like the Vancouver Olympics help, for example?

1:05

Niamh O'Doherty - Readers, please feel free to send in your own questions/comments now too. Don't be shy!

1:07

[Comment From Bob Yates]

I think the falloff in other forms of tourism since 9/11 is one cause. Another is a general interest among parents who have aspirations for their kids and recognize that travel is an essential way of getting those kids a positive experience. Yes certainly the Olympics help but they also take a lot of resources which could be applied by communities to many smaller events.a long-term event strategy attached to them.

1:07

Niamh O'Doherty - Thanks Bob. And now to our first question...

1:08

[Comment From Matt E ]

Are certain sports more desirable based on the demographics of their fans? Who creates more tourism dollars, older fans (say, the Brier) or younger fans (say, the Memorial Cup)?

1:11

[Comment From Bob Yates]

Yes certainly the demographics of particular sports are critically important for the city in selecting which events to bid on. Older demographic groups spend more money and example of over 40 is rugby teams was noted in the Globe article this morning. But you also have to understand the sport groups which put on these events are more oriented to younger demographics. And it is essential to have these sport volunteers bidding for and actually running the events

1:12

Niamh O'Doherty - Could you expand on that a little Bob? Are you saying communities should market themselves towards those groups that will run the event completely?

1:16

[Comment From Bob Yates]

The vast majority off the sport events that we are talking about are organized by volunteers. Most of these volunteers are coaches or parents of younger athletes. You only have to look at baseball for instance with the vast majority of participants are under 20 years of age. So these events, say a provincial championship, need lots of volunteers and those people are more interested in events which focus on these younger age groups. Cities have to recognize that there are lots of different objectives to be met in a successful sports tourism strategy. Not only do the people in the economic development Department and the people who owned hotels have objectives which involve people spending money, but the objectives of the sport groups and the volunteers have also to be met.

1:18

Niamh O'Doherty - Bob, in the article today you talked about the mistake some communities make of investing in infrastructure before winning the chance to host an event. Is this the most common mistake in this area?

1:19

[Comment From Bob Yates]

It is about creating win-win situations. The city has to have both events which meet the objectives of support groups, events which made the needs and objectives of the tourism industry, and also events which meet the objectives of city officials. It is understanding all these objectives and getting everybody to work together which is the key to a successful sport tourism strategy.

1:19

Niamh O'Doherty - Is it difficult to get all of these interested parties to agree, or even to come to the table together?

1:21

[Comment From Bob Yates]

I wouldn't say it's the most common mistake, but it does often happen especially with large events. I certainly hope that as Ontario moves through the planning for the 2015 Pan Am games, for each new facility that they are building, they have a set of events which they are going to be hosting, or least bidding on, over the next 10 years from 2015 two 2025. It is the cash flow from thse multiple events which is where the real money is

1:23

[Comment From Bob Yates]

I wouldn't say it is difficult, but it is a question of leadership. In every city which has an effective sport tourism strategy, there is one group which has taken the lead in putting the strategy together and getting everybody on the side. Normally this is the city but in some cases it starts off with just a group of interested individuals.

1:23

Niamh O'Doherty - Can you give us an example of a city that you feel has an effective sport tourism strategy?

1:24

[Comment From Bob Yates]

It's also interesting that sport tourism strategies have been as effective in small places as a large cities. We did some work a few years ago in Logan Lake in BC helping them to understand the few niche markets which were available to them. Even in a small town of less than 3000 people they found two or three areas where they could effectively compete with much larger places.

1:25

Niamh O'Doherty - Can you tell us what events they competed for, or even give us an example?

1:26

Niamh O'Doherty - Readers, do you have anything to add to the discussion? Any tales of success of woe in sport tourism?

1:27

[Comment From Matt ]

Should communities invest in infrastructure to support non-traditional sports (e.g., cricket)? Could such investments attract sport-related tourism events that have traditionally occurred elsewhere? Does our changing demographics justify these investments?

1:28

Niamh O'Doherty - Thanks for those Matt. What do you think Bob?

1:29

[Comment From Bob Yates]

There is a tendency for cities to always go after events in the big sports. However there is much less competition for event hosting in school sports. I mentioned Logan lake before -- they found their niche in dog sports such as retriever dog trials, in orienteering, and in fishing.

1:31

[Comment From Bob Yates]

Great point Matt! The changing demographics of our big cities such as Toronto should cause us to think about and refocus on sports such as cricket and field hockey, not to mention some other things such as kebadi. You may not know for instance that the North American University cricket champions last year were York University. The opportunity to use sport as a way to build community is also something that we should think very to carefully about as it has enormous potential.

1:33

Niamh O'Doherty - Any other areas you can see growing in popularity in the future Bob?

1:35

[Comment From Stephen ]

I am from Napanee, ON and we have had huge successes in sport tourism. We have hosted 4 major events since 2008. It is a great way for us to create awareness of our community and develop community pride. It has been amazing to see our small community embrace each event. Sport tourism has made an impact in our small community.

1:35

[Comment From Bob Yates]

I think some of the extreme sports have great potential. We have seen for instance the rise of mountain biking over the last 20 years. At the last Olympics one of the most popular sports was ski cross. These events particularly appeal to that demographic aged 15 to 35 who are big spenders in terms of travel and in terms of recreation.

1:37

Niamh O'Doherty - Great point Bob. How about cross-promotion - I know for instance some winter sports communities like Whistler advertise themselves as mountain biking destinations in the summer. Are there any other areas where infrastructural investment can pay off with more than one sport?

1:37

[Comment From Bob Yates]

Yes the community pride element is very important. I think there are lots of opportunities to tie sporting events with cultural events and to really showcase some of our small communities.

1:39

[Comment From Matt ]

What's the role then of the private sector in bringing sport tourism events to smaller communities? With public spending on infrastructure on the decline, from your experiences, how can private-public partnerships bring sporting events to small and rural communities?

1:40

[Comment From Bob Yates]

I think it's a very important point for cities as they think about the kind of facilities that developing. For instance a major university gymnasium such as we have been recently helping York University to plan, opens the opportunities for many different sports. Many sports can bring in to a large gymnasium the specific sport equipment -- you can build a volleyball court or tennis court in the middle -- and then you have seating for 2000 or 3000 people. It makes for a great sport tourism facility. And of course it can be used for community use just simply playing volleyball of tennis as well.

1:43

[Comment From Bob Yates]

Once again I think you have to move outside of the main sports. We did some work recently in the Northumberland County region of Ontario. There the focus needs to be on outdoor recreation-based sports such as equestrian, fishing, orienteering -- those kinds of things. I think then the private sector is often the provider of the facility, the sport group is a nonprofit linkage, and the roles of the municipality or tourism authority becomes one of marketing.

1:44

Niamh O'Doherty - Can a community be too small - or, indeed, too large - to bid for an event Bob? Or do you think size doesn't matter?

1:47

[Comment From Bob Yates]

In the 1990s when we were working for the Canadian tourism commission, agreed to focus was midsize cities. When a sports event happens in Vancouver, it often gets lost among the myriad of other activities which are available for the press to cover and for the population to be engaged with. When the same event happens in Kamloops, or Moncton, they are far more visible and the organizing group are normally much happier with the overall experience. At the other end of the spectrum, you have to have enough hotel rooms or ballparks for the kind of event you're going after. But remember, 200,000 events happen in Canada every year, there's lots to go around!

1:47

Niamh O'Doherty - Also, readers, please feel free to send in any final questions for Bob now as we'll be wrapping this up shortly.

1:48

Niamh O'Doherty - Do you have any final thoughts on the matter Bob, or any ground you feel we haven't covered yet?

1:50

[Comment From Bob Yates]

I would just like to say that there has been some excellent things written about sports tourism over the last while. For instance we wrote a publication for the BC tourism Ministry on getting started in sport tourism, and I believe that publication is still available on the tourism BC website. Also the Canadian sports tourism alliance has lots of good information on its website for people who are interested in figuring out how their community and get involved.

1:50

Niamh O'Doherty - Can you see this area growing even faster in the future?

1:53

[Comment From Bob Yates]

The growth over the last few years has been incredible. However I think the key for the future is to become smarter at what we do. I'm still amazed at the events that some communities go after, and the many many events which we parse up. I think the key for communities is about selecting the right events to bid on -- were right is defined as meeting the objectives of the many different parties involved. I think if we approach it in this fashion we will find there are both more events to bid on and host, and more money to be made at it.

1:54

Niamh O'Doherty - Great point Bob, thanks. I think we might wrap it up on that point. Thanks very much for your time Bob.

1:55

Niamh O'Doherty - Readers, thanks for your questions, and please do feel free to continue the conversation in the comments section.

1:55

[Comment From Bob Yates]

And thanks to you for the facilitation. And to all the folks who sent in questions.



<iframe src="http://www.coveritlive.com/index2.php/option=com_altcaster/task=viewaltcast/altcast_code=9e6a8b72cb/height=650/width=460" scrolling="no" height="650px" width="460px" frameBorder ="0" allowTransparency="true" ><a href="http://www.coveritlive.com/mobile.php/option=com_mobile/task=viewaltcast/altcast_code=9e6a8b72cb" >Q&A: How cities can profit from sports</a></iframe>


Report an error
Comments are closed

We have closed comments on this story for legal reasons. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.