Families are increasingly paying large sums of money to follow their kids traveling around the country to play sports. Vacations are turning into tournament vacations, or as one expert says “tourni-cations.” John Raoux AP
Families are increasingly paying large sums of money to follow their kids traveling around the country to play sports. Vacations are turning into tournament vacations, or as one expert says “tourni-cations.” John Raoux AP

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Parents are spending thousands on travel youth sports, and a billion dollar business has emerged

By Langston Wertz Jr.

lwertz@charlotteobserver.com

August 25, 2017 11:59 AM

If you have a child who plays any type of youth sport, chances are you have traveled out of town to watch him or her play.

And chances are you have spent a lot of money doing so.

HBO’s “Real Sports” recently took a deep dive into a booming business -- youth sports tourism.

It finds that travel teams have fueled what it calls “an unprecedented sports tourism boom” over the past decade. In 2016, Real Sports reports that families spent more than $10 billion on the road.

Real Sports follows several families who travel with their kid. One parent said she and her husband spend 30 weekends a year on the road playing baseball. The reason? So their children can play against other elite athletes around the country -- better than they could find locally. And so they can make sure he gets a college scholarship.

“It’s so competitive,” one Virginia-based parent said, “and if you don’t keep up with what someone else is doing, you’re going to fall behind.”

There are travel leagues popping up in all sports, where travel teams will visit different cities to play in leagues at “travel league stops” throughout the country -- or in “national championships” that are held by the same organization in different cities at different times throughout the year.

One expert said youth sports tourism has grown 20 percent in a year and that families are no longer taking vacations. They’re taking what he calls “tourni-cations,” a tournament vacation. During these vacations, families pay entry fees, for hotels and for food on top of registration fees required to play for the travel teams. One family featured said they spend $15,000 annually on their kids to play travel sports.

And cities are taking notice.

Myrtle Beach, for example, has 18 baseball fields, including nine developed by Cal Ripken, and recently opened a 100,000-square foot basketball center as it has poured money into youth sports facilities to attract youth sports families.

In Westfield, Indiana, one of the largest youth sports facilities in the world has been built -- 400 acres of sports fields: 31 outdoor soccer fields, three full-size indoor soccer fields, basketball courts and 26 baseball fields.

Last year, 1.2 million visitors spent $145 million at Grand Park, the name of the Westfield sports complex. Last July, Grand Park hosted 400 teams and 7,000 athletes. On its website, Grand Park announced plans to have the entire complex “be surrounded by dining, retail and entertainment venues, all geared toward supporting and enhancing the family sports atmosphere and experience.”

Among cities planning youth sports facilities? Rocky Mount, N.C. It’s developing a 165,000 square feet facility with eight full basketball courts or 16 volleyball courts, with the intent of revitalizing downtown. The Sports Center is being built near downtown in Rocky Mount and it’s already spurring development in the town. The facility will open next year.

Watch the report below.

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