TDS N. America 2016

October 2016, Las Vegas

Love footie, will fly: why premium hook-ups are a no-brainer for travel

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As Euro 2016 gets underway, Pamela Whitby considers how travel and sporting brands are exploring ways to cut out the middleman

From football pitch to super bowl, athletics track to boxing ring, sporting fans love to watch their team play and they love to travel to do so. In fact, sports travel & tourism is said to be worth $600 billion globally, according to research from World Travel Market.

Take FC Internazionale Milano, a club with some 100 million fans around the world. “We do have a captive audience,” admits Walker Fletcher FC Inter Managing Director Americas, who will be speaking at TDS North America later this year. “We travel a lot, our fans travel a lot and they have a greater propensity to travel than the average consumer.”  

We travel a lot, our fans travel a lot and they have a greater propensity to travel than the average consumer

Most professional sports clubs are also pretty cash flush. Football and events like the Olympics may be in a different league altogether, but even the 30 clubs of the National Hockey League are expected to rack up $477 million in sponsorships for the 2015-2016 season, a rise of 6.7% on the previous comparable period.

With official sponsors paying over the odds, and promotions tightly controlled – especially for big events like the Olympics and Euro 2016. But even travel firms that aren’t ‘official sponsors’ try to leverage fans propensity to travel to promote offers either at home or in relevant feeder markets.

Captive audience

Given the kudos attached to sport, it’s not difficult to see why mutually beneficial commission or revenue-sharing relationships between the actual sports clubs and travel brands is a no-brainer. And increasingly they are trying to cement those relationships.

Professional American football team San Diego Chargers is already heading down this road. According to Christopher Lee, MD Partnerships, San Diego Chargers, it has struck advertising deals with group travel booker HotelPlanner and has partnered with Prime Sport which, with over 100 partners, is able to put together inclusive high-end experiences. This could include being on the actual game for the final or meeting the team post match. Prime Sport is about delivering these experiences and has found a way to put a price tag on them.

For most clubs, like FC Inter Milan and San Diego Chargers, a priority is selling tickets to matches, and typically this has been done in a number of ways, which includes direct sales to season ticket holders and fans as well as through travel experience firms like Prime Sport or resellers like StubHub, e-Bay and TicketingHub.

…not the best news for those ticketing resellers, which have relied on supply and demand and static price tickets for their business

However, with advancements in technology, and club executives becoming savvier, there is a growing and compelling case to work closely with travel brands to package deals. Even the US National Football League has recognised this and is doing it with On Location Experiences, which is effectively its own travel agency.

Probably not the best news for those ticketing resellers, which have relied on supply and demand and static price tickets for their business.

Making margin

For clubs it is also increasingly seen as a way to make margin on tickets. Today a small piece of San Diego Chargers’ business is to package deals for fans travelling to an opposing team’s stadium.

“There isn’t overwhelming demand for this, but where it starts to get huge is when you get closer to the play offs,” explains Lee.

At times like this, it is possible to take 1,000 people on the road and coordinate their travel for them and how would it work is pretty straightforward. Quite simply, a club like San Diego Chargers would work with a travel brand to secure the rooms for a large group at the best price. The club, with its database of dedicated fans, would then market the all-inclusive package on social media, via email, on TV and so on.  

Packages could include everything from fans travelling with the team and staying in the team hotel to meeting the coach or players, to a pre-drinks reception and talk from a former player and being on the pitch on the night of the big game.

 “If we can start to make a compelling integrated package with tickets and travel, that’s a high priority for us,” says FC Inter’s Fletcher.  

For travel brands, as we said earlier, it’s a no-brainer. A firm like FC Inter Milan has hundreds of millions of fans around the world, and the ability to purchase a certain number of tickets at face value. Those fans are also potential travel customers and are a ‘captive audience. For clubs it’s the opportunity to be part of the multibillion-dollar travel industry, either by earning commissions or sharing revenue.   

For travel brands….it’s a no-brainer

Given the passion fans feel for their club, even marketing to them becomes a simpler exercise and the quickest way to reach them, says Fletcher, is through direct contact. Providing it’s not just a marketing ploy, intrusive spam or an unadulterated sales pitch, “email works well because it allows a fan to take action right there and then,” he adds.

The hope, of course, is that the passion fans have for their team will transfer to the travel brand associated with it. Going forward, Lee believes there is a lot of potential to score in partnerships with travel brands – from accommodation to airlines, ground transportation and more.

Join us in Las Vegas in October (6-7) to hear more from Fletcher Walker, MD Americas FC Inter, Christopher Lee, MD Partnerships San Diego Chargers, Tim Hentschel, CEO, Hotel Planner and Kurien Jacob, Principal, Highgate Ventures at Highgate Hotels on how travel brands and sports’ clubs can work better together to accommodate this growing market.

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