Trying to figure out what to put into your proposal? We have all been there in our careers, whether we are just starting out in the industry, moving to a new market or responding to a rights holder in a sport we just don’t know. There is always the inevitable discussion about what to include, what to leave out, what format to use, whether it is too long or whether it is too short. It can be a stressful process and there is no absolute way to draft a proposal, but there are some key elements to remember that will make you successful in the end.
Understand Your Client
The biggest key to putting together a winning proposal is to first understand what it is that the potential client is looking for. One longtime industry professional, when asked what he was looking for in a proposal joked, “Something worth reading.” Every rights holder is different, and each has different expectations when it comes to event proposals from destinations and venues.
The best thing you can do is ask questions up front and not make assumptions about what the prospective client is looking for. If a rights holder has a pre-proposal meeting, whether in a group setting or individually, you should take advantage of that time to ask questions. These sessions are designed to allow you as the venue or destination to get clarification on points, or answers to questions you may have about the event or the rights holder themselves.
When asking questions, whether through formal question and answer sessions or through direct communications with the rights holder, it is important to keep your questions specific to the RFP and proposal. These questions should be not just on the specifics of the event but also more general topics such as formatting, length, method of delivery, and timelines that will help shape your approach to drafting the proposal.
Event-specific questions should address any topics outlined in the RFP on which you might need some clarification or more detail. Greater Lansing Sports Authority Executive Director Mike Price states, “It sounds basic, but your proposal is only as good as the research and effort you’ve put into really getting to know the event. What’s their history in other communities, what are the pain points for event organizers, what unique offerings might make the event standout or operate at higher efficiency from both an operations and budget standpoint? If you do not know what the potential client is looking for, you will have trouble putting together a winning proposal.”
If the event RFP does not include references for previous destinations where the rights holder held events, you should ask for them. As competitive as the sports tourism market can be, you will find that your counterparts across the country are willing to share information about events they previously hosted.
Asking previous hosts about their experience with the rights holder will not only help you make an informed decision as to whether you want to host this event, it also will allow you to find out any details regarding the event or the venue that are particularly important to the rights holder. Find out what the previous host did that was not part of the RFP. There is no better source to ask about building a winning proposal for a specific event than from a host who previously won the business.
Formatting your proposal is always a big question. In an ideal world, there would be a standardized format for proposals across all events. Make sure you are carefully reading the RFP as they may require a specific format for proposals so that they can compare destinations equally.
Some RFPs will ask for your proposal to follow a specific format so that they can compare each submission more easily. If they do not ask for a specific format, it is highly recommended that you organize your proposal in the same manner as the RFP. The rights holder likely grouped sections together and ordered their RFP the way they did for a reason. Following their lead and placing information in the same order and same groupings lets them see the information they are looking for from you in the same order that they asked for it. (It also shows you carefully read their proposal, something that is a point in your favor).
Elle Marks, the Director of Business Development for Elite Tournaments, says, “I ask for a summary sheet with proposals that outlines the basics like pricing, number of fields, date availability and incentives like grant money.” Marks adds, “There is no reason for me to read the whole proposal if it is too expensive or doesn’t have enough fields to make it work.”
Using a summary sheet or term sheet at the front of your proposal can be helpful to the Rights Holder when reviewing proposals. These summary sheets allow rights holders a quick reference guide to the proposal and the pertinent information on a single page as they evaluate submissions. Rights holders are looking for a proposal document that clearly states what the destination has to offer without having to dig through the material to find what they are looking for based on their RFP.
Mark Twain once quipped that, “If I’d had more time, I would have written a shorter [proposal].” Well maybe he didn’t say proposal, but he would have said it, had he worked for a DMO. One of the keys to a quality proposal is brevity and clarity. Rights holders may receive dozens of proposals for a given event, so lengthy proposals that hide details in wordy prose are a turnoff for rights holders.
This advice should not be misconstrued as to make your proposals as short as possible. Like resumes, proposals should be as long as they need to be, without adding ‘fluff’ to the content. It is also important to remember that there will be information that as a destination or venue, you want to include, even though that rights holder may not have directly asked for it in the RFP. Remember that the rights holders do not know what they do not know. If you need to add sections of content to the requested format, that is perfectly reasonable; just make sure the content is worth the extra length.
Successful proposals will be a mix of expository and narrative writing. It is important to outline the facts and figures of what the destination or venue can provide. At the end of the day, the rights holder wants to put on a successful event, which in most cases is heavily driven by the bottom line. If they cannot make the event profitable, it is unlikely they will bring the event to your destination.
However, this is where it is important to get to know the rights holder and understand their goals. While profitability is always a concern, there are other factors that play a role. “If the RFP is well written and the rights holder clearly states what they need, it should be easy for a DMO to write a proposal that checks all the boxes,” says John David, Chief Strategy Office for USA BMX. “From there, when evaluating, I try to decipher community buy-in. From both and bad experiences, I have found that time and time again one of the greatest assets any DMO can provide is a community that understands and supports their efforts. When community buy-in is in place, no matter the challenge, you can collaboratively overcome it.”
This is where DMOs need to get creative and tell the story of their destination and how this event fits into the community fabric. Your proposal also needs to set you apart from the competition.
At the end of the day, most venues around the country offer many of the same amenities. Your proposal needs to portray what sets you apart from the crowd. Price adds, “Every CVB and sports commission is likely different in services and support pieces in place that are unique to your destination. Don’t assume the event organizer knows how and where you give the best support.”
Once you understand what a prospective client is looking for, clearly lay out what services and support your team can offer specifically for that event. If there are services you can provide that do not make sense for that specific event, leave them out of the proposal. After all, if you spend part of your proposal discussing support or services the rights holder doesn’t need, it makes them think you do not understand their event or did not read their RFP.
It is also important to speak the language of the rights holder. You may not know everything about a given sport or event, but speaking the common language and lingo goes a long way to show the rights holder you are invested enough that you have done your homework.
In 2021, a former colleague called, asking for help in relocating his CrossFit event due to COVID restrictions at their normal venue. After setting up meetings with numerous venues, he provided some feedback to me. He said that while a couple of the venues fit the technical requirements, he was nervous about committing to them because it didn’t seem like they knew what they were talking about regarding the event and its needs. He was concerned that the event’s needs would not be understood on the ground and that issues would arise because any new venue he might choose didn’t understand terminology used within the sport.
Ultimately, proposals have to give event organizers a level of comfort that you understand their events and their needs and are you are not just repeating facts and figures that you have written hundreds of times in your proposals. You have to connect the facts and figures to the specific needs of the event you’re addressing.
In the end, there is no such thing as the perfect proposal. What works for one rights holder will not work for the next one. You must be flexible enough to adapt to the changing needs from event to event and operator to operator. Do not be afraid to ask questions but make those questions meaningful. Your proposals should answer all of the rights holder’s questions and tell your destination’s story in a clear and concise manner.
The most important thing to remember is you have to demonstrate what makes your community stand out, and to show what makes you special. Remember that even in those times when your proposal does not win business, there is still an opportunity to improve your chances next time. Do not be afraid to ask the rights holder for feedback about where your proposal was deficient so you can correct it the next time either with the same operator or the next rights holder looking for a venue. SDM