With the chaos of the first post-COVID summer travel season behind us, now is the time to start planning for a fall vacation free from oversaturated airports and train lines.
If you’re into sports tourism, fall is the best time of year to travel. American football, basketball and baseball leagues are in season, and international soccer leagues also have begun play. With gas prices finally beginning to decline, airfares are becoming more affordable and you can spend some of your travel budget on more exciting things, like experiencing sports venues far beyond your home community.
I’ve identified just a few possible places and themes you can explore in the sports tourism world for the upcoming fall season:
1. Texas 10-step
Texas has a rich sports history and some of the most valuable professional sports franchises in the world. In this trip, you’ll watch games from all major American sports leagues (NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, MLS) and catch a few big-time college football and basketball games. And you can ostensibly hit each site in a two-week period.
- Start in Houston. One of the easiest destinations to travel in and out of, Houston is the largest city in Texas and has a massive sports scene. The Astros are currently the only MLB team in Texas that’ll be playing in October, so grab some tickets to experience the exciting playoff atmosphere at Minute Maid Park.
- Take Interstate-10 to San Antonio. The seventh-largest city in the country only has one major sports franchise, and this city is infatuated with it. The San Antonio Spurs are one of the winningest NBA franchises in the league, and the fans here are absolutely crazy about them. The Spurs are in a rebuilding mode now, so don’t expect to see the home team come out with a victory when you visit.
- Head north on I-35 to Austin. The capital of Texas and my hometown, Austin is probably the hottest city in the country right now. This sprawling tech hub just received its first major league sports franchise in MLS club Austin FC, and the fan experience at brand-new Q2 Stadium is absolutely wild – completely different than Texas Longhorn football games down the road, which have the same amount of decibels in their stadium as your local library.
- Stay on I-35 to Waco. Here you’ll find the Texas Sports Hall of Fame and one of my favorite college football venues in the country, McLane Stadium. Visit both.
- I-35 is your best friend. During this leg of the trip, you’ll see real-life examples of why “Everything is bigger in Texas.” Check out Mesquite Memorial Stadium, the largest high school football stadium in the country. Then head over to AT&T Stadium in Arlington, one of the most awe-inspiring spectacles your eyes will ever witness, to watch the most valuable sports franchise in the country, the Dallas Cowboys. Finally, catch a Dallas Stars hockey game, one of the more underrated teams and fan experiences in Texas.
- Welcome to I-20, we’re heading west. This will be the most rowdy college football experience you’ll get in the Lone Star State. Texas Tech fans fill Jones AT&T Stadium with noise and tortillas, and there’s not a single opposing football team that looks forward to playing in Lubbock.
- A long way down to El Paso. Did you know that up until 2021, UTEP was the only NCAA Division I basketball team in Texas to win a national championship? Baylor changed that with a legendary title run last year, but there’s still a really cool exhibit at the El Paso Museum of History recognizing the 1966 championship team that broke so many barriers. UTEP’s football stadium is awesome, too.
2. Football’s native country
If you’re an English football fan, now is the time to visit the sport’s native country. The Premier League season has already begun, and there are so many amazing sights to take in, stadiums to visit, and clubs to learn about.
- Let’s start in London. After escaping the madness that is the Heathrow airport, you’ll want to hop on the Piccadilly line and head east into Stamford Bridge, the home of Chelsea F.C. While not the most popular club among Londoners, Chelsea have a considerable following beyond English borders, including yours truly. Head northeast from there and you’ll find Emirates Stadium, where Arsenal F.C. play in front of 60,000+ fans on a weekly basis. After watching the Gunnars play, take the short trip to Tottenham Stadium in north London, a brand-new, £1 billion project, and catch a Spurs game. There are many other football clubs in England’s capital, so by no means should you stop there, but if you’re pressed for time, head north to the next stop in this tour.
- The middle of nowhere. England’s national football team trains at St. George’s Park somewhere between Newchurch and Needwood. It’s a sparkling facility built in 2012, and welcomes visitors to tour the grounds and stay at a fancy Hilton hotel.
- The Manchester Clubs and Liverpool. Manchester is one of the greatest football cities in the world, with two legendary clubs in Manchester United and Manchester City. After catching matches at Old Trafford and Etihad Stadium, head over to the National Football Museum, which moved from Preston to Manchester in 2012 and receives hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. Then slide southwest to Liverpool to visit Anfield Stadium and walk through the highly-reviewed Liverpool FC Museum.
3. Balling in the EuroLeague
Basketball is blossoming in Europe, and you can get in on the EuroLeague action starting this October. The EuroLeague is the second-best professional basketball league in the world after the NBA, and it has teams in some of the most magnificent tourist destinations in all of Europe.
This trip may prove more difficult to plan because it involves multiple countries, some with varying coronavirus restrictions and general unrest in the region. But if you are able to make the trip, it’ll be well worth your while:
- Take off in Tel-Aviv. Maccabi is a basketball powerhouse in Europe and a great place to start your journey.
- Twin teams in Turkey. Istanbul is home to two legendary basketball clubs in Fenerbahce and Anadolu Efes, and it’s worth checking out games at both arenas.
- A vicious rivalry in Greece. No two European basketball clubs hate each other more than Panathinaikos and Olympiacos. If you get a chance to watch the two play each other, it’ll be a night you won’t forget.
- Not the soccer club. Bayern Munich is one of the most successful football teams in the entire world and is financially loaded. They also have a basketball club that’s been gaining popularity and status in recent years, spending some of that soccer money on signing top American talent.
- Fashion, wine and hoops. Milan is a city that’s on just about everyone’s bucket list, but few tourists attend Olimpia Milano games. It’s a shame, because this is one of the most respected clubs in Europe, regardless of sport. Basketball in Italy has had its ups and downs over the last 25 years, and is recently coming out of a “down” era – making now the perfect time to watch a game in person.
- New to the game. A.S. Monaco is a top-3 football club in France, but is gaining copious momentum in the basketball department. Last year was the club’s first year competing in the prestigious EuroLeague, and “La Roca Team” posted a winning record. They also have one arguably the top EuroLeague player running the point, Mike James.
- Europe’s best basketball. Spain’s Liga ACB remains the best domestic basketball league in Europe and the country’s national team consistently competes for and wins medals in global competitions. There are four Spanish clubs in the EuroLeague, but I recommend watching the top two – Barcelona and Real Madrid. The former club completed one of the biggest signings in EuroLeague history by inking Nikola Mirotić to huge deal a couple of years ago, and the big man rewarded Barcelona by winning Spanish League MVP, EuroLeague MVP, and Spanish League Finals MVP (among other accolades) in his first three seasons.
4. America’s pastime in Asia
America is not the only country that considers baseball its national pastime. Since the early 1900s, baseball has been wildly popular in East Asia, particularly in Japan and South Korea. Those two countries are the second-and-third best professional baseball leagues in the world, respectively, and the atmosphere in those stadiums is unlike anything you’ll find in an American baseball stadium.
- Heart and Seoul. South Korea’s capital has three teams, two of which share the iconic Jamsil Baseball Stadium (Doosan Bears and LG Twins). This is where your journey should begin. The venue holds 25,000 supercharged spectators who stand for the entirety of games, dancing along to cheerleader instructions and singing songs of encouragement. If you want your baseball tour to start a bit earlier, catch an SSG Landers game in Incheon, where Seoul’s international airport sits.
- Train to Busan. There shouldn’t be any zombies on your ride to Sajik Baseball Stadium, although the fans inside might be screaming as if they were fleeing an outbreak. It’s one of the loudest, most vibrant atmospheres in perhaps all of baseball and definitely a must-see on your tour.
- North Carolina’s favorite baseball team. During the COVID-19 pandemic, South Korea’s KBO baseball league was one of the first professional sports leagues to resume action. KBO games appeared on ESPN at 2 a.m., and sports-starved Americans watched weeks of Korean baseball. KBO teams are named after their corporate sponsors, not their city, so the NC Dinos are named after video game company NCSoft and not their home city of Changwon. Americans in North Carolina, who have no MLB team in their state, adopted the NC Dinos as their own and became ardent supporters of the club. The Dinos won their first and only league championship during that pandemic season, marking a truly unforgettable year for the club in Changwon and its fans in America. They have one of the coolest mascots in baseball and a beautiful new stadium completed in 2019.
- Don’t desert Daegu. The Samsung Lions, one of the founding members of the KBO, are the most decorated baseball club in Korea, having won five consecutive titles in the 2010s and nine total. Daegu Samsung Stadium fits 24,000 passionate fans who are used to elite-level success from their club.
- Across the Sea of Japan. Some of the best international talent in the MLB comes from Japan, and it’s because of how well-coached players are from early ages all the way up through the Nippon Professional Baseball league.
- In Tokyo, the Yomiuri Giants reign supreme. With 22 championships under their belt, they are without a doubt the most successful and iconic baseball franchise in Japan. They play in a massive 45,000-seat arena that has great dining, shopping and amusement.
- Breathing fire in Nagoya. The Chunichi Dragons have been a force in Nippon’s Central League, but have won just two Japan Series titles. They also play in a 40,000+ seat dome known to crank up the decibels, especially against “eternal rivals” Yomiuri Giants.
- Heading down to Tigertown. The Hanshin Tigers trace their club history back to 1936 and have won six Central League pennants and one Japan Series. Hanshin’s outdoor stadium was opened in 1926 and originally held up to 80,000 fans. With such a storied history, their team museum is naturally worth the price of admission.
- Gateway to Japan. Your last stop will be in the city that’s welcomed millions of international visitors for the first time. Fukuoka is home to the SoftBank Hawks, a decorated club with 11 Japan Series championships and 19 Pacific League pennants. Fukuoka PayPay Dome is Japan’s first arena with a retractable roof.
5. Everything’s bueno in Buenos Aires
Late summer/early fall is a beautiful time to visit Argentina’s capital city, and it happens to be in the middle of fútbol season for the Argentine Primera División. Buenos Aires has a remarkable concentration of quality football clubs across the city, all of which are worth seeing for yourself.
- Argentinos Juniors. The club responsible for developing the legendary Diego Maradonna, Argentinos Juniors are a world-renowned club known for elite talent production.
- River Plate. With 37 Primera Division championships, River Plate is the most accomplished club in Argentina football history.
- Boca Juniors. River Plate’s greatest rivals, Boca Juniors play in front of 54,000 fans at La Bombonera. If you can catch an installment of the Superclásico on these grounds, it’ll be an experience you’ll remember for life.
- Racing Club. One of the “Big Five” clubs in Argentina, Racing Club have endured some of the highest highs (18 Primera Division titles) and lowest lows (bankruptcy and relegation).
Independiente. The fifth and final club in Buenos Aires that routinely plays in front of 45,000+ fans, Independiente have won 16 Primera Division Championships despite hitting a lull for most of the 21st century.
Share some of your best sports tourism trips in the comments section. To read more about sports tourism, subscribe below.