Game Plan: The True Cost of Sports Events

Sports tourism continues to be big business in the United States, with amateur athletes spending more than $10.6 billion for events each year, according to the SportsEvents 2017 annual report. The benefits of hosting an event can be huge for a destination. A large-scale event raises the profile of the city or region, brings much-needed sales and lodging tax revenue, and helps municipalities build or upgrade recreational facilities. For sports organizations, tournaments and events serve as fundraisers but are also a celebration of sorts: a culmination of a season of practice, training and hard work. But benefits have to be weighed against the costs, some of which may not always be obvious. The costs of hosting a sporting event varies depending on the size, type of event, time of year and location.

Tom O’Hara is director of marketing and business development for the United States Specialty Sports Association (USSSA), a multi-sport governing body that offers programs in baseball, softball, basketball, volleyball, flag football, lacrosse, golf, soccer and martial arts. O’Hara offered a list of costs to prepare for when hosting and running a sports event:

  • Marketing of event
  • Facility user fees or field rental
  • Additional name insured for facility/park
  • Umpires/officials

The amount for officials varies. For example, the Alabama High School Athletic Association rate ranges from $40 per contest for junior high competitions to $60 per contest for high school events. Average pay for youth baseball home plate umpires is between $25 and $30 per game, while base umpires should get $15 to $20.

  • Umpire-in-chief fee
  • On-site tournament director fee
  • Scorekeepers (may be volunteer)
  • Awards
  • Athletic trainer (if not provided by the facility)
  • Lighting (if not included in facility user fees)
  • Balls (if not included in the entry fee)

Russ mentioned a few other costs that planners need to consider:   

  • Facility security
  • Staff and officials’ accommodations, travel, rental cars and per diem
  • Hospitality
  • Gifts
  • Program and ticket printing
  • Signage

Then there are those items you learn to provide after a lot of experience. “I personally provide water and fruit—such as oranges, apples, etc.—for officials working my events,” O’Hara said. “They must keep hydrated.” For race events such as a 5K, marathon or triathlon, there are different costs to consider. In addition to some of the items already recounted, you may also need:

  • Permit from the city or municipality, which may have an application fee
  • Police officers to stop or block traffic
  • Portable potties
  • Timing equipment rental
  • Those much-coveted race T-shirts

O’Hara said some facilities will charge an additional fee if the event brings in outside vendors, such as bat and equipment companies. Facilities may also require vendors provide an additional name insured policy holding the field owner harmless, O’Hara said.

Sports planners can expect a range of item costs to be covered by the facility or center but those costs vary depending on individual parks, so be sure to ask. “Some parks are privately owned, some parks are owned by a municipality (city or county),” O’Hara said. “Some parks charge per field, some by day or weekend. Some include the lighting, some do not.” Concessions, for example, are typically excluded in your user agreement. “Some parks, ESPN Wide World of Sports for instance, provide trainers and include lighting and security,” he said.  Those costs are included in your User/Field Rental agreements. So, again, ask questions and read your agreement carefully.

Sports commissions are excellent resources for planners to use while organizing athletic events. “The local sports commission knows the area; help them help you make connections with local providers for specific event needs,” said Michelle Russ, director of sales for the Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Sports Commission. “We are a one-stop shop that planners can utilize for a variety of reasons from helping secure discounted accommodations or finding the perfect venue to suggesting destination activities or delicious dining options.” Some events, such as the Brett/Robinson Alabama Coastal Triathlon and the Kaiser Realty by Wyndham Vacation Rentals Coastal Half Marathon, are coordinated from start to finish by the Sports Commission. Which brings up the question: What can sports planners negotiate, if anything?

“Typically, there is no negotiating room. There are many organizations competing for the use of a facility or complex owned by municipalities on any given date,” O’Hara said. “The fees are the same for any group or organization.”  There may, however, be a bit of room to negotiate with private facilities. “Especially if you are holding multiple events throughout the season there,” O’Hara said.