Game Changers: Sporting Incentive Trips

Anyone who has attended a Super Bowl party or a pregame tailgate gathering knows that sporting events have a way of bringing people together. The game-day playbook involves frenzied anticipation, spirited debate, camaraderie and indulgent food and drink—plus the communal experience of watching a live event unfold, a relative novelty now that many consume recorded, streamed and on-demand entertainment.

Meeting professionals can adapt that game plan to their next incentive outing or corporate retreat by building the trip around a top-tier sporting event. “As major sporting events often offer a history-making moment, they create a unique opportunity for employees to bond over the shared, once-in-a-lifetime experience,” says Bryan Pettigrew, senior vice president of marketing and sponsorship for the Breeders’ Cup Thoroughbred horse races.

Some competitions take place at the same venue every year, as in the case of the U.S. Open, held at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, New York, in late August through early September, and the Masters golf tournament, held at Georgia’s Augusta National Golf Club in April.

Sporting events held at rotating locations, such as the Super Bowl, professional all-star games and certain major collegiate postseason contests, announce host cities years in advance, giving both destinations and planners ample time to prepare.

“Host cities often invest a significant amount of time and resources into community-wide infrastructure surrounding a major sporting event that’s primed to bring a lot of visitors to their streets, making for the best time to arrange a trip to the destination,” Pettigrew says.

These spectacles of sport don’t appeal only to super-fans. “Many high-level sporting events have developed from a one-dimensional match or race into an all-inclusive lifestyle experience, boasting the best of cuisine, entertainment and hospitality, thereby ensuring a positive experience for all attendees, whether they have a proclivity toward sports or not,” Pettigrew says.

For example, the 2017 Breeders’ Cup World Championships coming to Del Mar, California, November 3–4 will follow a week-long Breeders’ Cup Festival featuring culinary events, parties, art exhibitions, golf tournaments and more. In 2018, the event heads to Churchill Downs in Louisville, the storied home of the Kentucky Derby.

Planners in need of incentive trip inspiration should keep these marquee events on their radar for 2018.

  • Super Bowl 52, Feb. 4, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis
  • NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four, March 31–April 2, at the Alamodome in San Antonio
  • The Masters Tournament, April 5–8, at Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia
  • S. Open Tennis Championships, Aug. 31–Sept. 11, at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, New York

Read more about incentive travel in the October issue of Smart Meetings.