Our recent research into sport events in Australia suggests that there are over 1000 events held every year. Every weekend thousands of dedicated sport event participants travel to the far reaches of regional and rural Australia to compete, marshal and officiate in an increasingly diverse range of sport events. For the first time researchers have attempted to document just how many and how diverse these events are, and to consider the implications of these events on the towns that host them, and on sport participation and development.The newly developed regional sport event database (RSED) uses the Australian Sports Commission definition of sport events: as “one-off, held annually or more frequently, conducted on a single day or over a number of days, staged in a single venue or in multiple venues, focused on one sport or recreation activity or involve a variety of activities”. The database includes events held in non-capital city areas in regional and rural Australia, and includes both amateur and professional sports competitions.
Researchers found over 1,000 sport events were held in regional areas of Australia between January and December 2014. While the media stories on mud runs and extreme sport events promote the popularity of more diverse sport events, the search found that most sport events were in traditional areas of running (marathons, half marathons), sailing (regattas, championships) and triathlon. However the nature-based environments in regional areas are also popular locations for events in shooting (clay and target) and paddling (rowing, dragonboat and kayaking). A total of 44 sports were found including championships for less well known sports such as croquet, rogaine and frisbee.
Running events were clearly the most popular representing 25% of all regional sport events in that year. This follows the trends for increased participation in marathons – also the increasing diversity of both the types of running events (mud runs, colour runs, neon runs, parkrun) and location (ultra marathons, desert marathons). While city marathons are the most popular in terms of the number of registered competitors, marathons held in regional areas can develop to become their own signature event for regions like the Gold Coast Marathon, with 5,616 entrants, or specific towns like Wangaratta Marathon (103 entrants).
Sport events were found in every region of Australia and in distant and remote regions of the Kimberley WA, far north Queensland and the red centre. However it was clear that some regional tourism agencies are more proactive in developing sport event tourism than others, often through the delivery of an event strategy. Townsville is one of the most prolific sport event destinations with 22 sport events held throughout the year across 11 sports, however snow sport events held in Perisher Valley, Thredbo and Mt Hotham accounted for the greatest regional concentration of events (44). For destinations looking to develop sport tourism markets, the development of events with growing popularity such as running events or triathlons can add to the immediate visitation, but it can also add to the destination’s brand equity – or how people value the experience of a destination. Townsville’s current branding “Townsville Shines” promotes the region as an event based destination for sport tourists as both competitors and spectators.
Media coverage of sport events in regional areas can be highly beneficial both for the sport and for the destination, with an event like Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain IronMan Series and Telstra IronWoman Series generating an estimated Combined publicity value of more than $5.5 million. Apart from the important publicity, the influx of visitors assists in providing an economic boost to regional areas, especially when sport events can be clustered to create sport event destinations. In 2013, the Mooloolaba and Noosa triathlons and the PGA golf championship were expected to contribute more than $36 million to the Sunshine Coast, attracting almost 88,000 people to the area.
The study delivered some interesting messages for both government planners, and for individual event managers. With planning and vision, regions can develop strong strategies to attract sport tourists to their destinations by partnering with local sport clubs, private event organisers and sport associations. Over time, these events can help to brand the destination and distribute important messages to prospective visitors. However planners should also be wary about the types of organisations they are dealing with and their ability to manage the inherent risks of holding sport events. Strong partnerships between sport, tourism and local government organisations in regional Australia have delivered impressive results in many areas of Australia from which others can learn from.
A full version of this article can be found in Australasian Leisure Management, Vol. 108, pg 2.
Destination Research continues to assist sport event managers and sponsors to evaluate the tourism, economic and recreational value of the event to the event and the wider community.
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