Travel spending in Lane County exceeded $1 billion in 2019, however 2020 figures will look drastically different following a pandemic, wildfires and social unrest. Fewer visitors on vacation, no mass gatherings for sports, performing arts or festivals and a complete shutdown of in-person meetings and conventions has wreaked havoc on the hospitality industry and on our own social lives. Nationally, employment losses top 2.5 million and in Oregon employment in the restaurant and lodging sector has fallen by 38%.  

COVID vaccine distribution provides a glimmer of hope. How long it takes to see a return to our more regular rhythms of daily life we were accustomed to is a hot topic of debate. The hospitality industry’s deep losses have pundits saying a return to pre-pandemic levels is four or more years away for the lodging industry and for those restaurants that survive the climb out is steep. Nationally, the performing arts sector is looking to 2025 and beyond for return to some semblance of normalcy. 

Travel Plans Due to COVID-19 Vaccines

However, economic recovery for the nation rarely plays out consistently across states, counties and cities. So, while Phil the groundhog told us we have more winter ahead, spring and summer are coming and growth will emerge. 

Throughout the pandemic, American traveler sentiment has been measured weekly by Destination Analysts. Predictably, traveler sentiment has waxed and waned over the past year as we witnessed the terrible impacts COVID was having across our country. Consistent over time has been American’s desire to travel and this has led to pent-up travel demand and travelers planning for trips later in 2021. Leisure travel often leads the hospitality industry’s economic recovery and Lane County is well-positioned to offer desired vacation elements. Travelers are seeking rest and relaxation, outdoor recreational opportunities, new experiences, and uncrowded locations.

Travel Dreaming and Planning

Lane County is also well-positioned to take advantage of sports events. During this pandemic year, Americans have made it clear that sports, whether participating or spectating, is important. There have been bumps in the road, but the Super Bowl, The Master’s, an NBA Championship, a Stanley Cup, a World Series and more were contested and champions crowned. 

Whether encouraging local travel within Lane County or aiding sports event organizers host events, the safety of residents, participants, organizers and volunteers has been a top priority. Travel Lane County and the Eugene, Cascades & Coast Sports Commission staff continue working closely with county and state health officials to ensure safety and health guidelines are implemented.

There are tremendous opportunities for sports to lead economic recovery in Lane County. Large events bring athletes, coaches, media and spectators to the community for days or weeks in some cases. Many events don’t rise to the level of prominence that we think of when we hear about an Olympic Team Trials, but the impact of thousands of club volleyball players, their families and officials coming for a multiday tournament is significant. Taking place throughout the year, these events add to millions of dollars of economic impact to our local economy each year.

Matt Hartner at Moshofsky Center
Oregon Matt Hartner Memorial Volleyball Classic at the University of Oregon's Moshofsky Center

Beyond the economic benefits, we recognize the joy that participating safely in sports brings and as a society these healthy activities are paying dividends physically and mentally. Sports events also act as a megaphone to the state, country and world. We have a reputation as good hosts, knowledgeable fans and competent organizers. This reputation is important during an event, but long-term the benefits are compounded as our guests return home and share their experiences with family and friends. It is this long-term view we must focus on.  

Sports ETA reported that, in 2019, 180 million people traveled to a sports event in the United States and this resulted in 69 million room-nights. Visitor spending associated with these sports events topped $45 billion. Within the youth and amateur sports segment, spending doubled to approximately $8 billion annually between 2013 and 2017. Lane County has the ability to capitalize on the sports market and build upon what’s already in the queue, but this takes a coordinated effort. Attracting sports events to take place in Lane County is done through a deep network of organizations, event organizers, coaches, athletic directors and more. The Eugene, Cascades & Coast Sports Commission is an entity that plays a sales, support, educational and coordination role in Lane County. 

Travel Lane County President and CEO Kari Westlund recalls, “While Travel Lane County has always marketed our destination to sports events, we recognized that people passionate about sports, whether they are spectators, sponsors, or event owners, don’t think of sports as being tourism-related. The Eugene, Cascades & Coast Sports Commission was created to speak directly to sports audiences and strengthen our reputation as a sports destination while strengthening the local sports industry sector.

Inside Hayward Field
Hayward Field at the University of Oregon

With the support of the Eugene, Cascades & Coast Sports Commission and the work of partners at our cities, county, parks and recreation districts and event owners, the sports sector is looking strong. To review a few of these events we begin with the inauguration of Hayward Field when University of Oregon track and field begins this spring with the hosting of the NCAA Track and Field Championships in June. This championship returns to Eugene for two years, skips 2023 (Austin, TX) and then returns for four more years (2024-2027). 

Close on the heels of the NCAA meet will be the U.S. Olympic Team Trials Track & Field beginning June 19. This will be the seventh time Eugene has been host to the Trials and once the athletes and coaches see this world-class facility it’s sure to be chosen again. 

The Diamond Meet Prefontaine Classic returns to Hayward Field in August 2021. Beginning in 1975, the Prefontaine Classic has delighted track fans of all ages. In 2021, the world’s best will be fresh off competing in the Tokyo Olympics, which is sure to make this Prefontaine Classic extra memorable.  

Over the last 15 years, track and field events have generated more than a $110 million in economic impact and our reputation at TrackTown USA has been solidified.

Fans at 2016 Olympic Trials in Historic Hayward Field
Fans at 2016 Olympic Trials in Historic Hayward Field

And the track impacts only grow in 2022 as Eugene-Springfield welcomes the whole world as part of the World Athletics Championship Oregon22. The first time to be held in the United States, this global event is estimated to generate close to $50 million in economic impact over ten days in July 2022. 

Sports participation, and the growth in sports events, has been resilient in past recessions. The pandemic, while slowing the number of activities, hasn’t stopped sports and momentum is growing to get more sports up and running. 

Approximately seven million visitors travel to Lane County each year and sports events play a key role in our economic recovery, however opportunities to enjoy concerts, fairs, festivals and other gatherings, that celebrate our people, cultures and communities, are coming. The variety of experiences we provide leisure visitors, convention and meeting attendees and resident travelers is robust, and together with sports, puts us on track for sunnier days.