Great city for your event? Check. Excellent facility? Check. Nice accommodations? Check. Athletes ready to take the field? Check.
Interesting activities for spouses and guests? (Crickets chirping.)
The response to this oversight from savvy sports event planners should be a big shudder. After all, one of the great things about sports tourism is that it allows – actually, it encourages – families and/or couples to travel together to exciting new places. It also encourages them to spend a few extra days in the area, exploring and touring. If you’re not making your event welcoming to these individuals, you’re missing a big piece of the puzzle.
In the lexicon of the planner, SORG (Spouse Or Guest) programs should utilize every bit as much of your planning expertise and organization as the main sports event. They shouldn’t be an afterthought. In fact, the more detailed, advance notice you can provide about these programs, the better off you’ll be.
Why? Simple: There is competition for athletes’ participation dollars. Kids who want to join a travel team may have a variety of options as to which team to choose. Adults who want to compete in a triathlon can find one in any state. You want these people to pick your event. It all boils down to what you can offer.
SORG programs can bait the hook in your favor. If an adult, for example, wants to run a destination marathon, he or she probably has every intention of tying in a vacation with that race. With multiple destinations to pick from and a family coming along for the ride, the marathoner sees that one race website shows special family-friendly activities scheduled while he or she is out on the course. Another marathon in another great city doesn’t offer anything like that. Which do you think is going to get the runner’s registration fee?
It’s not all that complicated, is it? An event that includes enough forethought to keep everyone happy is going to be a hit for this vacation. You have the ability to create the right environment.
Start With the Resources at Your Disposal
If you’re coming into a new city, reach out to the experts: the convention and visitors bureau, chamber of commerce or sports commission. They’re well-versed in all things local. They should be able to point you in the direction of information.
To understand the kinds of activities you need, do a background check. Part of the best practices of being a planner is keeping detailed history. Find out what your athlete demographic is (male, female, the age group – anything that gives a picture of who they are and what they like to do) and then look at who they’re traveling with. Are athletes in their 20s and just might be coming in as couples or with a few friends? Are they older and traveling with kids? What ages do the kids tend to be? Remember: the more information you have, the more specially targeted activities you can offer.
Younger singles or couples – those without small children in tow – might enjoy wine tastings, brewery tours or similar attractions. Garden or architecture tours are also an option. Remember that within certain age brackets, there might be some varying levels of activity, and some participants might enjoy more sports-oriented activities such as hiking.
Families with young children have long looked to destinations that offer theme parks, water parks or other diversions, but planners who want to think outside those lines are coming up with tours of local historic sites and state parks. The right ranger or tour guide can engage kids’ imaginations and get them excited about history, nature and more.
Bringing People Together
Athletes of all ages who travel to competitions tend to make friends in those circles. Tennis players, for example, after seeing the same people, will form friendships. When they get together for a tournament, it’s a great opportunity to catch up and socialize. Unfortunately, other family members who are attending the tennis tournament may not be as well-versed in either the sport or the people, and can feel isolated and bored.
Rather than stressing out athletes by forcing them to choose between their friends and their family, help everyone broaden their circle of acquaintances. An opening reception is your best bet. Choose a theme like “(Name of City) 101: Everything You Need to Know for Your Stay.” Ask the CVB to make a presentation. Offer maps of the city, guides to sights and attractions, information about mass transit and so forth. Have some fun ice-breakers such as games allowing people to meet and challenge one another.
You can also go a few steps further and try to guide SORGs (and maybe athletes as well, once they’ve finished competing) toward local attractions. Are there stores that would be of interest to crafters, knitters or quilters? How about ethnic festivals that foodies might find fun? Are there independent bookstores, thrift stores or other specialty retail people might want to visit? How about places where popular movies or TV shows were filmed? Don’t forget lists that include everything from the serious (houses of worship or places of reflection), to outdoor recreation (ski resorts, horseback riding stables or state or county parks), to cultural attractions (museums and historic sites) and even amusements like mini-golf, go-carts or paint ball.
Create a lounge where SORG participants can meet up with others (a room in a convention center that has light refreshments, for example) at any point during the tournament. This will allow people who are looking for a companion for the day to find one.
Earlier, we mentioned best event planning practices. Let’s revisit others and see how they apply to SORG events:
Insurance: It should go without saying: the insurance for your event should extend to everyone, including those in your SORG programs. A skilled insurance professional can provide guidance regarding getting effective coverage for all those attending your event.
References: If you will be using bus service, tour guides or other vendors for your SORG events, make sure you check references carefully.
Registration: Registration of participants in SORG events can take a variety of forms. Some planners prefer to register participants themselves for events, collect all funds and then disburse the funds to the vendors they are working with. Some refer all inquiries to personal concierges, or outsourced activity planners, who work directly with the sports event participants, receive payment and make arrangements with tour or activity vendors. The advantage of these two arrangements is that the planner is able to capture data regarding participation in SORG events in order to add to the history from year to year.
Some sports planners do not plan activities beyond a reception, simply preferring to refer all participants to contact the hotel concierge. This removes the planner from the equation and risks SORG participation data being lost.
Pricing: If group activities for SORG participants will be offered, offer activities in a variety of price points. Make it absolutely clear which activities are included in the SORG registration fee, and which are optional activities available at an additional cost (and how much that cost is).
Evaluations: A formal evaluation of the event should also be distributed to SORG participants. What did people like? What weren’t they fond of? Did they think it was worth the cost? What would they suggest for future events?
If you can create an enticing program for the non-athletes, they’ll be more apt to attend this year, and in years to come. That translates into a great reputation for your event, more rooms in your room block and more use of the hotel’s ancillary services like on-property restaurants or bars, health clubs and spas. All that information, recorded in your event history, makes your event more desirable to the city and venue you’re considering for next year. That translates into more bargaining leverage for you next year, and in years to come. It’s a win-win for you too.