Stay-to-Play: It’s one of those terms that can set an event owner’s mind at ease or get them worried. In many cases, what makes it great is the same thing that makes it a challenge, at least initially.
For the purposes of this discussion, we’re going to assume an event owner or rights holder is using the policy for the first time. In case you haven’t used stay to play, the definition is the requirement of the sports participants in a given tournament or event to stay in a predetermined hotel or group of hotels, in exchange for a rebate from the hotel for each room night booked, in order to be part of that event. There are many reasons for doing this, including the following:
• Consistency in recordkeeping – it results in the event owner having a record of how many people stayed in a specific hotel (or in a group of hotels) during the event. It also gives a good indication of the move in/move out pattern of travel, which in turn can tell the event owner how many participants are extending their stay to take advantage of a city’s sightseeing or recreation opportunities. These are all metrics that can be used successfully at the bargaining table with hotels when moving the tournament to another location, or even when returning to the same city the next year or a few years down the road.
• A heightened ability to communicate with participants if there are to be changes made to the competition schedule, or to locate a team member if that person has not shown up for the game on time.
• An additional revenue stream for the tournament; this income (which comes in the form of the rebates from each room night sold) can also be used to pay for lodging for referees and others who are not competing and not getting paid, but giving of their time for the betterment of the sport.
If you are working to negotiate your contract with a hotel, you’ll undoubtedly be working with someone in the sales office who understands stay-to-play and appreciates what you are trying to do with it. Here are some essential points to make sure you cover in your contract:
The room rate itself: Is the rate shown on the contract enticing for athletes and their families, even with the rebate built in? Remember that your numbers need to be realistic. Padding a rate too much, or expecting the hotel to give back too much are both bad practices. For stay-to-play to work successfully, everyone needs to be able to benefit from it.
Will the room rate be available before and after the event? This is essential if you expect people to come early or stay late to enjoy the city.
Cancellations: What is the policy? How late can participants cancel without a fee? Just as important, if something unexpected happens that would prevent you from bringing your tournament to the city, what penalties would be assessed against you as an event owner? Can you negotiate that down, or eliminate it?
What kind of rooms are you looking for in your hotel room blocks? Many event owners prefer double/double rooms. Remember that families may be traveling with multiple children, or they may be traveling with one child whose friend on the team will be sharing the room. Specify in advance the number of each type of room (double/double, king, queen, etc.) you expect to need. If the hotel room offers a sofa, does it pull out into a bed to provide additional space? Ask whether the hotel offers roll-away beds; some no longer do and you don’t want a family to get an unpleasant surprise upon check-in.
Will there be other groups in the hotel at the same time? You may need to advise athletes or their parents that in-hotel restaurants and other facilities will be busy on certain nights, or that there may be a crowd in the check-in/check-out area at certain times. If possible, try to arrange a special check-in for your group to avoid lines.
These are by no means the only points to cover (far from it, in fact) and first-time-at-the-table negotiators are urged to take advantage of the resources and courses offered by many professional associations for meeting planners.
Negotiating hotel contracts can be a time-consuming process, but you’ll need to iron everything out well in advance. While stay-to-play has a lot of benefits, it also can cause headaches here and there. Often, the case with tournaments (in particular, youth tournaments) is that there will be pushback from parents. Their objections may include some of the following:
• Not wanting to use a predetermined hotel (or group of hotels) – sometimes, it’s a knee-jerk reaction but sometimes, it’s also the wish to get a better rate on their own, such as by using a travel site
• The proliferation of the disruptive economy, including Airbnb and VRBO (Vacation Rentals By Owner) that may offer accommodations for less
• The possibility, at least in some areas, of camping, which results in lowered expenses
• A lack of trust in the stay-to-play policy since it’s sometimes construed as a way for event owners to bump up the room rate in order to ‘line their pockets’
These are just some of the objections you may be confronted with. The secret to using stay-to-play successfully can be broken down into several components:
Communication with your athletes/their families – you need to get the word out about the policy in plenty of time; if you don’t, you’re likely to hear people say they don’t need to abide by it because they didn’t know about it in advance. (That may or may not be true, but you can avoid that particular excuse by communicating early and often.)
Creating trust – In your communications, define what stay-to-play is. Even more important, define what it is not. There will always be people who think it is just a means of getting a kickback for a planner, and we certainly have heard that objection. Using stay-to-play successfully means helping people understand that using certain hotels will create ease in logistics (particularly if you are using a bus or other means of group transportation to get athletes to the tournament site) and that any rebates simply pay for things that benefit the event as a whole, like officials’ lodging or even lowering the bus cost for everyone.
Setting realistic limits – a national tournament will draw teams or athletes across the country, but it will also draw athletes or teams from within the state hosting the tournament. You will get requests from in-state individuals to be exempted from the stay-to-play rule. Whether you allow anyone in-state to drive in, or whether you create a specific mile radius of the tournament is up to you, but be lenient if necessary. Remember there will also be individuals who have friends or relatives in the area, and who are able to stay with them rather than using a hotel.
Making it clear: It’s essential to list the stay-to-play policy on your tournament website. Many event owners also will create a drop-down menu for the hotel (or hotels) being used at the event, listing not only a link to the hotel(s) but a listing of types of rooms and the rates available. There should be a way to contact you, should someone need to make special arrangements (such as to make the request to be exempted from the policy because they are driving in, if they live locally).
Often, it’s just during the first year, or the first encounter with stay-to-play, that bumps will occur. Once a group becomes used to the policy, they will accept it as a part of the tournament. Remember that applying the policy consistently and fairly, and making yourself available for questions, will go a long way toward helping you in future years. SDM