You don’t have to be a sports fan to tap into the growing and lucrative sports travel market, according to tour operators specializing in that niche and the travel agents who sell their products.
Sports tour operators are available to sell any event -- from the Super Bowl to a regular season baseball game to the Kentucky Derby. While operators have pre-defined packages available, they can also customize programs for fans who might, for instance, be alumni of a particular school.
“We sell a lot of product through agents,” said Steve Parry, founder and president of Golden Sports Tours in Plano, Tex. “We can sell anything through an agent – one ticket and one room for one night – or 100 tickets and 50 rooms for four nights, with a celebrity thrown in for their party. We’re there to help them with what they need.”
Agents who are able to carefully qualify what their clients want in a sports-oriented trip stand to gain the most from these bookings, according to experts.
“For agents this is often an untouched opportunity to make money,” said Parry. “The more they can narrow down what the customer is looking for, the better we will be able to work with them and make the sale easy.“
Major league opportunities
Many agents are reluctant to sell sports travel because they are not sports fans themselves or are afraid of the ticketing element, which presents its own risks.
“If an agent gets a call from a good client who is willing to spend money on tickets, and the agent goes to Craig’s List, eBay or a cheap tickets site, it opens up Pandora’s Box,” said Parry. “There is a lot of fraud, and a ton of thieves, in the ticketing business.”
Parry suggests agents should only use an operator which is a member of the National Tour Insurance and has insurance in case tickets are fraudulent.
Teresa Weybrew, director of sales for Sports Travel and Tours in Hatfield, Mass., said agents would do well to simply be aware of upcoming sports events – especially those that might be of interest in their communities.
“We are the official tour operator for the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York and we know there will be particular interest in trips to the Hall of Fame induction in July from people who live in the cities where the inductees played or where they live,” Weybrew said.
“Agents who are up on that can do well in selling that kind of event.”
Weybrew’s company has a significant baseball product line – including “road trips” that take in games in several cities – and options to visit Cooperstown. The company also does spring training packages.
Show me the money!
Already lucrative due to ticket prices, sports travel can also be a solid moneymaker because of the international possibilities.
In addition to events like World Cup soccer championships, there are options like the annual NFL games played in London.
As for compensation, Golden Sports Tours pays a straight 10% on its packages.
Weybrew’s Sports Travel and Tours pays an average commission of 5%, but will work with agents to find a compensation level that works depending on the package.
“A lot of agents balk at 5%, but when you talk about a $3,900 package that you can get with one phone call, that’s a good commission,” said Weybrew.
“We will also net it out,” she added. “An agent can tell me how much they need to make and we will add that overage to the package price.”
A league of their own
Ultimately, keeping up with developments in the sports world is crucial to agents serving their clients.
On the flip side, most sports aficionados are not aware that agents have the expertise to help them plan their sports-related trips.
“Agents have to create awareness,” said Weybrew. “You have to put sports on your website and we’ll even do a white label co-brand with agents. There should also be something in your office – maybe a baseball, a basketball and a football in a case.
“If an agent wants a piece of this niche market, they have to work at it.”
To keep agents informed of the possibilities, Sports Travel and Tours offers monthly webinars – and will do a webinar for one agency.
“We’ll even hold a sports night with an agency where they can invite their best customers to come and see what sports travel is all about,” said Weybrew.
While Golden Tours tends to send clients on charters, Weybrew said she encourages agents to handle their own air because clients might be coming from a variety of locations.
Going with a group
Group business is a natural for sports travel – whether it’s for an alumni or another fan group.
Eric Hall, group travel specialist at Auto Club Group in Dearborn, Mich. has organized groups to the U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York three years in a row – marketing it to past clients and in the club’s magazine. Thirty attended the first year, followed by 70 the following year.
Sports Travel and Tours put those packages together, said Hall
“We followed their leads on hotels and so forth,” he said. “Our group includes AAA offices in 11 states so there were a lot of logistics.”
Hall also handled a group headed to an NFL game in London last year and is doing it again this year as the Detroit Lions plan to play.
“The fans are out there,” he said. “It’s a matter of tapping into that market and finding out what they need.”
Lucy Lorea, a travel consultant with Sun Travel in El Paso, has worked periodically with Golden Tours and other operators when clients are looking for sports travel.
She has also sold clients to the two recent World Cup soccer championships in Brazil and South Africa.
“I can develop trust among clients so they feel comfortable in buying this kind of travel,” she said. “There can be a lot of money involved because of the price of tickets, the distance and travel within these countries.
“I have been in business for so many years so I know how to find a trustworthy tour operator.”
And Tesa Groesbeck, a travel consultant with Santa’s Vagabond Travel in Fairbanks, AK., said distance from the sporting world can actually be a benefit to agents.
“We have regular clients who want to see a professional hockey or football game, and we don’t have that here; they have to go the Lower 48,” said Groesbeck.