Best Practices: Working with Host Cities | Sports Destination Management

Best Practices: Working with Host Cities

Jun 18, 2015 | By: Jon Schmieder

Photo courtesy of Sports Pittsburgh
As the sports tourism and events industry has evolved, it has become more and more important for rights holders to have great relationships with the communities that host their events. Whether those rights holders are partnering with a city, a convention bureau or a sports commission, the rights holder has to craft a relationship that will deliver the best championship environment for their competitors, their families and their fans alike. The partnership with the host community needs to not only to provide a great tournament experience but also has to meet financial benchmarks for both parties to be deemed a success.

It is one thing to say “we want to have great partners” but how do we actually get there? Our firm surveyed some of the top professionals in the sports tourism industry on this topic. We asked them to list the most important issues they address with rights holders when crafting a partnership. Here is a summary of their top five responses:

1.       Develop a true partnership – Often times, the host community wants the same thing that the rights holder wants: a great championship experience for everyone who is involved. The rights holder and the hosting entity are in this together. The partnership and the actions of each side should reflect the best interest of the event, the rights holder and the host city. Put all your cards on the table and work together to deliver a great final product.

2.       Provide realistic expectations – Many times the event rights holder offers potential bid cities information that contains inflated attendance, economic impact and/or room night figures. This is especially true with new events or those that have a short track record. If the actual results from past events cannot be accurately reported, it is critical that the host community know what the real outcomes are likely to be from the event. The convention bureau or sports commission needs to be able to accurately communicate to their stakeholders what each event will mean to their community. In this case it is essential for the rights holder to be honest up front so the hosting agency can manage local expectations. In projecting outcomes for an event, it is always better for the events rights holders to under promise and over deliver.

3.       Identify success measures – It is critical for each side to know what the goals are for the event. Talk about the desired outcomes, articulate them and, of course, write them down. Provide action plans for each goal including who is responsible and what the measurable outcomes entail. The more tangible the collective goals are, the better the chance they can and will be achieved.

4.       Over communicate – Don’t leave any stone unturned in regard to the planning of the event. Set regularly scheduled planning calls in the months leading up to the event. Talk not only about the event timelines, goals and responsibilities, but also discuss contingency plans for special circumstances. What happens if the event has inclement weather? If the revenues are trending below goal, what expenses can be managed to keep the budget on track? Is another event going to be in town at the same time? How will you work around that? Do you have an extra volunteer pool to draw from if the event needs more support? Role play every scenario you can think of so that when the event throws you a curve ball, everyone knows how to deal with each situation.  Your partner at the destination will be much happier to hear from you more often than not enough.

5.       It’s not always about heads in beds – Many rights holders think that every city is created equal. In today’s sports tourism marketplace, that cannot be any further from the truth. Host cities are not always focused on room nights. Many have alternative reasons for hosting certain events. Some focus on economic impact or national media exposure or have locals in their community with significant ties to a certain sport. Further, every convention bureau or sports commission will not be like their brothers next door. That is, what is important to one sports commission may not be important at all to another sports commission. The same is true for CVBs. What one CVB looks to achieve may be vastly different from that of the bureau across the state. No two host entities are created equal and thusly, no two communities want the same things from you and your event. What is considered gold in one town is coal in the next. Find out early on what the host wants to achieve, communicate your ambitions and work within your event’s framework to get both sides a positive result.

Photo courtesy of Sports Pittsburgh
These best practices will provide a great foundation to build excellent partnerships between event rights holders and their host cities. The common thread among these five concepts is this: communication. Providing open lines of communication will give both parties the opportunity to work together and will deliver home run outcomes for the host and the event owner.

In addition to the recommendations from the industry experts surveyed, we would add two more items. As we work with rights holders, NGBs and host cities, we always ask two critical questions, both of which are tied to building the great partnerships everyone wants.

Question #1 – “What is a home run for you?”

After you have created a great atmosphere of communication and you have the game plan laid out, there may be an opportunity to add additional value to the event (and the partnership). If you know what the basic goals are and have those covered in advance, you often can hit a stretch goal for the championship at hand. This inevitably will paint the rights holder and the host city in a very positive light.

Examples of this could be freeing up budget to provide for enhanced hospitality to the officials and volunteers, enriching the athlete experience with a special gift upon arrival or making a media splash with a special speaker or guest at the event. If you ask your partners to share what their big ideas entail, you can tuck those away and work on them in the background while also making sure the event’s basic needs are met. If you hit the occasional home run, you will undoubtedly strengthen your partnerships and repeat business will be the end result.

Question #2 – “If you were me, what would you be focusing on right now?”

This is a tough question for many people to ask. Posing this question to your partners takes a commitment to vulnerability. This statement lets your partners know that you don’t have all the answers right now (something few people want to admit) and that you are willing to take their direction moving forward. While challenging, this question is also very empowering. The end result will be great discussion between the parties and ultimately, a strong focus on the critical path tasks will be achieved.

In the case where there may not be a unified vision of next steps, putting this on the table will also serve as a course corrector in the partnership. The event rights holder may have different priorities from those of the host community. Asking this question early and often will allow the partners to unify their thoughts and put their respective check lists in harmony.

It is often said that the difference between the meetings industry and sports tourism is that when a sports event is awarded to a host, the work has just begun. As a rights holder, if you focus on developing great partnerships by communicating your goals and expectations, the journey to success will be a fruitful one.

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