Hotels & Lodging

Stay-to-Play: Point/Counterpoint

16 Feb, 2015

By: Tina Horn

It’s actually very tempting to call this article, “How to present your case to the unreasonable (and often unknowing) people who like to argue against a stay-to-play policy.” But we won’t go there.

Even though stay-to-play – the policy of requiring sports event participants to register in specific hotel properties where special rates have been negotiated in advance – is becoming more and more accepted (and often, the standard) in the sports event planning world, you’ll always find those holdouts, the people who simply have to try to provide reasons why they shouldn’t have to be subject to the policy (or even sometimes why they think nobody who is taking part in the event should be subject to it). And facing down those people can be time-consuming, not to mention an experience that gives you a case of butterflies in the belly.

To back up a bit, the fact that you are holding an event with a stay-to-play policy should be on the earliest of all communications that are being distributed to your participants. That would include online or printed calendars, websites, e-mail blasts, social media and more. In other words, the sooner, the earlier and the more often the word goes out to participants (and potential participants) that policies are in place, the better off you are. The more prominently you can state the policy, the more you can help avoid any misunderstandings or hard feelings that might crop up from those claiming to have been blindsided by this ‘new rule’ that has been put into place.

Assuming that you have some of these people in your group, it’s good to come armed when you go into battle with them (at least figuratively speaking). So below you will find some of the arguments you’ll likely hear against the stay-to-play policy – and some counterarguments you can use. In some cases, the counterpoints are simply precautions you can take in advance to head arguments off at the pass.

Point: “I don’t like the idea of being told where to stay.”

Counterpoint: Assuming you’re booking events close to your venue (or in some cases, in your venue, if your competition uses a hotel ballroom or a convention center that is attached to the hotel by a walkway), there really isn’t any validity to this argument. In fact, it’s in participants’ favor to let you make these arrangements. You as the event planner have already found a place (or several places) that are conveniently located, have good amenities and are of a reasonable and dependable quality. Often, however, this argument comes from sheer stubbornness on the part of the participant (or the participant’s parent, or the coach who is booking his team into a hotel).

Bonus counterpoint: If you expect this argument, finding a number of nearby hotels in a range of price points can go a long way toward giving the problem person the freedom of choice they’re seeking. It then puts the onus on them to make their reservations early so that they get to choose the hotel they stay in (which might, to them, mean the one with the lowest room rate). That’s another point you can make in your early communications with the participants, by the way.

Point: “I don’t like the idea of paying more for a room so that the tournament makes extra money. This is just a money-making scam for you.”

Counterpoint: It’s okay to admit the tournament does receive a rebate from the hotel (or hotels), but explain that rebate is applied to other services within the hotel – rooms for referees and officials, discounted meals or catering fees for awards banquets or other expenses that would otherwise drive up the registration fee for each participant.

Point: “All these people I know like being able to use the Internet travel sites to get rooms at better rates than the tournament offers; those sites exist so that people don’t have to pay an inflated room rate.”

(As a side note, don’t you hate objections that begin with ‘All these people?’ Funny how they never seem to have names).

Counterpoint: Yes, it is possible to get low rates on discount travel sites. The problem is the sites are searching only for properties in the city you select and the rates and dates you want. They’re not looking for a hotel that is near the soccer field or the convention center, and if you don’t know the city, it’s possible that you will find yourself in a far-flung hotel, perhaps an airport property, necessitating a rental car on your part – an expense you didn’t count on. It’s also possible that you’ll be dissatisfied with the quality or service at the lodgings, but you won’t have anyone to complain to.

Point: “There are always better room rates somewhere in the city.”

Counterpoint: Yes that is true of every city. But look at the point above. That lower-cost area might be (a) some place you’d really want to be, and (b) some place where you’ll use up any potential savings in cab fare or other transportation fees. And, for example, if you have a schedule with long gaps in between, you may not want to sit in the venue for hours. A nearby hotel, such as that you’d get by working with, rather than against, the sports event planner, would be a far more preferable option.

Point: “Someone always manages to get out of it and that’s not fair.”

Counterpoint: That is a very valid concern. But part of your job as a sports event planner is to review the rooming lists at the hotels regularly (this does not mean doing it only once, on the night before the tournament starts, by the way) and checking your room blocks against the names on your tournament registration list. If you’re looking at the hotel rooming list and you see that someone has booked a room outside your block, even if they got a different rate, they should be added into your block and you should get credit for the room nights.  Remember that a good stay-to-play policy is actually only as effective as the person who is enforcing it. The policy needs to be enforced in order to keep people satisfied.

Point: “I have a relative/friend in the area. I don’t need a hotel at all.”

Counterpoint: There are times when this very legitimate objection will be raised. In fact, there probably isn’t an event planner out there who hasn’t taken an event to another city and heard this remark from at least one participant.

In order to address this possibility, the language concerning the policy should be worded in a way so that everyone who is coming from a distance greater than X (this might be 100 miles, for example) is subject to the stay-to-play policy, except in certain circumstances which will be decided upon on a case-by-case basis.

In this case, you should be ready to distribute paperwork providing the address, phone number and more of the place the participant will be staying. Note on the application paperwork that all information is subject to verification. It’s not a perfect system (and yes, there probably is a way to game it), but it does provide a measure of fairness to those individuals who might actually have a grandmother, college friend or other contact living in or near the city where the sports event is to be held.

Point: “I don’t want to stay in a specific hotel because I have a credit card/membership/rewards program that gives me points if I stay in certain chains.”

Counterpoint: That’s the reason you as an event planner should be looking at getting room blocks in a variety of hotels, and in particular, chain hotels with nationally known names. Remember that chains are the only ones likely to be recruiting sports team business – and thus are the ones most likely to be familiar with stay-to-play; small, independent hotels generally are not as much a part of this aspect of the industry and tend to be seeking individuals in the leisure travel market.

Point: “It’s an unfair policy for families with a budget.”

Look at all the participant is getting with a stay in the official hotel. They get a room of a dependable quality with good service and a good reputation, in the same facility as other tournament participants. They’re probably getting breakfast each morning, another savings. They’re probably getting the ability to have two, three or four athletes in one room, which drives down the overall per-participant room cost. And they’re staying in a property close to the venue, and possibly one where the team bus, shuttle or other group transit arrives in the morning, and then drops off after competitions. In short, they’re getting more for your money, not less.

Point: “Everyone hates the policy.”

Counterpoint: Really? Since when? The majority of people we talk to don’t feel that way. Youth teams, for example, like being in the same hotel as their friends and others in the tournaments. Parents, coaches and officials tend to like properties that feature all the amenities they desire, such as restaurants, workout rooms, Internet connectivity and more. Maybe there are some participants who would rather try to find cheaper locations such as state parks for overnight camping – but they are in the minority.

There is also the intangible benefit of being more connected with the tournament. If the schedule changes because of a weather event or if another unexpected glitch occurs, it is far easier to communicate with the entire group of participants through one (or several) specific hotels. It’s not easy to do this if participants are scattered across the city (or in a park) and the event planner has no way of tracking where they are.

Point:  “I don’t understand it. Why are you making us stay in a more expensive place?”

Counterpoint: Many times, the objection to stay-to-play comes because someone is unaware of exactly what the policy is and how it works. They see the stay-to-play concept as something that lines the event planner’s pockets or allows him or her to stay in a penthouse suite. In this case, education is the best defense. You’ll have to sit down and explain the fact that blocks of rooms have been arranged in specific hotels, and that the rooms are subject to a specific rate (which as mentioned previously, includes a rebate that funds other tournament activities). With understanding comes a better appreciation of the policy and the way it benefits the group.

Point: “I won’t use it. I won’t play/won’t let my kid play if you use that policy.”

Counterpoint: At some point, everyone will have to make the choice of either participating, or not participating, in a given sports event. If they choose not to participate and blame the stay-to-play policy, just accept it. Missing one or two people, while it is not desirable, will not make or break the sports event. And with stay-to-play quickly becoming the norm in many events, they will have to accept it sooner or later.

Stay-to-play is a beneficial policy and properly implemented, can help everyone in the tournament. It can, however, cause friction – particularly if you are implementing it for the first time. The more the policy becomes the norm, however, the fewer objections you’ll see and over time, participants will understand and embrace the policy. You may get a few objections each time but if you can keep the lines of communication open, you’ll find less resistance and more acceptance.

About the Author

Tina Horn


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