After more than a year without in-person gatherings and festivities, the excitement about reopening sporting events is evident — particularly the upcoming football season this fall. Sports fans worldwide are counting down the days until they can cheer on their favorite teams and athletes from the stands, and with sporting events in full swing, destinations can expect to see more people traveling in team colors to watch the big game. 

Destination Marketing Organizations (DMOs) have more influence on sports fans than they may realize. DMOs can help visitors plan their trip around game-day activities, focusing on the destination’s must-see attractions. Whether it be the best hotels to stay at, the sports bars with the die-hard fans, or the most convenient place to park for easy access to the stadium — destinations have the behind-the-scenes look that travelers need to cheer on their team at the away games.  

“A large percentage of the world’s population is loyal to sports, whether it be a team or a specific sport. That makes sports an incredibly powerful tool to reach new visitors.”

– Joshua Dill, Director of Sports and Events, Visit Frisco

By promoting sporting events, DMOs see an increase in interest from travelers. Visit Knoxville and Visit Frisco are cheering on their local teams with dedicated portions of their websites just for game days. Travelers can plan their visit around their favorite team all without leaving the DMO’s website.

We asked Kristen Combs, the director of communications & social strategies at Visit Knoxville, and Joshua Dill, the director of sports and events at Visit Frisco, to answer a few questions about their organization’s strategies.

invalid panel [plugins_common_primary_two_col] []


What encouraged your DMO to focus some of your marketing efforts on sporting events? 

Destination Q&A AnswerThe University of Tennessee is an integral part of Knoxville, and we at Visit Knoxville know there are visitors that come to UT for all kinds of reasons. From prospective students and guest professors, to parents and Vol football fans, we want to help visitors find their way around our destination and experience it to the fullest. In conversations with our SEO analyst, we recognized the amount of search volume and potential traffic that surrounds UT football-related inquiries. We have a set up page dedicated to “Gameday” to capitalize on that volume along with UT-related content in various blog posts.

– Kristen Combs, Visit Knoxville

While it is a relatively young city, Frisco [Texas] chose to embrace sports as a key economic driver very early on. I like to say it all started with a superdrome. More than two decades ago, the city created a public/private partnership to build a cycling track that was used in the 2000 US Olympic Trials.

–  Joshua Dill, Visit Frisco


What results have you seen?

During football season and excepting paid search, the “Gameday” page has historically been the second-most visited page of our site.

– Kristen Combs, Visit Knoxville

Sports continues to be a strong market segment for group business in our city. During the pandemic, it has accounted for close to 60% of our group business in the city. While the economic impact created by sports-related activities is important, the destination awareness that is created by hosting major sporting events is phenomenal. Every year, we host multiple events that are broadcast on ESPN, CBS Sports, TSN in Canada, and others, in addition to online streaming of competitions. The media value that is generated by those events is incredible.

–  Joshua Dill, Visit Frisco


What type of attractions do you direct your sports-loving visitors to? 

There are some UT-related things to do that we point out on the “Gameday” page, including Saloon 16 (Peyton Manning’s bar), finding the “Smokey” statues on campus, and the Vol Princess and Tennessee Riverboat (as Neyland Stadium is one of only two universities that are on the waterfront). 

There is also a blog post that is part of a series called “In the Neighborhood,” and it is focused on campus and the surrounding area. There is another blog post called “Guide to Gameday” that goes into further depth on the perfect way to experience football time in Tennessee. Lastly, this page directs visitors to things to do before and after games in categories such as breweries (sports and beer are a natural fit), dining, outdoors, pet-friendly patios, nightlife, and shopping.

– Kristen Combs, Visit Knoxville

We promote all of the great events that our venues are hosting on a regular basis. For the casual sports fan that makes their way to Frisco, we are able to direct them to tours of The Star, home of the Dallas Cowboys, or to the National Soccer Hall of Fame. Frisco is definitely a destination that caters to sports fans.

–  Joshua Dill, Visit Frisco


What advice would you give to a DMO that is interested in promoting their local sporting teams? 

We would recommend creating their own version of a “Gameday” page and providing the information that visitors are searching for. Consider including schedules, parking options, maps, and blog posts or other applicable information.

– Kristen Combs, Visit Knoxville

I would encourage destinations to start by looking at what their destination already does well in the sports world and capitalize on that. It doesn’t take a relocation of a large, professional sports organization to use sports as a driver of economic development and tourism. Start small and emphasize all the successes of sports tourism (economic impact, media value, community pride, and giveback) to your city’s key stakeholders. As the success builds, destinations will be amazed by the “snowball effect” that is created, leading to sports becoming a significant pillar in your community’s approach.

–  Joshua Dill, Visit Frisco


For another great example of promoting sports to boost travel to your destination, check out Visit Bloomington. The website features “Turn Game Day into a Getaway”, which includes:

  • The Hoosier Football season schedule
  • Ticket purchases and contests to win free admission to games 
  • Parking information
  • Restaurants deemed “Hoosier sports staples”
  • Hotel booking near the football stadium 
  • A “Gameday Getaway Inspiration” photo album 

Photo by Steve DiMatteo on Unsplash