SBJ/20100628/Up Next

A family’s ‘staycation’ could be all a sports team ever wanted

I guess I’m different. One of the things I look forward to on vacation is to catch up on my love of sports both as a fan and participant. I watch more games, play more golf, read the sports section a bit more carefully. But the May 2010 national survey by Luker on Trends/SSRS found that most Americans are less interested in sports during vacation.

When asked if they typically spend more or less time following sports during vacation, 65 percent said they spend less time (54 percent said “much less”) and only 9 percent spend more time. This question was on the ESPN Sports Poll in May, as well, with similar results: 66 percent said they spend less time and 5 percent said they spend more.

We did these studies because I had never seen any research on sports and vacation. Perhaps we assume sports interests are greater during vacation because baseball attendance typically increases dramatically after kids get out of school. I asked my Up Next panel of 30 experts what results they expected, and 42 percent said people would be more interested in sports; 38 percent said less. I would have expected interest to be higher, too.

I thought the industry expectation that people spend more time following sports on vacation might be an income issue because both sports executives and avid fans are usually among an upper-income group, but this was one of those rare times when it went the other way. The more money a person makes, the less time he or she spends following sports during vacation (see top chart).

Maybe it’s about travel …

The Luker on Trends/SSRS survey also asked questions about travel during vacation. Sixty-nine percent of Americans travel once a year or more on vacation. For those who do:

28 percent plan to travel farther this year, while 39 percent will stay closer to home.

27 percent will spend more, while 49 percent will spend less on vacation.

As far as what they are interested in doing on vacation:

80 percent listed participating in outdoor activities, such as camping, fishing, bicycling or going to the beach.

53 percent said visiting theme parks.

37 percent planned to visit sports destinations for either playing or watching sports.

Again, the numbers on sports seemed low to me, so I checked the U.S. Travel Association figures for added insight. In April, the association co-authored with Ypartnership a Travelhorizons survey of 2,200 American adults about how interested they would be in engaging in each of more than 20 different activities. “Attending a sporting event” was 16th on the list at 34 percent, very similar to our findings. Interest in participating in various sports and outdoor activities ranged from 10 percent for playing tennis to 22 percent for biking.

FUTURE FIVE
The economy still dominates the issues, as the top three are unchanged, but more issues are drawing attention. In particular, overall declines in attendance is a higher focus than in the past, even more than pending labor issues. At the same time, the importance of labor issues increased from last quarter, and the percentage saying it is the top issue rose from 3 percent to 11 percent.
RANK (PVS) ISSUE SCORE
(% 1st-place votes)
1 (1) State of U.S. economy 225 (44%)
2 (2) Ability of middle-income American families to spend money on sports 204 (15%)
3 (3) How financial pressure that companies feel will affect sports investments 183 (7%)
4 (8) Attendance trends in professional and major college sports 156 (4%)
5 (4) Pending league/union labor negotiations 146 (11%)
Notes: Results from a panel of 30 industry leaders. Participants ranked each of 10 issues, with 10 points being assigned for a 1st-place vote, nine for a 2nd-place vote, down to one point for a 10th-place vote. Percentages have been rounded. Only the top five are listed.

I turned to Sam Zussman of IMG Academies for insight. He reminded me that the most-dedicated athletes prioritize their time to invest in the love of their sport. The ESPN Sports Poll for years has found roughly 40 percent of Americans do some form of sport or exercise every week. That’s a large portion of the population, but dedication is another issue. In a study of dedication to sport that I conducted a few years back for CNS, maker of Breathe Right nasal strips, we found that 10 percent of adults participate in sports daily and make sacrifices in other areas to be sure they do.

That’s dedication. It’s also a fairly small number.

U.S. Travel Association conducts a quarterly measure of “travel sentiment,” which includes several elements summed to get the pulse of American willingness to travel on vacation. There is an interesting pattern in that measure that started in 2007. From June 2007 through February 2008 (before we were clearly in economic distress), the index was fairly stable around 90 (see Travel Sentiment chart). The decline related to the economy lasted for only three quarters, and the index returned to around 90 in February 2009 and has remained near there ever since. That data, along with several other studies we checked, indicate a willingness to get back on the road this summer.

An opportunity

What does this tell us?

1. It appears that the NFL and other fall/winter sports may enjoy a seasonal advantage because they are not active during the prime vacation months of June through August.

2. Income, once again, is a factor. The more money a household has, the more often those individuals travel, the farther they are likely to travel and the more they will spend. That is, the higher the income, the more vacation is about travel.

3. Lower-income households maintain their sports interests during vacation more so than upper incomes. Might it be the case for them that a “staycation” to a baseball game is the closest they get to a vacation trip?

Here is a new opportunity for summer sports to meet the needs of more Americans.

Rich Luker (rich@lukerco.com) is a consultant with The Luker Co.

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