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In It for the Long Run: Leveraging the CVB and Sports Commission Relationship for Better Long-Term Contracts

11 Sep, 2013

By: Debi Schultz

LONG-TERM RELATIONSHIPS:  Isn’t that what our business is all about? You certainly don’t go into sports event planning and expect to say ‘I’m only in this for the short term’ or ‘I don’t want this to last.’ No, we want return business, we want return visits and we certainly want to hear plenty of ‘See you next year.’ After all, this is our profession and we love it. We’re in it for the long haul.

In thinking about this topic, I started getting a song in my head. (Anyone who knows me knows this happens when I start writing). In this case, it was a tune from the Eagles called (appropriately enough) “The Long Run.” And the more I thought about it, the more fitting it seemed. Why? Consider the first line:

I used to hurry a lot, I used to worry a lot, I used to stay out to the break of day

Sports event planners are, by nature, detail-oriented people. They want to make sure all the pieces are in place for an event to succeed. And when you come right down to it, there are a lot of pieces. For example, if you’re planning a marathon or even a 5K, you are dealing with everything from filing the paperwork with public officials in order to have roads closed off, to getting T-shirts for the participants, to corralling volunteers to line the course and point the runners in the right direction. You need refreshments, water stops and a post-race party. Oh, and you want the media to know all about it.

Whether you’re working with a start-up event, taking your event to a new area or just trying to improve upon an existing event, you can quickly become very frustrated trying to locate the right people, find the appropriate vendors and manage the logistics. It’s stressful and it’s time consuming. The sort of Type-A personality that lends itself to a sports event planner’s success can quickly become a liability when that person is working in unfamiliar territory.

 Oh, that didn't get it, it was high time I quit it; I just couldn't carry on that way.

What many event planners fail to realize, at least at first, is that help is right there. Your convention and visitors bureau or sports commission can help you succeed. Why? Because they already have the tools that can help you achieve success for the long term.

Going back to the example of a road race, your sports commission or CVB knows the city. They can tell you routes of various lengths and which streets they use. They can give you the contacts at the governmental level so that you can put the wheels in motion to get permission for road closures the day of your event or better yet, they can often do it for you.

Need publicity and promotion? The CVB and sports commission has pre-existing relationships with the media in the area. They can craft press releases or public service announcements, post on social media and do a lot of other things to help raise the visibility of your event. Once your event is on the media’s radar, they’ll remember it, and perhaps increase coverage in years to come.

What else? The people at the sports commission know the vendors in the area. In fact, vendors actively seek out CVBs and sports commissions and do their best in order to establish a good reputation for themselves. Why? Because they are in it for the long haul too.

 Say you need merchandise for your road race. The CVB or sports commission in that area knows vendors for T-shirts, water bottles, hats – you name it. They have all the contacts, and they’ve worked with them previously. If you’re coming to a new city – or just starting fresh, you may not have all those contacts, plus you may not know how long a company has been in business or what kind of work they do. A CVB or sports commission can not only answer all those questions but can make the introductions for you so that you have the contacts you need to get the job done. It saves you a lot of phone calls and even more worry.

Oh, I did some damage, I know it's true; Didn't know I was so lonely, ‘til I found you

If you’re given a choice between working with a partner who can make things easy, and doing things yourself, which are you going to pick? (And honestly, do we really have to answer that question? Your time is valuable – too valuable to be spent trying to get information that is already available, provided you know who to ask).

 Long-term contractual success can mean returning not just to the same city but to specific merchants within that market:

  • Hotels
  • Convention centers
  • Catering companies
  • Sports venues
  • Bus and transportation companies
  • Restaurants
  • Attractions
  • Audio-visual and technology professionals
  • Entertainment …

and many more aspects of your event.

Those merchants want your business and they want it on a continuing basis. And if you have that relationship with them, it is one less thing on your mind when it comes to planning.

Sometimes, an event can be such a tradition in one area that it seems to run on autopilot. That’s a great and wonderful thing. Unfortunately, nothing lasts forever. A key sponsor can change, a sports event planner can retire or a new person can be put in charge of the event. Suddenly, all the institutional memory of the event is gone. The new organizer is starting from the proverbial Square One.

We saw this happen recently with a golf tournament that had been a longstanding tradition in our area. Over the years, we’d known about it, but had provided minimum servicing – the organizers preferred to handle most of the details. But after nearly 30 years with the same volunteers and staff, some new people were coming in to help organize the event.

The new team felt almost blindsided, and had a lot of questions. For example, they knew the event had bottled water but didn’t know where or how to get it. They had questions including ‘Where does the signage go and who prints it?’ – and as they asked those questions, more arose. As we made contact to inquire about servicing the event, they mentioned they were in need of a few things – and they were surprised to find out that we could connect them with the vendors they needed, the supplies they wanted and more. At one point, the planner even said, ‘Wow, I can’t believe that all I needed to do was call you and you’d be able to handle all this.’

The best part of all this? We know (a) they’ll be back next year and (b) they’ll work with us again. About 40% of what we do is repeat business. We’re pleased with that because it’s our goal, but it isn’t exactly unique: every CVB or sports commission strives for the same thing. Everyone wants to hear people say they look forward to coming back. Generally, the easier a CVB or sports commission can make the planner’s job, the more likely it is they’ll hear that.

The front end of the business is what athletes and spectators see: good facilities, signage, well-marked routes, great merchandise, you name it. The back end, though, is the return business. That’s what the CVB or sports commission is all about. We want those people coming back. We want them staying in our hotels, eating in our restaurants, shopping on our main streets – and telling all their friends what a great time they had while they were here.

Who can go the distance? We’ll find out in the long run

The advantages of having contacts that last are many, but the greatest of these is peace of mind. Knowing that when you come into a city, your arrangements are made and your partners are trustworthy means that you can turn your attention to what you need to do – running your event. And isn’t that enough, really?

There isn’t really a downside to working with a CVB or sports commission, but there are times when it can seem like it is the best-kept secret in the business. The reason for that might be twofold. Not enough people realize all the advantages the CVB or sports commission can provide. Sometimes, for example, people hear the term, ‘CVB,’ and think we’re just there to serve the individual vacation and tourism market or only conventions. We have to continually tell our story and educate the public on our mission.

Sometimes, though, the reason is different, and that’s due to something we touched on before – the fact that event planners are detail people. Maybe, because they take care of so many aspects of their meeting, they worry about handing over part of the event, or not doing their job fully. Sports event planners in particular are worried about relinquishing control of their event, and that’s understandable – they have the athlete mindset: they don’t want to do anything to jeopardize the outcome of the game.

We can handle some resistance if our love is a strong one

Well – you can heave a big sigh of relief over that one. The sports commission or CVB knows you love your job, and they don’t want to take it from you. (Really! They have their own job. It’s called helping you find the tools to do your job efficiently so that you can bask in the glow of a successful event). We like to think of ourselves as your sidekick, or perhaps your first lieutenant.

Nobody needs to tell an event planner there are plenty of options for doing business. In the digital age, there are more than ever. The question is whether the options you can uncover on the Internet will be there for you next year, or even six months from now. What the sports commission or CVB can provide here is inside information. 

The CVB and sports commissions in any given area know about the facilities in an area. For example, say you’re looking for some soccer fields. On the Internet, a park or soccerplex might look great. Your sports commission or CVB can tell you, though, whether it just looks great or whether it is great. They’ll know whether it has all the parking you need, the concessions, rest rooms and more. They’ll also know whether the fields are scheduled for improvements, such as construction of new picnic shelters, additional lighting, new sod, etc. And if you’re trying to create a multi-year contract, that’s definitely the kind of information you’ll need in advance.

What’s the drawback of working with the CVB or sports commission? What’s the problem with getting long-term contractual relationships? There are none, really. You gain the ability to delegate what you need and to rely on dependable partners. Your athletes and spectators gain a great event and fantastic memories and they shower you with accolades, kudos and compliments.

As a sports event planner, the relationship with a CVB or sports commission is one of the most important tools in your toolbox. In fact, it’s a little like a Swiss Army Knife – chock-full of options to fill a variety of needs and always at the ready.

Taking your event from the planning stages to success is ultimately your responsibility, but there are plenty of people ready to help. Just remember:

When it all comes down, we will still come through—in the long run

Like you, we’re in it to win it!

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