They come in droves, from all over the country. They come with their families. They come with costumes, glitter, makeup and ponytails. They come to compete.
Cheer and dance events not only fill venues, but put heads in beds, drive traffic to local restaurants and pack area attractions.
To give you an idea, Cheersport has hosted one of the largest national cheerleading and dance championships in Atlanta since 1997. The event encompasses a total of 1 million square feet of space, 17,000 room nights and has a direct economic impact exceeding $34 million for the Atlanta area.
They are great events to generate revenue, but what do you really need to host a cheer and dance event?
Competitions generally consist of squads performing 2 ½-minute routines of non-stop cheer, dance, stunt and gymnastics in different divisions based on age and type of squad. Several types of facilities can be considered.
Based on the size and scope of the event, planners can use high school gymnasiums, college campuses, hotels, convention centers or arenas. Some considerations include accessibility, spectator seating and sightlines, concessions, parking, merchandising and ample floor space for warm-ups and performances.
“If it’s a big event, we want something family-oriented,” explained Liz Rossetti, founder and president of AmeriCheer. “It’s nice to have an area where there are other things to do; however, the facility is first and foremost.” Founded in 1987, the Ohio-based company attracts over 100,000 athletes and spectators to its camps and competitions and administers over 60 competitions.
“We are looking for a destination that is reasonably priced and seats 1,000 spectators or more,” said Rossetti. “Then we can do business with that facility. We have to have about 20,000 square feet and a 60 x 60-foot floor area. Generally, telescopic, risers and bleacher seating works best.”
Varsity, Inc. also holds numerous events all over the country and has specific needs, “We look for anywhere between 75,000-100,000 square feet of column-free space,” said Carlos Munoz, national director for Universal Cheerleading Association and Universal Dance Association. “We need a minimum height of 30 feet, and we look for places that have between 30-50 foot of height and seating capacity for 2,500-3,500 people.”
Varsity was founded in 1974 and has grown to be one of the leading organizations within cheer and dance. The company is comprised of cheer and dance entities including camps, clinics, competitions and uniforms.
JAMfest, headquartered in Louisville, Kentucky and established in 1995 by Louisville natives Tyler Emmitt and Aaron Flaker, hosts approximately 70 competitions across the United States, Europe and Canada.
“JAMfest is our bread and butter in this particular support,” said Greg Fante, director of sports development with the Louisville Sports Commission. “It’s a homegrown company, they understand their business and we are there to help and make sure it’s always easy to do business in their hometown. We’ll do whatever we can to make sure they are successful.”
Not only do the athletes require flexibility in competition but it’s a great asset for a venue looking to host one.
Cheerleading Worlds is held at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida and is marketed by Varsity as the world championship of all-star cheerleading. Between January and March, Varsity books more than 40,000 hotel rooms at Disney and host 475,000 competitors and train 350,000 athletes at camps annually.
“We have nine cheer and dance events that are held here,” said Lori Wainwright, senior youth event manager with Walt Disney Youth Group Programs. “The two main venues are at the ESPN Wide World of Sport Complex, the Jostens Center and HP Field House. Both are state-of-the-art arenas which can hold a diverse kind of event and are very versatile.”
The AmeriCheer/AmeriDance Company has been a mainstay at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex holding their events there since 1975 and confirmed for 2012. “We love flexible space,” said Rossetti. “It’s very important.”
The DCU Center in Worcester, MA also flexes its muscles when holding cheer and dance events. The venue hosts between 10 and 12 competitions on an annual basis that range in size. The DCU Center utilizes the 12,000-square-foot ballroom for smaller groups, and larger groups use the 30,000-square-foot North Exhibit Hall for competition and 18,000-square-foot South Exhibit Hall warm-ups.
Events that need more space take over the DCU Center Arena which seats up to 5,000 spectators. Athletes compete on the arena floor and the South Exhibit Hall pulls double duty, offering both warm-up and staging space. The arena and convention floors are contiguous with one another, offering smooth transition for competitions.
The lobby of the DCU Center is offered to planners for registration, auxiliary concession and merchandising. Meeting rooms within the convention center offer dressing room space for teams.
“Planners bring their own mats,” explained Jim Moughan, assistant general manager with the DCU Center. “We provide the stage, stairs, wings, railings, stairs, judge’s platforms and some use pipe and drape. They bring in their own sound and lighting.”
DCU Center will hold the New England Pop Warner Cheerleading Championships and the Central Massachusetts Youth Football Cheerleading Championships in November.
The Tulsa Convention Center offers 33 ½-foot ceilings in their three exhibit halls and host between five and 10 cheer and dance competitions annually.
“It is important for most cheer and dance groups to have a lot of dedicated space with high ceilings,” said Katy Hagmeier, sales manager with the SMG Tulsa Convention Center. “Our arena and the Tulsa Ballroom have also been used for cheer and dance competitions. All three of these areas allow the groups to have extra space for dressing, warm-up and merchandise sales without taking space away from the competition.”
With anywhere from six to eight events on their calendar annually, the venues in Louisville stay busy. Teams utilize the Kentucky International Convention Center and Kentucky Exposition Center. “The convention center is a very controlled environment for temperature, weather and great sightlines,” said Fante. “It’s a very customizable space. It all comes down to the stage and seating. Some groups like bleachers, others floor seating. It’s great for the event planner because they can create the type of event they want.”
Louisville Slugger Field is a unique backdrop for JAMfest which hosts approximately 150 teams and draws numerous spectators each year. In fact, since JAMfest’s inception, it has been in the Louisville area. “Slugger is so unique,” continued Fante. “It’s an iconic venue. You don’t have to create seating and the uniqueness of performing in a professional field makes Slugger an attractive venue to use.”
Extra Perks and Benefits
Everyone likes the extra perks in life. They help make things go a little smoother, and can pack a punch.
“Any perks help with our judges and staff,” explains Rossetti. “Complimentary rooms are great, or extra space for changing or free parking. That’s how we decide. It’s just that one step up that they offer and we go with them.”
Hagmeier and her staff in Tulsa understand that. “In addition to the ample space (we provide), each room has at least one loading dock that make move in and set up a breeze,” she explained. “Many dance groups come with large props, and the easy access is important for them. No matter what the group needs, a finished ballroom or a blank slate exhibit hall, we have it all.”
Disney Youth Group has been working with a core group of three of planners for 18 years. “They come to us because we are Disney and look to us from the creative end and stage presence to give it that extra pop that you might not get in a convention center,” said Wainwright. “That piece makes us successful in partnering with our entertainment division.”
Moughan believes their location makes them an ideal destination. “Our biggest selling is our central location,” he said. “We are dead-center in the middle of Massachusetts. There are 7 million people within a one-hour drive. “Also, our ancillary needs are less expensive here; hotels and restaurants are easier.”
“Location is key,” said Munoz. “We are looking for convenient locations because we try to keep the event cost low for our customers. Local attractions are ideal. If we can package a pass, it's a nice option.”
Rossetti agrees. “We are a family-oriented industry, and we like any place with things for the families to have fun and enjoy themselves. We need the best price in the best hotel that we can find for our customers, and the closer, the better. It makes for a very usable experience.”
And after all, say planners in Disney, what better attractions can there be than having Disney theme parks in your backyard following your event?
“You are in the middle of a fantastic venue that has four parks,” said Wainwright. “That’s a key driver that we have such success with cheer and dance. There are other things that we set up, like red carpet, balloons and messages on the video boards throughout the parks. These kids work hard to get here we want them to feel like ‘Wow, we’ve really come to a national championship.' The focus has always been to make it a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
No one can truly plan for everything, but it’s important to have foresight and a contingency plan for those things that might go awry.
“At one competition, the speaker that the promoter brought in malfunctioned,” said Hagmeier. “Luckily, our staff was able to quickly replace it with one from our inventory and the competition continued on with no problems. That is the nice thing about hosting an event at the Tulsa Convention Center. You can bring in your own equipment, but we are always here for whatever you need.”
Disney is prepared for anything but Mother Nature. “Our biggest challenges have been Acts of God,” said Wainwright. “There were tornados in Iceland and a blizzard in the northeast that stalled contestants from getting here. The event planners know their business, have a great business plan and when we put our resources to theirs, it really is phenomenal.”
Likewise in Louisville, the weather wasn’t exactly cooperative with JAMfest facing the remnants of a hurricane at Louisville Slugger Field.
“Setup began on Thursday and so did the rain,” said Fante. “I received a phone call at 2 a.m. from JAMfest to see if we could gain access to the convention center and save the event. Dave Patrone (with the Convention Center) went in to make sure they could get them in. He activated the staff. They were setup by 10 a.m. and were ready to go. The event took place. It’s a situation where everyone went way above and beyond.”
Streamlining and communication are imperative to a successful event.
“It's stressful when we have to deal with multiple people,” said Munoz. “For example, we might have to deal with separate contacts for venue, catering, a/v, shipping and event manager. A one-stop-shop would be ideal.”
Rossetti also looks to the staff to ensure a smooth running event. “A happy staff that understands our needs and asks the right questions,” she said. “It’s that relationship of open communication and bonding with your representative that walks you through from A-Z. If they are accommodating and help you co-op your marketing, that’s a good relationship that will take us into the next 25 years.”
So go ahead and get flexible.