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Volume 23 No. 18
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Growth of youth sports ignites a niche in the travel business

The youth sports travel industry is worth an estimated $7 billion and is growing by 3 to 5 percent annually, according to the National Association of Sports Commissions, with parents investing thousands of dollars each year for their children to participate in travel teams.

The growth of the youth sports industry has spawned a niche market for travel agencies looking to cater to the teams and families traveling to distant tournaments.

A youngster tosses a bat into a bonfire at the Slumpbuster tournament during a ceremony aimed to help batters get out of their hitting slumps.
Photo by: Triple Crown Sports
Those agencies deal with the challenges faced by tournament directors and team managers who are tasked with coordinating travel arrangements for every player and his or her family.

For some of those agencies, the executives behind them were inspired to offer their speciality services based on personal experiences.

Jane Lawrence used to set up the travel arrangements for her daughter’s volleyball team. She recalled having to use outdated photos of hotels from the chamber of commerce. “It would’ve been nice to have a company like ours,” said Lawrence, who co-founded Partners in Team Travel, based in Raleigh, N.C., in 2005.

Dave King and his wife, Annette, were avid softball players. After playing in a string of poorly organized tournaments, they voiced their opinion to the tournament director, who responded with, “If you think you can do better, why don’t you do it yourself?”

And they did, starting Triple Crown Sports in 1982 out of Fort Collins, Colo.

Partners in Team Travel and PYB Sports, headquartered in Galloway, Ohio, are two agencies whose sole focus is on organizing hotel blocks for youth sports travel. They take control of the hotel arrangements and coordinate reservations with each family.

“We service the hotels, the tournament, and the teams,” said Lawrence, chief sales and marketing officer at Partners

Guests explore a festival organized by Triple Crown Sports as part of the agency’s tournament in Omaha.
Photo by: Triple Crown Sports
in Team Travel. “It’s mostly for the tournament directors and organizers so they aren’t getting calls about hotels.
They aren’t in the hotel business. So now if they get calls or emails they can just immediately forward them to us.”

Once hired by a tournament or club, a representative from the agencies will visit the tournament city to inspect the hotel options, looking at the rates, quality of rooms, location and amenities. This can take place anywhere from four months to a year in advance, guaranteeing the hotels a large block of business that they can plan the rest of their yearly sales around. That’s a key factor in allowing the agencies to receive more competitive rates than the families could receive if they booked on their own.

The agencies then create a website for the families to visit so that they have all the hotel information in one central location, allowing them to explore the options and decide what type of room they want with the rates available. The agencies coordinate with the hotel for each family’s reservation up until the time of the tournament, handling any questions or problems that may arise.

PYB Sports and Partners in Team Travel provide their services free of charge to the clubs and tournaments, earning their revenue from rebates and/or commissions given by the hotels. The agencies’ main clients are club soccer and girls fast-pitch softball.

Triple Crown Sports focuses on more than providing a hotel service for tournaments and teams. They use the destination tournament locations to turn the event into what seems more like a vacation. For example, they may work with Major League Baseball to incorporate spring training components, or include tickets to the Indianapolis 500.

“We really like to partner with those events where the team is coming for other things besides just our tournament; that’s really an important aspect of what we do,” said Keri King, event coordinator at Triple Crown.

Triple Crown Sports is widely known for its SlumpBuster and Omaha NIT tournament, which the agency owns and stages every year in Omaha in conjunction with the College World Series. The 15-day youth baseball tournament incorporates a festival night with things like a skills competition, a live televised all-star game, and a variety of vendors and games. King said the tournament accounts for about 23,000 room nights in Omaha, topped only by the College World Series.