My solo spot was next to a father and his teenage son who gave me the CliffsNotes about key players and traditions – like why everyone left before halftime. (They rushed to the midgame pint concession level; with that tip, I stood up and followed suit.)
Since it wasn’t the big leagues, I could afford to sit right behind the goal – close enough to joke with the players. I watched the fans dressed in red all around me and did my best to keep up with the many chants, getting up when everyone was standing. After the game, I joined the sea of people pouring out of the stadium and ended up spending hours in a noisy fans-only pub (you had to show your playing cards to get in).
Although I had no personal interest in the teams before kick-off, the day had all the trappings of a fantastic travel experience: the rush of finding public transport to get anywhere new, the pleasure of spending an afternoon in the sun, the chance to do it Immerse yourself in the local culture and meet new people.
This is just one example of why, alongside beach time, museum visits and restaurant reservations, watching sports is at the top of your itinerary, whatever your interest in sports.
“People want to travel like locals do – they want that authentic experience, and there’s nothing more authentic than going to a sporting event,” said Luisa Mendoza, founder and CEO of Global Tourism Sports and Entertainment, a business-to-business platform operating at other tour operator with tickets to professional sporting events in the United States.
Don’t write off the idea because you don’t play sports. I can’t readily tell you who won the World Series. But mingling with fans in an unknown location is still one of my favorite travel activities.
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You could spend a fortune to see the superstars play, but it’s a different kind of magic to pack everyone into the cheap seats.
Fulvio De Bonis, President and Co-Founder of Imago Artis Travel, says seeing one of Italy’s lesser-known football teams instead of the super-famous AC Milan or Roma is like dining with an Italian grandmother instead of a Michelin-starred restaurant.
“Both are authentic, but it’s a different kind of authenticity,” he says.
Take a look around and find something that fits your budget, whether it’s the minor leagues, a collegiate league, or affordable upper deck or standing room seating.
“It doesn’t matter if your seats cost thousands of dollars or $20 in nosebleeds,” Mendoza says. “It just brings us all together and for those two hours you forget what’s happening because you’re just screaming like crazy and cheering for your team.”
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It’s not (everything) about the game
If you enjoy watching the sport yourself, that’s a bonus. But for travelers, the real joy comes from being with the fans. It’s the walk to the stadium, the chants, the outfits and the camaraderie. Finding a game – any game – opens doors to adventure and new friendships for travelers.
Without the sport, I wouldn’t have seen Hsinchu, Taiwan unless I wanted to see a Varsity Lions baseball game. I wouldn’t have ended up at a house party in Glasgow if I hadn’t stopped at a pub to watch a football final.
“It is indeed a great way to learn about the local culture, to immerse yourself in a team, its spirit and its fans,” says former German sports journalist Sandra Weinacht, whose company Inside Europe creates travel experiences for clients ranging from soccer to tennis to tennis to the tour arranged by France.
Among the many selling points for going to a game during your trip, “at least it could make for a really fun experience meeting new people in a new city,” says Tori Petry, a Fora travel consultant and former Detroit Lions broadcaster. “Sporting events are social events.”
Weinacht says even if you don’t speak the local language, cheering for the same team can create opportunities to connect with those around you. And if you can’t find a ticket or can’t make it to the game in person, “public tours are another wonderful opportunity to connect with locals,” says Weinacht.
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Then there’s the food. I walked out of a Yomiuri Giants baseball game in Tokyo full of takoyaki—fried squid balls that are a popular Japanese street food—and kirin beer. In between Muay Thai matches at a Bangkok stadium, I ate khao man gai, a chicken and rice dish.
Weinacht notes that the food, drink, pre-game and post-game rituals are often unique not just to one country but to each region. Different stadiums have different concessions, like tacos at a Fresno Grizzlies game and pork rinds with pimento cheese at the Arkansas Razorbacks football stadium. All the more reason to watch more sport in more places.
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For example, before a Louisiana State University football game in Baton Rouge, “you just walk through the tents and the structures and people invite you in and offer you gumbo,” says Petry. “It’s really an experience. So you have to risk it, but you also have to back it up.”
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Don’t rely on a scalper
You might try your luck and find a game while you’re already on your trip, but you might find that it’s sold out. Petry recommends finding tickets ahead of time while you do the rest of your planning.
Prior to my trip to London, it took me about 15 minutes after gasping at the prices of a Manchester game to find online tickets to a cheaper alternative in the suburbs.
If you’re not working with a travel planner, Petry says the best way to find tickets is to go directly to the home stadium’s website.
“Check for tickets directly with the team,” she says. “These will be your cheapest tickets.”
While you’re on their website, Petry recommends checking to see if the team has an app available for download. “A lot of these teams have apps that give you maps to their stadium, tell you what food is in the stadium, tell you traditions, what’s happening during the game day,” she says.
If you’re having no luck finding tickets on the team or stadium website, be careful when shopping from third-party suppliers. You might want to visit a trusted travel company or well-known ticketing websites instead of a random online list.
“I always tell my client that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” says Mendoza. “If tickets are selling for $100 and you see one for $30, good luck with that.”