The annual Agricultural and Pastoral (A & P) shows became important events on the calendar for the whole community. They were held first in Ōpōtiki (1892) and Tauranga (1893). The Whakatāne association started in Tāneatua in 1907, moving to Whakatāne in 1933. Te Puke’s first annual show was held in 1905 and Katikati’s in 1913. In that and following years visitors and exhibitors came to Katikati from around the Bay of Plenty and as far away as Hamilton.
The first rugby competitions were held in Ōpōtiki, Katikati and Tauranga in the 1880s. The New Zealand Natives, a mainly Māori team which toured Great Britain and Australia in 1888–89, included five Warbrick brothers from Matatā. David Gallaher, captain of the renowned 1905–6 New Zealand team, grew up in Katikati. Rugby unions were formed in Te Puke in 1906, Whakatāne in 1908, Ōpōtiki in 1910 and the Rangitāiki Plains in 1923.
The Bay of Plenty union, including Rotorua, dates from 1911. It holds union-wide competitions including the Kusabs Cup, the premier Bay of Plenty rugby trophy which began in 1912. Bay of Plenty won the inaugural National Provincial Championship in 1976. In 2004, Bay of Plenty won the Ranfurly Shield (the premier trophy in provincial rugby) for the first time. In 2019 Bay of Plenty won promotion to the Mitre 10 Cup premiership, which is contested by the top seven provincial teams.
Improved roads, as well as the railway, brought holidaymakers to Waihī Beach, Mt Maunganui and Ōhope from the 1920s. The oldest surf lifesaving club in the region was established at Mt Maunganui, now one of New Zealand’s principal surfing locations, in 1914. In 2003 its membership of 500 was one of the largest in the country, and lifeguards were on duty for 6,000 hours every summer. Surf Lifesaving BOP unites 16 surf lifesaving organisations from Hot Water Beach near Whitianga to Ōpōtiki.
Horse racing was popular from early settler days. Races were held at Ōpōtiki from the 1870s, the Tauranga Jockey Club was formed in 1874, and the Whakatāne racing club about 1886.
Motor sport has a strong following in the Bay of Plenty. Local fans had their proudest moment in 1967, when Te Puke’s Denny Hulme became world Formula One champion.
Speedway is now the dominant motor sport. In 2001 Bay Park Stadium opened at Tauranga. It includes a speedway track and seating for 17,500 people. Regular race events draw large crowds.