The Bid Process: Streamlining It and Making it Work
30 Jan, 2017By: Debi Schultz
How an RFP is Evaluated (and How to Give it the Best Possible Chance)
It’s not uncommon for us to see a request for proposal (or in industry language, an RFP) come into our offices. And for those who are brand-new to our industry, that’s an invitation for us to bid on a sports event that is looking for a home. A lot of destinations have this experience, so we’re not an exception to the rule.
However, what people don’t realize is that deciding whether or not to bid on an event – and deciding how much to put into it – is a process, rather than a quick yes/no decision. What happens when the proposal comes in is that it starts a chain of events that we discuss and give serious thought to.
While a lot goes into the CVB’s evaluation of a bid, and into deciding whether it is a suitable match for that city (we’ll get to that in a minute), it is a general rule that the RFP should contain as much information as possible in order to provide a snapshot view of the event. What you’re trying to do is allow the destination officials to look at the document and see immediately whether it would be a good fit for them. So if you’re crafting an RFP for the first time, following is a list of the types of information it should contain.
Your bid fee: If your proposal requires a bid fee, it should be stated clearly. A bid fee isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker; however, a prospective host will need that information at the outset. This information should not be buried anywhere or mentioned later. As a side note, if the bid fee is subject to negotiation, based on how much the CVB/sports commission can help with services for your event, note it this way: “Bid fee is $X; servicing dollars taken into account.” This means that bid fee may be reduced, and in some cases, waived entirely, given the amount of work the destination can provide to make the event flow well.
- Description of your event: The type of sports event you are planning: a wrestling tournament, cheer competition, etc.
- Duration of event: Some events last only one day, while others may last a weekend or even the better part of a week.
- How many athletes: The number you expect to host, and whether that number will fluctuate at all, if it is a multi-day event.
- How many spectators: This will be a key influencer in the sports venue you need.
- Facilities: What types of sports facilities you’re seeking, such as ball fields, a swimming pool, soccer facilities, a convention center, etc. Make sure to list how many facilities will be needed (if more than one) and to specify whether warm-up or cool-down areas will be needed.
- Dates: When exactly (or an approximate window of time) your event will be held.
- Space: This is where you need to talk about hotel rooms. The prospective host city will want to know not only how many rooms you’re looking for, but what type. (For example, are you looking for a number of double/double rooms?) If there is a move-in/move-out pattern, that should be listed as well.
- Room reservations: Will you use a housing bureau or will people call in their own reservations to the hotel?
- Rates: If there is a desired price range for hotel space, you should list that. Remember that rates will vary from city to city, and from season to season.
- Ancillary Space: Will a trade show or expo space be necessary? What days and how many people should it accommodate?
- Demographic information: Tell us a little bit about your athletes. What age are they? Will they be traveling with parents, coaches or families? Will officials, such as referees, be traveling with them?
- History: What cities has your event visited before? What are the numbers from those events: How many room nights, what kind of business did hotel restaurants and bar facilities get – anything you can provide.
If yours is a new event and does not have history, say so. You may need to make some compromises in your requests, such as number of rooms blocked and so on. But with every event you successfully put on, you build up your history and create a more desirable piece of business for a city to host.
Occasionally, we will find that people are reluctant to provide the information that theirs is a new event, or that it is still in the growth stages. Always be forthcoming, though. A hallmark of a sports event planner’s integrity is their willingness to disclose information.
In looking at various aspects of the proposal and evaluating it, we are examining all the above information, with an eye to what it means to our city. So above and beyond the information shown previously, what are we looking for? Following are a few of those things.
Heads in Beds: Our hotels (and certainly those of any city) can use the business, so if an event is going to be taking up hotel space, it’s obviously good for the city. We need to make sure we have the space you need, and that it’s close enough to your venue to be a good fit. Overnight and multi-night stays also translate into business for a city’s restaurants, shops and more, so all that will be taken into consideration.
What is already going on in town: Sometimes, the event in question is for a specific date, but we can make it work because the space is still available. For example, a multi-day medical convention may take place at the same time as a one-day Little League game, but the convention requires hotel rooms and the convention center, whereas the baseball game just takes some ball fields on the other side of town, and the participants will have gone home by the end of the day. It’s just a matter of making sure existing facilities aren’t overtaxed.
Of course, if you are interested in a time when another large event is already in town and that event is has already contracted for hotel rooms and venue space, and will result in heavy restaurant use, the CVB or sports commission will likely be unable to bid on your event. In this case, you may wish to look at another city or, if you really want that specific city, you may need to be flexible with your dates.
The level of support expected: Sports commissions and CVBs will evaluate RFPs with an eye to what will be expected of them. Some events require more work than others, and different CVBs are set up to perform different types of services/
For example, in Abilene, we won’t run your tournament for you, but we can help you access the services that can make it run more smoothly.
We can recommend sports facilities for you to use and we can provide contact information with the managers, but we can’t sign the contracts with those facilities. We’ll be glad to put you in touch with the people at the municipal level if you need permitting for an outdoor race or other event. We can let you know which hotels are closest to your venue, we will gather rates and then it’s up to you to negotiate other concessions. Making sure all those responsibilities are clarified at the outset will lead to the best working relationship with the city, and will result in an event that runs smoothly.
Whether or not the event is seeking a multiple-year contract: Is your event looking for a permanent home? Make sure the RFP clearly states that. Something that will be in any event’s favor is its potential to return to the area. Events that generate repeat business are, of course, looked upon very favorably by sports commissions and CVBs because they mean dependable economic impact. The event might not necessarily come back each year, but if it rotates among several cities around the U.S. and returns to our area on a regular and predictable basis, we’re certainly going to be amenable to working with them.
Some events look for multi-year commitments (three to five years) with the hope of finding a good marriage between the event and the city. Plus, a multi-year contract allows the CVB and the event owner to become familiar with one another, and allows the CVB to be able to better anticipate the needs of the event.
A few other points of interest
When we talk about RFPs, we often talk about advance notice, and how much time people should allow. While there’s no hard and fast number of how many years or months (it really depends on the scope of the event), it’s fair to say that the sooner we are able to bid on an event (and with any luck, be chosen to host it), the sooner we can get it on our calendars, allowing you to begin negotiations with your venue, hotel and more. That means you as an event owner can get the word out to your athletes so they, in turn, can get it on their calendars. It also means you are able to start working on lining up any additional services or vendors you need. The CVB or sports commission can then be sure not to book other events to conflict with your hotel room inventory needed or your venue. In addition, it allows you to market the event.
Something else to keep in mind, particularly for those who are new to event planning, is the importance of follow-through. Make sure that you build a reputation on putting down deposits on venues, and on signing contracts with vendors, as soon as possible. You don’t want to lose your chance at the facility you really need – and honestly, you don’t want to damage your credit with the sports commission. We periodically have event owners who procrastinate about making their arrangements. They may have found out a facility is available on their desired date, but they haven’t gone about signing the contract, paying any applicable fees and so on. Sometimes, it’s because they have not done it before and are nervous about what they’re getting into. If that is the case, it might help to have the agreement reviewed by a colleague who has experience in this area. This can set your mind at ease and can also help expedite the process, rather than having the contract languish on your desk (or more likely these days, in your in-box).
While it’s not always necessary to sign a contract immediately, it is essential to be prompt. After a while, simply telling the facility you want those dates isn’t going to be acceptable, particularly if they have another party that is willing to pay up front for the same set of dates. Long story short: make your arrangements on time and it will lead to better relations all around.
Crafting an RFP, as we have seen, is all about making sure complete information is provided, and trying to think about what a potential host city would need to know. If you are new to the process, talk to colleagues and to trade associations. Examples of RFPs are available on the web, and often, NGBs will have a section on their sites to provide information to destination officials who are interested in hosting events. We urge you to take advantage of all the resources available to you – and to do so before you actually have to work on your RFP. The more comfortable you are with the process, the more thorough your RFP will be and the better understanding everyone will have of your event and what you are trying to accomplish.