Why the Gold Coast is Australia's newest sport hub

Tim Baker | March 2017

Sports tourism is an important and growing component of the Gold Coast’s tourism offering, and it’s only going to get bigger.

Any visitor to the Gold Coast who rises with the dawn and heads to the beach could be excused for thinking we are breeding some kind of amphibious, super race here.

Nippers charge in and out of the surf with a fiery-eyed courage that belies their tender years. Surfers paddle through storms of white water and hurl themselves into cascading waves, disappearing into watery tunnels and magicly re-appearing hundreds of metres down our famous point breaks. Personal trainers urge legions of sweaty clients through pitiless work-outs. Our local football teams can be found sprinting up and down headlands and then soothing aching muscles in our tepid, sub-tropical waters. Young mums and dads jog behind suped up off-road prams. Senior citizens swim vast distances in open ocean. Standup paddlers ride wind torn swells way out to sea.

Let’s face it, we Gold Coasters love us some sport. And it seems our visitors from near and far are catching the bug.

Ask any tourist what brings them to the Gold Coast and you might hear some predictable responses – our idyllic climate, golden beaches, relaxed lifestyle, stunning hinterland and famed surf breaks.

But amid that tried and true mix, there’s a new component rapidly rising in importance to the city – sports tourism.

In an era when every municipality in the country is trying to grow its events calendar in an effort to attract year-round visitation, the Gold Coast has some unique advantages that are making it a new and growing hub for major sports events. The afore-mentioned climate, beaches and surf make it a highly desirable and practical place to stage large sporting events. And the rapid improvements in infrastructure, spurred in large part by the looming Commonwealth Games in 2018, could help provide a lucrative sports tourism legacy for the city.

Combine all this with our rapid population growth, attracting local teams in our national sporting competitions and other major events, and you have a sports hub rapidly rising to challenge traditional sports strongholds like Sydney and Melbourne.


The Gold Coast has long been celebrated as one of the global centres of surfing culture. So it’s little surprise that the Quiksilver and Roxy Pros have become fixtures as season openers on the World Surf League professional tour. Just try booking a hotel room in Coolangatta in the first two weeks of March and you’ll understand the influx of visitors the events attract.

In 2014, a post event report estimated that the direct economic impact from the twin, men’s and women’s events for the coast was $7.2 million. The World Surf League estimated the events generated a further $10 million worth of media exposure for the Coast.

A Griffith University study by researcher Dr Neil Lazarow estimated that recreational surfing on the coast generates up to another $230 million a year. The surf industry in total contributes a total of $3.3 billion to the city’s economy annually and employs an estimated 21,000 people.

And that’s just board riding. There are no hard figures on surf life saving’s economic contribution to the coast, but nationally the value of its volunteer surf patrols are put at $3.6 billion annually.

And the annual Australian Championships, held at North Kirra from March 25 to April 2 this year, is the largest event of its kind in the world. Across nine days, 7000 life savers from 313 surf clubs will compete in over 400 events in youth, open and masters categories. It doesn’t take Einstein to work that all those hungry, hard-working clubbies need to eat, drink and sleep somewhere, providing an economic boon to the southern Gold Coast.

You can add to that the iconic Coolangatta Gold, which is again expected to attract surf athletes from around Australia and the world. What began as a staged event for the movie of the same name in 1984, the Coolangatta Gold will be held for the 16th time this October, combining swimming, running, board paddling and surf ski legs over the 32.4 km “short” course, or the gruelling 41.8 km long course.


The arrival of the Gold Coast’s own national teams in the NRL and AFL has also delivered a windfall for the coast. Since the Gold Coast Suns entered the AFL competition in 2011 its following has grown steadily, attracting an average of 30,000 interstate visitors annually, who each stay an average of three nights on the coast. In its inaugural year, the Suns economic impact on the coast was estimated at $45 million and is set to grow in the years ahead.

The Suns new home in Carrara, Metricon Stadium, was the result of some $144 million in funding from local, state and federal governments along with the AFL, and now seats up to 25,000 fans.

The Gold Coast Titans joined the NRL in 2007 and recorded the second highest attendance rate in the league in their inaugural year, turning over $16 million in revenue. Boasting 10,000 members in 2016, they are aiming to grow that to 12,000 in 2017. Having made the finals for the first time in six seasons, and averaged 18,500 fans for their last four games, the Titans believe they are on the cusp of a new era of success on and off the field.


The Gold Coast Airport Marathon has proven another big tourism winner for the coast, attracting 80,000 visitor nights and an economic impact of $24 million for the coast last year.

The event drew a record number of international competitors, and over 43,000 international and interstate visitors. The major increase in numbers came from our Asian neighbours – notably, China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan.

Other major sporting events continue to migrate to the Coast and it’s hoped that those who come to compete and spectate will be moved to return with families for holidays in the future.

The Australian PGA Championships at Royal Pines in December, boasts past champions such as Adam Scott, Greg Chalmers, Peter Senior and Geoff Ogilvy, ensuring bumper crowds. This is closely followed by the new women’s tournament, the ALPG Players’ Championships which replaces the long standing Australian Ladies Masters.

The Gold Coast 600 pits the V8 Supercar Championship drivers against one of the world’s toughest street circuits, ensuring a spectacle that draws almost 200,000 spectators over three days. The off-track festivities are as much of an attraction as the race itself, ensuring a sharp economic spike for local traders.

In January 2017, the Jeep Magic Millions staged Australia’s first $10 million race day, including the $2 million Jeep Magic Millions Two-Year-Old Classic and $2 million Three-Year-Old Guineas exclusively for Magic Millions graduates.

In April, the world’s best triathletes descend on the Gold Coast in the International Triathlon Union (ITU) World Triathlon Series. The world’s best will compete on the Saturday while age group athletes get their chance in the Gold Coast Triathlon-Luke Harrop Memorial on Sunday.

For sheer participation numbers, it is hard to go past the Australian University Games in September, as 8000 competitors battle out in athletics, AFL, badminton, golf, volleyball, hockey, cycling, sailing, swimming, tennis and cricket.

And in November 2018, the 11th biennial Jupiters Pan Pacific Masters Games will see 13,000 participants take part in more than 40 sports across the city. Known as the friendly games, there are no qualifying standards or times to enter, just a minimum age in each sport and age groups to cater for Masters of every vintage.

For the first time in history, the World Team Badminton Championships will be staged on the Gold Coast. The prestigious 2017 Total BWF Sudirman Cup will be held at the Carrara Sports and Leisure Centre in May, attracting the world’s best players.

And the Australian Open Bowls Championships, the world’s biggest bowls festival, will return to the Coast in June, 2017. Bowlers from across Australia will make the most of the Coast’s extensive network of clubs, competing for $250,000 in prize money.


But on top of this busy roster of events, the Gold Coast is attracting a growing list of athletes and teams wanting to take advantage of the city’s facilities and climate for training camps and test events in the lead up to the Commonwealth Games.

High profile sports clubs like Manchester City, in the English Premier League, State of Origin Rugby League teams, AFL club Carlton, A-League outfit Western Sydney Wanderers and the Australian women’s netball team have already used the Gold Coast as a venue for training camps, drawn by its world-class sports facilities at venues like the Royal Pines Resort and the Southport School. But expect an ever greater influx of athletes and teams as the Commonwealth Games draw closer. Resorts like Royal Pines are openly courting Games teams and athletes and promoting their sporting facilities and willingness to cater for special dietary needs.

Great Britain’s swimming and diving teams have already road-tested the Aquatic Centre and you can expect the traffic of Games competitors to ramp up dramatically throughout 2017.


The Commonwealth Games themselves are forecast to deliver an economic benefit of $2 billion to the Coast, including $200 million in new sports and community infrastructure, generating some 30,000 full-time equivalent jobs. Over 100,000 visitors are predicted to attend the Games and a report card from the Commonwealth Games Federation has declared local preparations well on schedule. The review was complimentary of the pace of planning, organisational readiness, community engagement, security, legacy and progress of venue construction and quality of facilities. All major Games venues are on track to be delivered at least 12 months ahead of the Games, and the $40 million Coomera Indoor Sports Centre and $59 million Anna Meares Velodrome have already been opened. Upgraded venues, including the Gold Coast Aquatic Centre and Broadbeach Bowls Club, are also complete.

All these facilities, and the publicity the Games generate, will only grow the city’s sports tourism sector. There has been much talk of the Games’ legacy for the Gold Coast. Ultimately, it’s most enduring legacy may be helping the city realise its potential as a major international sports hub.

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