FORT MYERS, Fla. Traveling for youth sports may be inevitable for parents of kids with high aspirations.
But for parents, there’s not always a choice in where they get to stay overnight.
A trend known as “stay to play” has become common with tournaments nationwide across various sports.
“You will see in big, bold letters you MUST stay at one of the hotels coordinated by such and such travel agency,” said Caroline Murphy, a self-described “soccer mom” from South Florida.
It can be a hard pill to swallow when there are less expensive options available, Murphy said.
Tournament organizers typically have an incentive, such as room rebates, when a stay-to-play agreement is made. Sports travel agencies are able to cash in as well by collecting fees for organizing the lodging arrangements.
“What happens too often is when a team comes in and they do discover they’re paying $150 for $125 dollar room, they’re not going to feel very good about the event producer and the destination,” said Dan Schumacher, the former director for the National Association of Sports Commissions.
Direct visitor spending for amateur sports events in the United States is above $10 billion, National Association of Sports Commissions data shows.
In Southwest Florida, a huge portion of the economy comes from amateur sports travel. Lee County estimates sports tourism brought in $67 million in 2016.
A nonprofit group in Lee County aims to make sure parents have a pleasant stay. The Lee County Sports Organizing Committee, a group of hoteliers that arranges dozens of lodging options, makes housing arrangements with amateur sports events that come to the county.
“All the events we pay fees to. They all want something to come to town,” committee vice president Jeff Webb said. “If they could go anywhere in the country they’re all — every city in the country is bidding for this business.”
Perfect Game, a prominent youth baseball organization, hosts an event in Lee County nearly every week of the summer and returns again for certain weeks in the fall.
All Perfect Game events come with the instruction that lodging must be booked through the committee’s website.
But, it’s more of a suggestion than a mandate, a spokesperson for the company said. An athlete would not be prevented from competing based on where they stay.