FROST: The Ins & Outs Of Sports Tourism

Tim Frost

WILMETTE, Ill. — Sports tourism is a significant business that contributes a great deal to the motorsports industry.

This month, we will look at the business of sports tourism and how motorsports contributes to its bottom line.

The annual trek south for fans begins as racing revs up in the Sunshine State.  The first three months of the year feature non-stop racing of all types.

Legendary events include Daytona Kartweek, the Rolex 24 At Daytona, Speedweeks, the DIRTcar Nationals, Gatornationals, the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring and Daytona Bike Week.

Tourism is one of the largest contributors to Florida’s economy. The state attracts almost 120 million visitors annually. Nearly 90 percent are domestic travelers with the remainder international — led by Canadians. Orlando is the most favored destination due to its multiple theme parks.
Officials underscore the importance of identifying, attracting and retaining sporting events. They stimulate the local economy through direct spending and ancillary revenue. Events enhance the area’s image and contribute to the quality of life.

Florida benefits from two segments of sports tourism. Participant-based travel will attract drivers, teams, sponsors and related entities to venues throughout the state. Spectator travel is comprised of those who watch events while visiting a destination.

The key to Florida’s success is the multitude of races during a short time period. Multi-day events allow promoters, racers, teams and spectators capitalize on the opportunity. Racers can earn prize money and fans can support their favorites several nights in a row.

The big tracks — Daytona Int’l Speedway, Sebring Int’l Raceway, Gainesville Raceway and Homestead-Miami Speedway — built infrastructure to host teams and spectators who spend weeks in their recreational vehicles at the track.

Campgrounds with modern amenities charge premium rates.  Sponsors activate in fan zones, playgrounds and picnic areas, deepening their bond to a desirable consumer base.

The annual economic impact of the facilities in Florida owned by International Speedway Corp. exceeds $2 billion. Several hundred thousand fans attend events, stay in hotels and spend on food and entertainment. Florida-based companies sponsor events and promote with on-site activation.

Government officials realize the importance of sports-related tourism. They have created various incentive programs that are directed at the industry. Florida has programs for sports facility construction and the retention of Major League Baseball spring training facilities.

The One Daytona project received a combination of grants and property tax abatements, which were used for infrastructure improvements to Daytona Int’l Speedway. Homestead-Miami Speedway was the beneficiary of the Florida professional sports franchise facilities taxes. Sebring Int’l Raceway is exempt from property tax since it is located and leased from the local municipal airport authority. Gainesville Raceway has sought tourist development tax funds since it is owned by NHRA, which is a non-profit entity.

Public support of sports has its critics. There is considerable debate over the use of subsidies that go toward building sports facilities. Does public money turn into private profit?

Motorsports has long been a business that has been self-financed through credit lines or profits. Over the last 20 years, it has selectively utilized the typical sports facility model of public involvement.

When the green flag waves and the grandstands are at capacity, the local businesses continue to value the contributions race fans make to the Florida economy.