With 52 weekends in a year and only 15 of those weekends falling between Memorial Day and Labor Day, competition can be fierce when it comes to scheduling sporting events. But the reality is that all the annual sporting events can’t possibly fit into the finite number of weekends and short window of summer in a year.
Yet who says summer and weekends always offer the best dates for an event? Obviously, from a visibility and attendee perspective, weekends might help attract young athletes when they are not in school. Equally, summers also allow athletes and families to travel in good weather. However, aside from those pluses, it’s important to look at all opportunities for success when scheduling an event, including off-season and weekday dates. Certainly, from a host city perspective, the off-peak season is always desirable because it fills the business gaps between peak times. As a national rights holder, you might be surprised at the benefits you find, just by being open to booking your event on a weekday or in a specific destination’s shoulder season.
Any time you can provide benefits to both parties – the rights holders and the destination – it becomes a very successful event because each entity feels they are getting what they need. Consider these benefits as well as tips to ensure a successful off-season or weekday event.
REASONS TO HOST AN OFF-SEASON OR WEEKDAY EVENT
Build a better financial package – and share savings with your participants
Perhaps the most obvious reason for scheduling a weekday or off-season event is the cost benefit. The ability to receive incentives is much higher during off-peak or low-peak periods. Take lodging as one example. Every hotel makes its revenue from a combination of traveler types – corporate, convention, leisure, etc. And while weekdays might be filled with corporate travelers with less room for negotiation, weekends in the non-peak season – especially around the holidays – can be a lull. During that time, hotels may drastically reduce room rates to fill rooms that would otherwise go unsold. If you can help a hotel fill that gap, you have more opportunity to create a competitive financial package for your event. And if you need to provide complimentary rooms for coaches and discounted rooms for staff, your host city can more likely include those types of amenities in its event package for you during off-peak times.
But it’s not just lodging that is up for negotiation. All items are on the table, including event facilities, other venues, hospitality, parking and so on, for reduction when there is less demand. If you aren’t paying as much on hotel rooms, facility rentals or other costs associated with putting on your event, you can pass the savings onto your participants.
Stand out as the first (or last) event of your sport season
Every sport typically has a season of the year when it’s the peak time for tournaments and events. Scheduling an event outside of your typical season can give you an edge over other events in your sport. In Grand Rapids, Michigan, we have been assisting our local Grand Rapids Gymnastics club with its national invitational, Gymnastics on the Grand, for the past 10 years. Grand Rapids Gymnastics chose to schedule this event in early December at the beginning of gymnastics season, so they can get ahead of the competition of other gymnastics events. They found a hole in the season and grabbed it so they could be the first one. Or you could schedule the last tournament of the season. In either case, you might find the host community gives your sporting event more attention in the off-peak season, in addition to giving you better availability and rates.
Take the spotlight
One of the more unexpected benefits you may discover when booking an event in a non-peak season is that you become the show in town. While a weekend in peak season might mean you’re one of many activities in a host city (also giving you no leverage on rates), a weekend in the shoulder season can play to your advantage – from recruiting athletes, to giving spectators something to do, to offering local media a story during a slow news time when they are more likely to cover your event. In Grand Rapids, dates near or around July 4 are considered off-season since many Michigan residents head north to cottages. We hosted the 2016 USA Track and Field (USATF) Masters Outdoor Championships in mid-July, and the event dates landed on a slow news cycle – so much so that local TV stations came out to the track daily to do news stories. This was one of the only events in town, and it worked to our advantage from a public relations perspective.
Become a tradition
Sometimes, your event can become an annual tradition people look forward to during that off-time – even during holidays. One of our largest road races in West Michigan is the Fifth Third River Bank Run, which always falls on Mother’s Day weekend. It has become a holiday tradition that families look forward to, celebrating the day by mothers running with their children and family on Mother’s Day. We’ve had a similar phenomenon with the Meijer LPGA Classic, which starts midweek in June and runs through Father’s Day. The LPGA really markets it to attract dads and their kids as a celebration. It has become one of the top LPGA tour stops based on volume of spectators and player satisfaction. We also have held the USA Table Tennis (USATT) US Open in 2010, 2012 and 2014 – and each time near the Fourth of July weekend. One year, the Finals wrapped up just as fireworks boomed outside – a treat for athletes and their families. If you offer your event as a unique way to spend a holiday, athletes and their families can plan on it as a way to celebrate that season and holiday. It becomes an annual tradition that they block out on their calendar.
Build good will with your host city partners
From a venue perspective, mid-week business is especially important because it layers and fills in the gaps between typical weekend business. Rights holders and event owners who are willing to bring their tournaments on weekdays are not competing with the typical weekend sports tournaments and venue rates. And your host city partners will be thrilled with the bump in business in an off-season time, leading to the previously mentioned financial savings and other incentives, plus a general willingness to work with you at every turn of your event. And you’re more likely to turn that into repeat business as an annual event tradition.
Tips to ensure a successful off-season or weekday event
All this being said, it takes a bit more work to make an off-season or weekday event flourish and succeed compared to scheduling during peak season when sporting events are more expected. Consider the following tips:
• Creatively string weekdays to weekends – If you expect a hotelier to abandon a regular
business segment (e.g., corporate travelers) during the weekday for your event, it is an easier “sell” to the hotelier if you can guarantee they will replace it with other solid business, especially if a weekend is tacked on. As an example, we hosted the 2017 ISC (International Softball Congress) 2017 Men’s Fastball World Tournament at the Art Van Sports Complex – and while it took up two weekends, it ran through a full week that provided a level of business that wasn’t there the year before for the hotelier. They had guaranteed hotel business for 10 days straight without having to turn over rooms in between.
• Market more heavily to your membership – You may have to do some internal marketing to your athletes, sponsors and families if you’re moving an event to an off-season (or starting a new one then) in order to attract these people to keep your numbers consistent. And that means selling them on the benefits of the off-season timing – less crowds, more media attention, reduced costs, etc. You may also need to look at it as a growth year. You might start with a smaller group of participants in the first year, but you can grow it through the cost-benefit angle as you transfer the benefits of booking in the off-peak season onto your members.
• Give your event partners more lead time – Similar to the above point about marketing your event if it’s in the off-peak season, make sure you do it early enough that families can plan on it – especially if it’s during a holiday. Give your membership plenty of time and information so they know the event is around a holiday and can incorporate it into their plans as a way to celebrate that holiday. Ideally, over time, it becomes something they block out on their calendar annually as a unique holiday tradition.
• Work with your host city’s sports commission or DMO – Regarding lodging, many hotels have a loyal (and lucrative) mid-week corporate travel segment that they may have a hard time giving up in order to set aside a hotel room block for a sports event, so be sure to work with your CVB or sports commission when it comes to selecting and booking a hotel. We are finding that more hotels are positioning themselves as a family-friendly and sports-friendly hotel versus strictly a corporate travel hotel, which lends that capability to get room blocks. The host city CVB or sports commission can help navigate the waters of finding the right hotel partner.
In the end, weekday and off-season events can be just as successful – if not more so – than weekend and peak-season events if all participants are aware of and can see the benefits of the booking. It may take some patience and time to build up that base and creatively market to them. But any time you can provide benefits to all parties – the rights holders, the destination and the participants – it becomes a successful event all around. SDM