Chicago's Wrigley Field: A hallowed destination for baseball fans (photo: Filedimage/Shutterstock)

How to Score with Sports Travel

By Andrew Penner

The sun was beating down on fans packed into the Wrigley Field bleachers. A rookie pitcher took to the mound. The stage was set. Pete Rose, one of the greatest ball players of all time, had a chance to break Ty Cobb’s iconic record to become the all-time Major League hits leader. The anticipation was off the charts; history was about to be made. Rose was three hits away on that September day in 1985, and I was there: a wide-eyed 13-year-old farm kid from Western Canada… at Chicago’s Wrigley Field… basking in baseball glory.

Rose didn’t set the record that day. (Or so I thought.) But he did get a hit: I walked down to the dugout to snap a picture of the exact moment he singled to centre field. That memory has been etched in my mind for decades. Sure, an illegal-betting scandal would later plague Rose’s career. But for me, nothing could taint the fact that I nearly witnessed a historic sports feat.

For serious sports fans—from baseball and football to golf and tennis—cheering on your team or favourite player at a major tournament means watching history unfold in real time. People dream about these things. They plan their calendars around them, and save up for months, even years, to take a bucket-list trip to a big game or sporting event.

But for many, the process stops at the dreaming stage. Actually doing it—being there, on the edge of your seat, watching it in person—can seem unattainable and impossible to orchestrate.

“There is definitely a misconception among sports fans that they could never actually be one of those people in the stands or in the gallery,” says Terry Vander Linden, product marketing manager at AMA Travel. “But the fact is, you can be there.”

sports travel kentucky derby horse racing
The Kentucky Derby unites equestrian fans from around the globe (photo: Ismael Monfort Vialcanet/Alamy)

Unquestionably, the logistics of planning The Big Trip can be daunting. Coordinating bookings, itineraries, flights, ground transportation, hotels and meals—not to mention scoring the actual tickets—is a Herculean task with many potential pitfalls. If you go the DIY route, there are considerable risks: Is the ticket source legitimate? Are the hotels reputable? Can ground transportation be arranged? What about insurance?

AMA member Jason Wallace, a die-hard golf and tennis fan from Calgary, has experienced the ups and downs of attending many elite sporting events around the world. “I’ve camped in the queue at Wimbledon for 24 hours to get tickets,” he explains. “We were 50th in line, so we got third-row seats at Centre Court to watch Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic play their Round of 16 matches.” Entering “The Queue” at Wimbledon is a rite of passage for many sports enthusiasts. “It’s a brilliant system if you have the time—and you don’t mind sitting alongside movie stars and models, with the knowledge that you haven’t showered since the day before!”

Incredible North American golf getaways

Wallace has also been to The Masters a couple of times. The waiting game factored into securing these notoriously difficult tickets as well. “It took eight of us three years of entering the lottery system before one of my friends won and could buy four tickets to a single day of the tournament,” Wallace says. “It was a long way to travel for just one day of watching golf, but it was definitely worth it to walk the grounds and eat Augusta’s famous pimento cheese sandwiches.”

While his memories of cheese and birdies are priceless, Wallace wishes he could get one mulligan: Calling AMA before planning his trips. “Going it alone is nerve-wracking and can be unpredictable,” he says, noting that while things worked out for him on some occasions, he wished he used a reputable travel agent like AMA for certain trips and events. “The time savings alone can be a game-changer.”

Vander Linden agrees: “Every year, our agents book hundreds of trips and tours to major events and venues across North America and around the world. From watching Tiger Woods win The Masters to catching your hockey team play in Vegas, we can get you there.”

AMA takes the worry and risk out of the equation by partnering with professional sports-travel providers for a totally seamless experience. “Nobody wants to be the person in charge of arranging a trip for a group and feel all that pressure,” Vander Linden adds. From start to finish, AMA Travel specialists put it all together, so you can focus on being a fan.

When it comes to choosing a trip, a specific sport or event, the options are nearly endless. College football, NASCAR, heavyweight championships, National Finals Rodeo, the Kentucky Derby, NBA, NFL and Stanley Cup Playoffs—they’re all fair game. “It doesn’t matter if it’s the Super Bowl or a small-town roller derby,” Vander Linden says. “All that matters is the level of your fandom.”

As a golf and travel writer, I’ve been fortunate to experience a number of once-in-a-lifetime tournaments, like the Phoenix Open. Standing on the tee box of the legendary par-3 Coliseum Hole is something I’ll not soon forget. (Though I’ll never figure out how golfers can concentrate on their backswing amidst a chorus of 40,000 booze-fuelled fans.)

As unforgettable as those big one-day events may be, remember that you don’t need to limit yourself to a single game or event. An increasingly popular trend is stadium tours—catching multiple games in your favourite ballparks or arenas in one trip, or following your favourite team on its road trip.

Adventure tourism and insuring yourself against risk

Many fans feel that going it alone will help them save money when planning their trips. Why pay to have a professional travel company make the arrangements when you can do it yourself? But as Vander Linden points out, this isn’t how it typically plays out: “Our relationships with various hotel partners can yield considerable savings.” Booking a hotel that’s close to the venue, offers shuttle service and even discounted meals can save you not just money, but time as well. That’s more time to spend tailgating or sipping gin and tonics outside the court.

While I was too young to have a cold one back in ’85, I did taste something even sweeter—unbeknownst to me and everyone else in the stands that breezy afternoon. Baseball historians have since determined that Ty Cobb’s hit total was wrong. Two of his hits were counted twice, so Pete Rose actually did break the hitting record in the first inning on September 8, 1985—the same at-bat that I eagerly photographed on my Kodak point-and-shoot.

It’s proof positive that you never know what historic moments you might witness when you get yourself into a seat.

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AMA member Jason Wallace (right) at Wimbledon

Here’s how the buying process works for a few of the biggies.

British Open (golf): Register for tickets online and you’ll get early notifications when tickets are available, typically about a year in advance of the tournament.

U.S. Open (tennis): Sign up online as a U.S. Open Insider to get reminders of important ticket dates. Individual tickets usually go on sale a month prior to the event.

National Finals Rodeo: The easiest way to buy tickets to the NFR in Las Vegas is through Primesport, the official ticket platform for this event. Visit to buy or sell tickets.

NHL Winter Classic: Tickets usually go on sale through Ticketmaster the April before the annual New Year’s Day game; home team season ticket holders get front-of-the-line access. Face-value prices typically range from $55 to $500 USD.

Super Bowl: For the most sought-after ticket in all of sport, the NFL uses a precise formula, with season-ticket holders and players getting first dibs: 17.5% each to the AFC and NFC champions; 5% to the host team; 34.8% distributed among the remaining 29 teams (1.2% per team); and the remaining quarter reserved for sponsors and media.

National Finals Rodeo

Organized by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, the NFR is the premier championship rodeo event in the United States. This year, it takes place Dec. 5 to 14 at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. This four-day package includes three nights at the Embassy Suites Las Vegas with daily breakfast, three consecutive days of tickets to the rodeo, car rental with unlimited mileage, an evening reception and more.

From $1,045 USD (land-only)
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