Ask any event owner or planner of sports events what is on their wish list for any given event, and they’ll probably tell you the same things: a good facility, great support staff and a positive economic result.
It’s not a coincidence, therefore, that many successful events make tracks back to the same destinations and the same facilities year after year. Why? Because the owners and planners like a dependable (and of course, successful) outcome. Over the years, they have forged strong relationships with the CVBs and the sports commissions in those areas, and have leveraged those relationships in order to create advantageous contract(s) for their events that will give them the results they want.
There are multiple advantages to having multi-year contracts. Many of them go back to one thing: familiarity. Working with a destination multiple years running means an understanding of, among other things:
· Competition venues
· Hotels and lodging
· Emergency/medical facilities
· Infrastructure (and availability of air, road and mass transit)
· Local attractions to fill athletes’ downtime
· Local sports clubs or officials that can help out with your event
It’s easy to see why some events seem to be on a boomerang path, at least when it comes to site selection. Returning to a familiar site takes the guesswork out of planning. It means aspects within the event owner’s control are a lot more predictable. It also allows the event owner to depend on the CVB or sports commission, already having an understanding of the services they can provide.
Event owners and planners, once they find a great place to hold their competitive event, often are eager to dive into a multi-year contract and lock down the things they want so that they won’t have to worry as much about site selection in years to come. But while it is easy to say that you want a long-term contract, it’s harder to go about setting one up. One of the questions we as members of sports commissions and CVBs are often asked is how to get started with this. Our answer is always some variation of this: be prepared to put in the time.
Understanding Both Sides: The Catalyst for Success
Few destinations will want to lock a brand-new event into a multi-year contract. And if they do, it might not be a contract with the kind of provisions that the client wants. But honestly, can you blame them? They’re dealing with the unknown entity and a lot of the risk. We always advise event owners and planners to take a step back from the situation. What if the positions were reversed? How would you feel if you were in the CVB’s or sports commission’s shoes?
Sometimes, all we can see is our own side of the equation. Change your perspective, though, and you’ll have a better understanding of what is happening. If, for example, you as an event owner are looking to house your softball tournament at the diamonds in a specific park, you’re essentially taking all those fields offline for the entire duration of your tournament, which may be a weekend, a week or even longer. That means the sports commission or CVB is probably going to get pushback from the softball clubs and rec league programs in the area. If that sports commission or CVB doesn’t know anything about you and your event, how can they be sure their area is going to have a worthwhile experience and economic justification to make up for the inconvenience? Answer: they can’t. Your event will need to prove itself, at least in the early stages, for the good folks at the destination to be comfortable with you.
Negotiating the contract for the first time can be another dicey area. Too many people enter this phase of planning with the philosophy of ‘This is my laundry list and I want everything on it.’ As we have noted before, however, if your event is brand-new (or close to it), you may not get all the concessions you want. Just remember: it’s not a competition; it’s a negotiation, in which both partners have some push and pull, and that ultimately, the goal is to arrive at a satisfactory agreement. In addition, it’s essential to note that yours is not the only business opportunity the city has. Being too demanding can backfire badly. Respect the destination’s need to make money as well.
Once your event is able to capture and illustrate some history, such as registration numbers, hotel room use and any other data you can get that will prove an economic benefit to the destination, you have a powerful tool to use, and you will see this reflected in the types of contracts you can negotiate in future years.
The Legacy Effect
Another good strategy to establishing a long-term contract is employing what we call the legacy effect. Destinations will look favorably upon sports events that do more than use hotels, sports venues and other facilities, and that, in fact, actually give back to the community while they’re in town.
Some of the most experienced planners and event owners are those who use their events to build goodwill. Can some of the athletes come in a day early or stay a day late to put on a skill clinic for disadvantaged youth? Can there be an exhibition game for the community? Is it possible for the athletes to work with a military veteran group i.e. USA Cares or the Wounded Warrior Project? Give some thought to what you can leave in the community after your event is done. What kind of an impression can you make so that people remember your group, and look forward to its return next time?
This is another case where the CVB or sports commission is going to be an invaluable partner. They will be aware of organizations in the area that would welcome the ability to work with the athletes, and can help make the introductions to officials and administrators with whom they already have a working relationship.
CVBs and sports commissions are responsible for marketing their area as a destination for tourism, sports and more. Event owners, rights holders and sports event planners can leverage the destination officials’ wealth of knowledge when it comes to media contacts, and use it to mutually benefit one another.
After the sports commission or CVB has helped disseminate local press releases about the upcoming sports event, it’s your responsibility to do your part: post-event publicity. That means disseminating your own news about the event to organizations like the national governing body, your own home papers and other, as well as on your local website. Make it a point to let everyone know how well the event ran in that city, thanks to a strong partnership with the local officials. Make sure to provide the CVB or sports commission with links whenever the news is picked up. This will help the destination understand that you are a partner with them – not just a passerby putting on a one-time event.
Up until now, we have touched upon the importance of having a history to help leverage your event’s clout, ways to improve your negotiating tactics, and some of the methods to help strengthen your event’s reputation in the community and in the press. What all these things will ultimately do is create a better and stronger partnership between you and the CVB or sports commission.
We use the term, ‘partnership,’ a lot in our business. Sometimes, it almost seems like it’s in danger of becoming one of those over-used buzzwords that people kick around in corporate-speak. In this case, however, we’re referring to the real thing. Partnerships – the long-term relationships between your group and the destination – are the building blocks for long-term contracts, and they can differentiate your event from a number of others.
Like all partnerships, yours with the CVB or sports commission should include some essential ingredients:
· An Understanding of Common Goals: The destination wants your event to be a success just as much as you do. You want an event that runs smoothly and in which everyone has a positive experience and goes home happy. The CVB/sports commission wants an event that reflects well upon their town, has a positive economic impact and makes the people there happy. Remember that you’re both after the same thing; you’re just coming at it from two different directions.
· Good Communication: A partnership is as successful as both partners’ abilities to communicate regarding all aspects of the event.
· Perspective: Instead of fixating on one point you don’t like in a contract, look at the big picture. Your intent is to negotiate an agreement that runs for several years. Maybe your sticking point is something that can be renegotiated each year. Leave some aspects of the agreement open to change from year to year. You can never be sure what else you might need to add in or take out as the years go on.
· Respect: We can’t say it too often. Partnerships work because the partners are willing to work together for the greater good. It’s not a partnership if one partner is always expecting the other to compromise.
· Understand the Business: Your sports event is not the only potential event the city can host; at the same time, they’re not the only place that could host you. The more willing you are to work with the destination, and to be flexible in your requests, the greater the chance the destination will want to have you back.
Wrong Place, Wrong Time?
As convenient as it is to have long-term contracts, there are some times when they just won’t be satisfactory. Maybe the location of your event is contingent upon having the support of a local club in the destination, and this destination lacks that. Maybe the destination itself doesn’t think the event is a good fit. Recognize that in some cases, a long-term contract is not going to be possible. That is not to say your event will never get a long-term contract; perhaps this is just the wrong area for it.
The important point here is to keep a good relationship with the CVB or sports commission. You may come back to that area with another group, or you may need the CVB/sports commission’s advice or expertise somewhere down the road. Don’t lose the contact, even if you lose the business.
We often refer to ‘ROI’ in our industry. Everyone knows it means ‘return on investment.’ But while sports events do require a certain economic layout, they’re also an investment in other ways. A sports event hosted by us as destination professionals requires an investment of staff time. It requires an investment of resources, such as volunteers. It also means we’re juxtaposing our destination’s name with that of a new event. So in a sense, we’re investing our reputation as well. Doesn’t everyone want to get a good return on their investment? Of course they do, and destinations are no exception.
It’s OK to have the long-term contract as your goal. What is more important, however, is to have a quality partnership with the CVB or sports commission first. Ultimately, that partnership will yield dividends, including the desired long-term contracts – and great working relationships with those in the industry whom have the knowledge, experience and training to help you make your event the best it can be.