Challenges of the Site Selection for Athletes and their Families
24 Jun, 2011By: Mike Chandler
Over the last five years, youth and junior age sport competitions have grown while the association convention has declined. While this may seem like a great thing for the sports industry, it has brought challenges to those who are negotiating sites for nationally and even geographically structured events as they grow.
Effective planners are those who can answer participants' questions (and they'll have many). The more you can anticipate, the better off you'll be:
Knowing Your Audience
The first thing to keep in mind when negotiating with any location is who and what types of travel experience makes up the majority of your attendee list. Most of your attendees (meaning families) will not be seasoned travelers, nor are they familiar with metro areas if you are utilizing downtown convention centers. They may not be comfortable with travel (meaning both air and local ground transportation options). Your attendees will not be familiar the routes and distances of travel time between hotel(s) and venue(s).
It will be a huge help for you and your attendees to be cognizant of the potential assistance you can present to your attendees while conducting your site visit. For example, do you know the travel time from the airport to the hotel(s), and do you know whether shuttle service is provided by the hotel(s)? Familiarize yourself with the travel to and from the hotel(s) to the venue(s), pay attention to traffic patterns, and by all means, ask about rush hour issues. If possible, drive the route(s) at key times of pre- and post-competition times to familiarize yourself.
Understanding the Hotel World
Hotels and venues have increased their demand on convention and visitors bureaus to find more youth and junior age competitions to fill the void left by the decline in convention business. However, there are significant differences between a competition and of a convention. For example, one of the challenges in dealing with team sports and hotels is contracting for the right room type. All too often, the hotel sales staff wants to sell what they call 'run of the house' and with this term, the hotel can meet or exceed your hotel block needs, but may have just increased your onsite, day of arrival stress level.
Run of house simply means giving out any room available at the time the registrant shows up at the front desk. With that in mind, how do you think four boys are going to behave in a king room (King size bed only) when they don't care much for sleeping two to a bed normally? Probably not very well, so the best you can hope for is that you have good chaperones.
Run of house works well with standard conventions due to the fact that 90% of the attendees are on expenses accounts and will request one room per registrant; if the individual is given a double/double room, the extra bed becomes a storage unit or a place to lay out clothing or toiletries for the next day. Therefore, in negotiation regarding hotel room types, it is critical to make sure you are contracting for the attendees' needs. Can they sell a room with a king bed? Sure, if you can train your coaches and sometimes the parents what to ask for in advance.
Because the hotel will still have rooms with king beds to sell, work out a price point to help move those rooms, and add breakfast for two into the rate. There are ways to utilize some kings with team events. If you are dealing with an individual sport, you still need to be aware of your attendees' travel style. Do your attendees travel as a family? If so, you are right back to needing the double/double room type.
Hopefully, this is the easiest part of your job. By now, you should know what is required of a venue to hold the competition you are negotiating for. Whether it is an arena, a convention center, an aquatic center or playing fields, the location should have been filtered so you are not wasting time -- yours or the potential host's.
The site selection should include an awareness of everything you will need to make sure the venue possesses the ability to provide the best support needed to host a quality competition. It is helpful to create a checklist of the required provisions necessary to support the competition. What is the actual competition space? Do you need a warm-up area? How about meeting rooms for coaches, chaperones and volunteers? Do you need locker rooms or shower facilities on-site?
What about other parties? Is there space for your sponsors? Do you need exhibitor space? In terms of concessions, is there a third-party provider exclusive to the venue? Can you request menu items that make sense for your attendees? Coordinate the time concession operations are to be open in regard to your competition times. (Often, venues using exclusive third-party concessionaires do not control their time of operations).
Look also at any other facilities or services required to run the competition. With outdoor facilities, what are your electric options? Are there enough toilets on site or do you need to bring them in? In terms of permit restrictions, can you have tents for your staffing, volunteers and officials. Can you have catering? It is helpful to have a wish list of amenities that you know will enhance your event. Can the venue support any of your wish list? Does the host entity have the ability to offset the expenses of your wish list items?
Medical Emergency Plan
As with any athletic competition, the athlete must be your highest priority when planning for safety. First, what resources do you bring with you? A medical service provider with athletic trainers, perhaps an orthopedist? If the facility already supplies and charges for medical staff, see if you can get any venue requirements waived because you travel with your own staff.
If the venue is supplying medical staff and you are not, make sure the athletic trainers are certified and carry liability insurance. Develop an emergency plan for any injury either to an athlete or a spectator. Learn ahead of time if any particular hospital is ideal for athletic injuries, trauma, etc. Develop a written emergency plan for all parties involved.
From a logistics standpoint, ascertain where you can stage medical personnel and/or athletic trainers? Are you required to have them on hand the entire time you are utilizing the venue (set-up and teardown), solely during competition hours, or can they be on call?
This is probably the hardest piece to plan, thanks (or no thanks) to all the ways the economy has changed this industry over the last three to four years. With fuel prices fluctuating and with major airlines downsizing routes, this aspect of travel still needs your attention but don't think you will find the perfect fit in today's market place.
Today's event planner has to spend time making sure the host airport can support the arrival and departure dates of your attendees. Every major airport has a web site that shows the different airlines and the number of daily flights that arrive and depart with locations.
There is homework to be done here. Where are the majority of your attendees coming from? Is there more than one major carrier that flies into the host site? Are there other major airports within a 90-mile radius that can help with arrivals and departures? And last but not least, what car rental agencies are available and can you negotiate airport pick-up and drop-off discounts for your attendees?
Nobody has all the answers, but the more facts you are able to have on hand prior to the big trip to the even bigger tournament, the more trust your team has in you, the calmer they are, and the more energy they can devote to their goal: winning.