Stay to Play | Sports Destination Management

Stay to Play

May 31, 2012 | By: Matt Libber


Photo courtesy of InterContinental Hotels Group

‘Stay to Play’ policies are nothing new to the sports industry; however in recent years, these policies have become more prevalent. ‘Stay to Play’ policies invoke mixed emotions from tournament organizers, participants, hotels, and CVBs alike. They can draw the ire of these groups mainly due to rumors, misconceptions, or previous experience from a poorly-designed and implemented policy. A properly-executed ‘Stay to Play’ policy is a key element in hosting and growing a sporting event in the current economic climate. In a successful policy, the benefits of ‘Stay to Play’ also extend beyond the event organizers to include the local community, the hotels, and the participants.

The Basics
A ‘Stay to Play’ policy is a tool used by event organizers that require event participants to use one of the official hotels designated by the event organizers. Developing the list of official hotels is completed by several parties including the event organizers, the local CVB or Sports Commission, or a housing bureau. The key to successfully implementing the ‘Stay to Play’ policy is communicating effectively what your needs and requirements are prior to contracting.

The hotels need to take into account the needs of your event participants. (A youth soccer tournament will have different hotel needs from a track and field event for seniors.) The requirement list for hotels should identify the various elements that the guests will need such as room type, rebate and/or commission requirements, comp rooms, additional amenities (such as a pool or free breakfast), proximity to the event location, or other needs based on the type of participants that will be attending the event and the event specific needs.

Hotels will evaluate the event needs and their abilities to meet those needs and submit a bid to the party that is organizing the hotels for event. These bids will be reviewed and contracts will be made with the hotels that have been selected to be a part of the official hotel list for the event. When selecting hotels, event organizers need to make sure that they have enough rooms at the different price points and amenities to meet the needs of various participants.

According to Tom Berkman, owner of Tournament Housing Services (THS), in order to successfully implement a ‘Stay to Play’ policy, there are some key elements that need to be included in to contracts with the hotels that will alleviate issues and complaints leading up to the event. These contract terms include;
a) The hotels will not sell rates lower than the tournament rates during the event dates.
b) Hotels will not accept direct reservations from event participants.
c) If direct reservations from event participants are inadvertently accepted by the hotel, they will provide the appropriate credit for the room nights to the event.

Berkman also stresses that event organizers need to demonstrate to the hotels that there is an enforcement mechanism in place that the tournament will use to make sure the teams are using only the designated event hotels. Hotels want to make sure that concessions they are making for the room blocks will be rewarded with the business that is promised by the event organizers.

Drafting a Policy Teams Can Understand
When an event decides to implement a ‘Stay to Play’ policy, it is important that the policy is clearly explained to all participants. This policy needs to be clearly outlined before the application process so that teams are fully aware of the requirements. The policy needs to be clear and concise, and contain the necessary information such as hotel room cancellation policy, minimum number of rooms, and defining those teams who are waived from using the tournament hotels (some teams are day-trippers and don't require overnight stays). Event organizers may also consider making the policy statement part of the application process, in which attendees must agree to follow the policy in the application itself.

Why Event Organizers use ‘Stay to Play’
The benefits of implementing a ‘Stay to Play’ policy for sporting events are felt across all parties. Event organizers have seen sponsorship and advertising money shrink over the past decade. This has caused organizers to have to restructure their budgets for their events. Event organizers have used ‘Stay to Play’ policies to allow them to generate revenue from the room nights booked by their event participants. When negotiating the hotel block contracts, event organizers will build a rebate into the room rate. These rebates are used to help offset tournament expenses, such as field and facility rentals, which typically take up larger portions of an event budget. Organizers will also require comp rooms based on the numbers of room nights booked; such rooms are used for event staff, game officials, scouts and more. It is a common misconception that benefits such as rebates are used simply to boost profits; they actually grow events by minimizing expenses and allowing organizers to set a lower entry fee.

Using a select list of hotels can help make sure that teams have an enjoyable experience in quality hotel properties. Additionally, having an 'the official hotel' provides a means for sponsorship branding, location for special events as part of the tournament, and more.

Benefits to the Local Community
Utilizing a ‘Stay to Play’ policy also provides additional benefits to the local community in terms of economic impact. Event organizers can work with the local CVB or sports commission to identify those hotel properties within the tax district to make sure that the local community that is hosting the sports event is reaping the benefits of having it in their community. With many areas in the U.S. tying Parks and Recreation Department funding to hotel taxes, it is important to make sure that the tax money is going to the areas where the facilities are located.

Why Teams Should Embrace ‘Stay to Play’
Many teams and individual athletes are apprehensive about events with a ‘Stay to Play’ policy because they feel that they can find a better deal on their own. However, if the event organizers have done their due diligence, they will have negotiated competitive room rates for their hotel blocks. The policy also allows event organizers to offer additional benefits such as hotel cancellation insurance that covers the hotel cost should an event get cancelled. This is not something that most individuals will be able to obtain outside of the room blocks established by the event. Plus, having all the teams located in hotels that are known by the event organizers helps with communication throughout the event.

Avoiding the Pitfalls of Stay to Play
Many of the misconceptions and reluctance to use ‘Stay to Play’ comes from experiences with poorly-designed and poorly-executed policies. Event organizers must make sure that the hotels and event participants have a clear understanding of the policy. Event organizers must be diligent in enforcing the policy with teams as well as with hotels. Event organizers must do periodic audits to make sure that hotels are holding to the terms of the agreement, particularly those preventing the hotels from offering lower rates than the tournament rate during event dates. Organizers must be willing to enforce their policy with the participants and have the means to cross-check the teams who have applied and those who have booked rooms. In addition, if any teams have special circumstances, try and work with those teams to incorporate their special needs into the hotel room blocks.

A Properly-Executed Policy
Event organizers who work with their partner hotels, the local CVB, and their participants will find that a ‘Stay to Play’ policy will ultimately be beneficial to the all the entities involved. As long as they effectively communicate the policy and are willing to enforce it in a fair and equitable manner, they will minimize resistance from both teams and hotels. Obviously not everyone will be in favor of a ‘Stay to Play’ event, but organizers will never be able to please everyone regardless of the policy. If event organizers put together a policy with tangible benefits and without any problems, it can enhance the overall experience of the event, provide the means for growth, and establish a beneficial partnership with the local community.

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