When sports fans tune into the World Cup or the World Series this year, many will marvel at the spectacle without realizing they could be in the crowd, too. Attending an A-list athletic event isn't limited to celebrities and the super-rich. With planning and preparation, it's possible for many travelers to go too, says Robert Tuchman, president of Goviva.com, a company offering curated travel experiences, with an emphasis on sports. "These events play on people's passions, but they don't realize they can actually purchase a trip. They don't even think it's possible." He shares some of the world's top sporting events for spectators with Larry Bleiberg for USA TODAY.
FIFA World Cup
Brazil in 2014
This global soccer competition, which just started in Brazil, truly lives up to its promise of being a world competition. "There are two events that really capture the world's attention, the Olympics and the World Cup, and you'll find even more passion and excitement for the World Cup," Tuchman says. "It's one of the most incredible experiences I've ever had." Because the event lasts for more than a month, and takes place in a variety of locales, it's not too difficult to attend. fifa.com/worldcup
Bucket list tip: Many hotel rooms that had been held by the Cup's governing bodies have recently been released. That means travelers can book a more affordable trip for the initial rounds of the tournament.
THE BUCKET LIST: Must-see destinations
Alternates between Auburn and Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Although the sports world is full of bitter rivalries, there's perhaps none more heartfelt than the annual Thanksgiving weekend match-up between the University of Alabama and cross-state rival Auburn University."It shows how important football is in that part of the country. I've never experienced anything like it, and how it divides not just the entire state, but families," Tuchman says. While the first game dates to the late 19th century, Both teams have been nationally ranked in recent years, making the showdown even more dramatic.rolltide.com/sports/m-footbl and auburntigers.com
Bucket list tip: Don't miss the pre-game tailgating, a spectacle in itself. "This event is all about the atmosphere and tenacity of the rivalry. Although the game is the must see, it's really the pre game tailgate where all the fun is happening."
While the race itself lasts a mere two minutes, the hoopla and excitement leading up to it the Derby is unmatched in sports, Tuchman says. It's partly the heritage of host racetrack Churchill Downs, but it's also the celebrities and the fashion and style on display the first Saturday in May on the track's vaunted Millionaire's Row. "It's about the history and everything surrounding it. You feel the intensity leading up to the race all day." Louisville sponsors events all week including a parade, fireworks and a steamboat race. Or visitors can tour horse farms and plan tastings along the state's Bourbon Trail. churchilldowns.com
Bucket list tip: Price-conscious travelers will find a great alternative in the Kentucky Oaks, a race of thoroughbred fillies on the Friday before the Derby. "It is still an incredible day of racing at Churchill Downs with a similar atmosphere to Derby Day, but it will cost you 40 percent less on average," Tuchman says.
Glendale, Ariz., in 2015
The nation's top sporting event has grown in recent decades, and is now where corporate America goes to party. Many attendees arrive on Wednesday before the Sunday match, and take in an array of events, from golf tournaments to fashion shows. "The NFL was one of the first organizations to understand that this is more than just a game, it's a chance to showcase these cities for four or five days," Tuchman says. nfl.com/superbowl
Bucket list tip: Plan your trip before the playoffs starts, Tuchman advises. "Once the playoff teams are announced Super Bowl ticket pricing usually jumps and packages become more expensive."
Indianapolis in 2015
Tuchman loves this fan-driven college basketball tournament, followed by millions of office-pool competitors hoping their Cinderella team beats the odds and makes it to the championship. "It's not just Duke and North Carolina, and bigger schools. When you get teams that weren't expected to go, it builds interest as well." With games spread out over a few days, there's a chance to explore the host city, each of which has its own flavor. ncaa.com/final-four
Bucket list tip: Often it's easier to get into the final game on Monday than the semi-finals on Saturday. When losing teams and their fans leave town, hotel rooms and tickets become available, Tuchman says.
While fans come to see golfers, it's the Augusta National Golf Club itself that's the top attraction, Tuchman says. "It's a perfect time of year with all the flowers and azaleas. This is the Mecca. Fans want to see Augusta. There's almost feeling when they walk on the course: 'Now I can die in peace.' " masters.com
Bucket list tip: Even if you can't score a ticket to the Masters, it's much easier to attend the practice rounds in the days before. You'll see the same players, and the same course, but at a much-lower cost.
Daytona Beach, Fla.
Tuchman calls this February showdown the grand-daddy of all NASCAR racing. And the season-opening competition is fan-focused with plenty of opportunities for parties and pit tours and enjoying the beach during a weeklong build-up. "NASCAR understands the importance of the fan experience. The drivers are really accessible. Even though it's a major, major sport you can see these guys on site, see their team, and you can get really up close." daytonainternationalspeedway.com
Bucket list tip: Smart race fans know to stay an hour away in Orlando, which has top-grade hotels without the multi-night minimum stays and higher prices found in Daytona during Speed Week.
NHL Winter Classic
2015 site not finalized
Although it just started in 2008, this annual New Year's outdoor hockey game has become a huge hit, rivaling the championship Stanley Cup Tournament in popularity. "Hockey fans are really passionate. They'll follow their teams, and love a live hockey game outside where it's meant to be played in the elements," Tuchman says. "It has revitalized the NHL." Participants and location varies every year, but it has been held in large, outdoor venues like Chicago's Wrigley Field, Boston's Fenway Park and the University of Michigan's Ann Arbor stadium. nhl.com
Bucket list tip: While lower-down seats are usually preferred at the host sites, it's different when a hockey rink is placed in the center of a field. Fans will find the best views from the second or third level seats, Tuchman says.
The baseball championship is part of American lore, and although attending a game can be challenging, it's worth the effort, Tuchman says. "There's so much energy and excitement it's played in the city of a team playing in the game. You're going to be surrounded by fans. You have that really cool local flavor." The challenge is that participating teams aren't determined until days before the first game. "For traveling, it's going to be hectic." You have to be able to jump on a plane, and say 'In three days I'm going to Anaheim'." worldseries.com
Bucket list tip: Always get a package that includes one of the first four games, because you can be assured it's going to be played, Tuchman says. If you have tickets to later games in the best-of-four series, you may never get to attend.
While making it to London in the height of summer and acquiring tickets is an expensive proposition, this is the ultimate trip for tennis fans. The grass courts at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club have hosted some of the most storied names in tennis. "It's about culture and history," Tuchman says. Make sure to have strawberries and cream and keep your eyes open for a glimpse of royalty. wimbledon-experience.com
Bucket list tip: Allow time to visit the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum, the largest devoted to the sport in the world. While open year round, it's only open to ticket holders during the championship week.