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The Bid Process: The First Building Block in a Successful Sports Event

23 Dec, 2015

By: Debi Schultz

Every great sports event is built from the ground up. It has a lot of moving parts and all of them need to work together in order for the event to be a success. One of the primary building blocks in its construction is the first time the event owner and the sports commission (or the CVB) will intersect: the bid process. This is the point at which the event owner publicly states that he or she is seeking a location for an event, and cities can formally give notice they are interested in hosting. 

Bid packets, also known as Requests for Proposals or RFPs, are now part of a process that has become incredibly streamlined (thank you, World Wide Web.) Cities generally can find these documents on the websites of the owner or rights holder for the sports event. They may be downloadable, or they may be a document that can be filled out entirely online. Whichever form they take, they generally consist of the following information:

  • The type of sport and the nature of the event (for example, a tennis tournament that will bring in junior players from a certain region)

  • The specifications for facilities needed (in this case, a specific amount of tennis courts that conform to the requirements of the National Governing Body for the sport) as well as ancillary notes on these facilities: whether you will require spectator seating, lighting for night play, whether you’ll need alternate facilities in case of inclement weather, etc.

  • Hours during which the tournament will be going on

  • Facts on the total traveling party (the full number of athletes and personnel that travels with the team) and estimated non-participating travelers

  • Hotel rooms needed with estimates for double and single rooms

  • Whether athletes will be flying in, driving in or taking a bus, as this will affect the type of parking that is needed.

  • Other space needed: meeting rooms for coaches and/or officials meetings, banquet space, etc.

  • Your dates (or date window)

  • History from previous events

  • Whether a bid fee is involved (and if so, what it is) – more on this in a minute.

Those facts are the foundation of any RFP, which gives the city a quick overview of the event. 

People like us (that is to say, the CVB or sports commission) will be looking over the form with an eye to numbers of heads in beds (we can’t lie; cities are all about their bottom line and economic impact is what drives the industry), whether there is already another event in town at the time that will use those facilities or whether that other event in town is already using the hotel rooms you will need. Of course, we’ll also be making sure we can accommodate the event, given our inventory of sports facilities. 

If a city declines to make a proposal, don’t take it personally. It may be that the event isn’t a good fit for the area (perhaps there just isn’t an appropriate venue), or it may be that the area is already overtaxed at that time and can’t accommodate something else. In Abilene, we know of one weekend in which three local colleges hold their graduations. That same weekend, there’s an enormous horse event in the area. Because hotel space is so hard to come by, we don’t even try to book other events that weekend. If you really have your heart set on working with a certain city, you can always open a conversation with the CVB or sports commission by asking whether another time window would be better.

If your event is brand-new and doesn’t have history yet, talk to the sports commission or CVB. 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.

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. 

Beyond those things (which are probably fairly self-evident), event owners should make sure the RFP clearly delineates responsibilities. For example, in Abilene, we won’t run your tournament (that’s for your tournament director to do) but we can help you find vendors and others that will support your event and provide services. 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 result in an event that runs smoothly.

Something we’re often asked is how far in advance we want information on events that might potentially come to our area. 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. And of course, 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.

Information is the currency of the sports event planning industry. The more information you are able to provide to your host city, the better off you will be, so we always tell people to err on the side of over-informing your partner. Your event may involve secondary services such as shuttles to the venue, catering or food trucks, sightseeing tours, off-premises events, hospitality programs for spouses or children of attendees and so forth. While these are all things that are not necessarily included in the RFP, they do necessitate a conversation with your representative at the sports commission or CVB. 

A hallmark of a sports event planner’s integrity is their willingness to disclose information. Previously, the bid fee was mentioned. If you will be charging a bid fee, that must be in your RFP. However, if this 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 lessened, and in some cases, waived entirely, given the amount of work the destination can provide to make the event flow well.

In turn, be willing to meet all deadlines set forth. For example, putting down deposits on venues will need to be done 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. After a while, simply telling the facility you want those dates isn’t going to hold up, particularly if they have another party that is willing to pay up front for the same set of dates.

What generally happens in these situations is the sports commission or CVB gets stuck in the middle; the facility calls us and lets us know they haven’t received a commitment from our client, and our client insures us he or she will get around to it. What the client often does not realize is that the sports commission or CVB’s good name is on the line with the facility. If we are able to refer good clients to them, they are more likely to want to work with us in the future. The more you can do to stay on schedule with your deadlines, the better off you are, and the more likely your event is to be a welcome piece of business in the future.

If you allow for flexibility in programming, you’ll find your event is better received by the host city. Going back to the example of the tennis tournament: if that tournament will take place only during daytime hours, let that be known in your bid packet. The tennis venue you are using may be able to book an evening event, which allows them to make additional income during your tournament and builds goodwill. Besides, you don’t really need to block off all the courts 24/7 if you aren’t going to use them that way. The same theory applies to your use of a convention center, hotel ballroom or anything else. Your event actually becomes a more valuable piece of business for the city if they know they can tuck other events around it strategically without disturbing your athletes. 

One of the great things about CVBs and sports commissions is the wealth of knowledge they have about their city. Don’t worry about Googling for information about the layout of the city, the weather, transit options or anything else; this is their stock in trade. They can also help you locate volunteers, athletic trainers, vendors for T-shirts and trophies, disc jockeys to provide musical services, a color guard for your opening ceremonies and more. They’ll have contact with local clubs and organizations that can help you find officials and others.

Earlier, we mentioned the need for full disclosure to the CVB or sports commission. That doesn’t stop after the RFP has turned into a full-fledged commitment to the city. Make sure you supply your partner at the CVB or sports commission with all the information on the tournament schedule you can: where check-in is, what hours play will start (and where), brackets showing match-ups – even information like whether athletes need to bring proof of age such as birth certificates. We can tell you from experience that we will wind up getting calls from parents, coaches and others, asking these types of questions. The more information you can provide us, the more of these types of calls we can answer, meaning the more you get to concentrate on your job. 

In conclusion, the bid process is an essential component of the sports travel industry. Successfully navigating through it means providing all information as needed, and asking all the pertinent questions of your potential partner. Remember that cities are well-staffed with professionals who want the same outcome you do – a winning experience. Working together, we can achieve it.

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