Travel Options for Sports Teams: Weighing All The Possibilities
10 Sep, 2013By: Jason Elbert,Michael Benz
Travel is an essential ingredient for most organized sports programs. It is among the top controllable expenses in your annual budget and requires a significant investment of time to oversee properly. Whether you are the travel coordinator for a youth volleyball club, high school soccer team, collegiate athletic department, university alumni association or professional sports team, you are confronted with similar challenges on a regular basis.
Whether you are trying to make decisions about traveling by air (and if so, are you flying commercial or on a charter flight?), bus (are you using a private motor coach or a municipal service) or whether you’re thinking of relying on carpooling, there are still many decisions to make. Travel coordinators in all levels of sports are responsible for procuring the safest and most dependable transportation and lodging while meeting strict budget requirements.
Today, there are countless ways to book travel and you should be cautious in choosing your method to avoid unnecessary expenses and wasted time. Reservations made through public booking engines are often non-refundable and difficult or impossible to process cancellations and name changes. Many frustrated sports travel coordinators are turning to travel management companies (TMCs) as opposed to using online booking engines. This industry trend has helped sports organizations lower expenses while increasing efficiency and traveler satisfaction.
We are lucky enough to live in a time when it is easy to just point, click and book flights, hotels and more. Unfortunately, that discount travel website won’t have your back if something goes wrong, such as when a flight gets cancelled. And what might be okay for a family on vacation is not okay when you have a large group (like a team) plus family members, coaches and others who need to make it to a tournament.
Sports Events Pose Unique Travel Challenges
Sports events require a level of precision and timing that leisure travel does not. It also requires traveling with equipment and traveling in a large group, all of which pose logistical challenges. TMCs are taking notice of the unique challenges facing sports travel coordinators and are tailoring solutions specifically for the sports industry. Some TMCs have even created specialized divisions within their company to provide the services required to effectively manage sports travel. There are several benefits gained from working with a TMC. Some of the most impactful benefits include reduced travel expenses, increased operational efficiency and 24/7/365 support.
Let’s take a closer look at why TMCs are uniquely positioned to provide each of these benefits.
TMCs provide cost reduction through buying power and access to programs and systems unavailable to individual travelers. TMCs are able to leverage their overall spending with vendors and negotiate the best possible rates for you. Some vendors even have pre-negotiated discounts and amenities exclusively for TMCs.
Outsourcing the labor-intensive tasks associated with researching itineraries and negotiating contracts allows travel coordinators, who often perform multiple roles within an organization, to focus on other responsibilities. Imagine e-mailing your team’s away game schedule to the TMC and promptly receiving a complete list of vendor price comparisons. You simply reply with the best options for each destination and the TMC proceeds to finalize agreements and process all payments, providing you a single monthly invoice. This type of service is unavailable through other booking options and can greatly reduce the workload many travel coordinators are forced to endure.
Peace of mind can also be gained by working with a TMC. Let’s envision that your high school team is playing in a single elimination tournament. Your star player rolls an ankle, taking your team out of competition unexpectedly early, having sustained a loss in the first round. Instead of waiting out the rest of the week in the tournament’s host city, you take advantage of the services your TMC can offer. They cancel your hotel block with negotiated terms and rebook you on the first flight home. This is just one example of when the services of a professional travel agent can be critical. Travel coordinators can rest easy knowing that their TMC is always standing by, ready to assist with name changes, cancellations, rescheduling or any other travel issues that are common in sports travel.
Along with these distinct benefits, TMCs can provide specific advantages to individual segments of sports travel including pre-college travel, collegiate travel, professional travel and fan and alumni travel.
Here is an explanation of each segment and the specialized services a TMC can provide.
The pre-college sports travel market is the most diverse and consists of many different types of organizations. Included in this segment are youth sports clubs, high school athletic programs, Little League teams and tournament organizers. Often, these organizations are led by an individual or a small group that wears many different hats, including the travel coordinator.
TMCs assist this group with air, motorcoach and hotel procurement. When dealing with large hotel blocks for tournaments, TMCs can sometimes provide your school or sports club rebates that come from the commission returned, providing additional savings. A TMC can also help research the most dependable motorcoach companies and require them to meet or exceed any insurance minimums your league, school or association may require. Also, should you run into complications with your chosen vendors, a TMC can provide alternate options quickly and easily.
With a wide range of universities participating in collegiate athletics, travel demands can vary significantly in the collegiate travel segment. Small schools may have sports teams with heavily restricted budgets that only participate in a handful of regional events, whereas large Division 1 schools may have greater resources devoted to their travel program and compete in national championships and worldwide events.
TMCs can play an important role within collegiate sports travel. They provide detailed reporting necessary to analyze travel spending by department, event, season, sport or almost any criteria imaginable. This information is valuable to identify areas of improvement within university travel policy. Conversely, if reservations are made through public online booking engines, much of this analytical data can be lost or unavailable.
Experienced sports travel agents can also help college teams and their representatives streamline processes such as airport check-in. They can help coaches fully understand airline baggage limitations relating to team equipment and supplies. If you are traveling with a large number of student athletes, TMCs can arrange for expedited check-in that includes only one charge for the entire team’s luggage. This eliminates each student’s need for a personal credit card.
A smaller but prestigious segment of sports travel lies in the professional ranks. Teams in the NBA, NFL, NHL and MLB make up this unique group. Although these organizations are typically well funded and have direct relationships with air providers to organize their charter team travel to competitions, they often rely on TMCs to help manage their front office travel and individual player movements
Other Groups Traveling with the Team
While fan and alumni travel is a big part of sports market, it’s unlikely that those working with today’s youth teams and amateur sports groups will be partaking in this. However, friends and family of youth sports groups are always seeking ways to book easy, trouble-free travel. Often, that means staying in the same hotel room block, using the same flights and so forth. TMCs can help arrange this as well.
You can see why sports travel coordinators have gravitated toward working with TMCs as opposed to online booking engines. They can help save time, money and create a greater peace of mind regarding your travel schedule. Although booking your travel online might provide instant gratification, it pays to consider all of your options.