Are you an avid sports fan? Do you and your family or friends bond over watching sports together? Then why not combine your passion for the game with your love for travel by taking a sports-themed vacation?
Why would you want to watch the Olympic Games on television when you can feel the electricity at the opening ceremonies and cheer America on to the gold in person? If you've always wondered how those lucky people get to watch the Super Bowl, World Series, Wimbledon, Kentucky Derby or other major event in person, read on.
A sports-related package vacation may be just the thing for your next big trip, bachelor party or family reunion. And if you don't want to bother with the details, don't fret: there are many companies that, working with your travel agent, can make you a part of the action.
Trips can combine VIP tickets with a behind-the-scenes stadium tour, a meet-the-players party and luxury hotel accommodations. It's possible to build a tour around anything (NASCAR, kung fu, gymnastics—whatever your passion is), not just common sports like baseball and football or big events such as the Olympics. You don't have to plan a trip around a specific event; you can do something like see a baseball game in five northeast stadiums.
Don't miss a chance to put yourself right where the action is. Contact your travel agent, and start planning the sports trip of your dreams. Don't forget to wave to your friends at home watching on TV.
Designing a sports-tour package
Resources to help get your clients into the world's top sporting events
Agents who want to be the MVPs in their field should be in the know about their clients' favorite sports.
Thom Gilligan of Marathon Tours & Travel (www.marathontours. com, 800-444-4097) in Boston has been booking sports travel for 28 years. "It helps to have an understanding of the jargon, and how to assist with entry into the event," he advises agents. "It's also good to have a familiarity with the course. If you recommend a hotel within walking distance of the finish line, you've probably made the sale." Gilligan also notes that marathoners are "fairly upscale travelers" and prefer hotels with a health club and spa; an option for a post-marathon massage is a real plus. The repeat level is high for Gilligan's clients—they attend an average of three to four marathons a year. "Don't be afraid to do a little research on the event, and charge a service fee."
The Beijing 2008 Olympic Games (en.beijing2008.com) are almost two years away (August 2008), but retailers like Champion Holidays (www.chinadiscovery.com, 800-868-7658) are already planning packages. "I'd strongly suggest they start booking," says president Steve Xu, noting that it can be tough to score tickets to the opening and closing ceremonies and to the most popular sporting events.
If your client is interested in attending a PGA tour event or a major championship like The Masters or U.S. Open, try Golf Tickets (www.golftickets.com, 800-298-7762), which offers a five percent agent commission. If it's the Ryder Cup, check the Ireland Golf Tour Operators Association (www.igtoa. com, 353 086 2561810) or The Golf Travel Company (www.e-golftravel. com, 800-883-7494).
Pleasant Holidays (www.pleasantagent.com, 800-837-5999) is licensed as an official fan travel provider by the NFL, and it has developed all-inclusive group packages for events like the annual Pro Bowl. For example, the "Platinum Plus" package includes accommodations, club seating, game-day transfers, a VIP tailgate party with NFL players and cheerleaders, reserved covered seating, and gift bags. Call agent contact Allyson Davy (800-542-9244, ext. 8226).
Big League Tours (www.bigleaguetours.com, 866-619-1748) escorts baseball fans on customized tours or reg-ional trips of some of Major League Baseball's historic stadiums. On a Big League Tour, clients get the chance to meet ballplayers and enjoy special access to stadiums.
Finally, agents can turn to sports travel generalist companies, which can coordinate entire packages (airfare, hotel and game tickets) to major sporting events. For instance, City Escape Holidays (www.cityescapes.com, 800-222-0022) offers sports fans all-inclusive packages to special events including the 2007 Super Bowl, the Tournament of Roses Parade and the Kentucky Derby.
Another generalist is Prime Sport (www.primesport.com, 800-591-9198), which puts together packages centered around pro football, baseball, basketball, golf, soccer and tennis. College basketball and football are also popular, and there are even unique packages for horse racing, motorsports, the rodeo and NASCAR.
Prime Sport is the accredited travel operator for professional sports teams like the Carolina Panthers and the Seattle Seahawks, so packages, according to a spokesperson, may even include a get-together with team members.
Premiere Sports Travel (www.sportstravel.com, 800-924-9993) can also arrange trips centered around a variety of sports. Last year, the firm sent 13,000 people to everything from the Kentucky Derby to the NBA All Star Game.
Another good bet is Chicago's Sports Traveler (www.sportstraveler.net, 888-654-7755), which was started in 2000 by former competitive figure skater and coach Anbritt Stengele, who says her firm "specializes in sold-out events."
Commissions for agents vary. For example, Prime Sport offers 10 percent commissions, Chicago Sports Traveler, five to 15 percent, and Premiere Sports Travel, seven to 10 percent.
—Camie Foster, Mike Jaccarino, Joe Pike, Erin F. Sternthal and Debbie Strong