Sports tourism is a big business; worldwide, people make journeys based not on historic sites or warm beaches but for sports teams and events.
Here in Australia, The Office for Sport sees major sporting events as a key driver behind tourism. The ICC Men’s T20 World Cup, 2023 World Athletics Cross Country Championships and the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup are all due to touch down here over the next 18 months and bring people and revenue.
The latter event is hoped to be a precursor to hosting an actual World Cup here; almost every other continent has hosted such an event (only Antarctica hasn’t, for obvious reasons). The World Cup is a massive revenue generator for whichever country hosts it and helps develop tourism for many years afterwards.
Hosting a major tournament isn’t the only driver of football tourism. In Europe, football tourism is big business, with many factors contributing to its ongoing popularity. What pushes the market forward and attracts millions of football fans to make trips abroad each year? We look here at some of the factors.
Some clubs are worldwide institutions, and as such, they attract tourism in the same way as Uluru or the Sydney Opera House. They become the attraction purely based on their history. In Spain, clubs like Real Madrid and Barcelona hold that honour, whilst Manchester United and Liverpool are the most famous in England.
Their current performance doesn’t always detract from their appeal. For instance, Manchester United are at a low ebb, as bad as they’ve been for a long while. They haven’t won a title in England in nine years, and they’re unlikely to be among the favourites for the Premier League with Coral in 2022/23. That doesn’t mean fans from across the globe won’t want to watch one of their matches; they routinely attract more fans than any other club; 73,156 pack into Old Trafford weekly despite their current form.
Whilst some fans travel to watch sports teams such as Real Madrid and Barcelona, others visit purely for the stadium tour. That’s another form of sports tourism; visiting the locations of great matches rather than the matches themselves. A trip to Barcelona’s Camp Nou is almost seen as part of the Barcelona tourist trail, just as a visit to Basílica de la Sagrada Família would be.
This tourism is seen when a club moves from one ground to another. If a famous old location is likely to disappear in the coming years, such as Everton’s Goodison Park, more fans are likely to visit to say ‘I was there’. Football fans are very particular about the architecture of the ground and can often disassociate the club and their home turf. Liverpool fans might not get on with Everton but can surely appreciate the Archibald Leitch design and structure.
Sometimes fans travel to a club because they have a cult-like following rather than famous or successful. The obvious example of this comes from Germany, where St Pauli is one of those teams. Based in Hamburg, St Pauli has cultivated a following of left-wing, liberal supporters and attracted fans from across the globe.
Their ground is close to the famous Reeperbahn, and they quickly became the club for bohemians, political activists and those who enjoy an alternative lifestyle. Football is almost secondary to the overall experience, and that alone becomes a magnet for tourists. Indeed, they’re described by New Frame as like ‘no other club in the world’, making them a cult tourist attraction.
Finally, football fans often travel purely for a change of culture. Fans in a certain country get used to their matchday experience, the rules regulating them, and supporters’ and clubs’ reactions. Some may see other different experiences and wish to be there and see for themselves. For instance, Sparta Prague in the Czech Republic has vociferous fans that indulge in pyro displays which are outlawed in other parts of Europe. That different culture makes them a great destination, especially when their city offers a wider tourist experience.
The same goes for football in Italy; their Ultra scene is well-known across Europe. An Ultra is a hardcore fan who creates displays in the ground, sings for ninety minutes, and lives their life through the club. That can often be missing from a drab, sanitized Premier League ground, so supporters in England may travel to find the passion they feel the beautiful game deserves.
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