Negotiating is a game of give-and-take, of discussion and compromise. Such is certainly the case for negotiations between events rights holders and facility operators, who are each searching for ways to maximize profitability, meet financial or economic goals and create an unforgettable guest experience.
With the explosion of youth and amateur sports in recent years, the inventory of facilities has increased dramatically, which means rights holders have more choices than ever when selecting a location for their event. On the other hand, the inventory of events has also increased and facilities want to partner with proven, professional rights holders who can deliver on their promises.
Among other factors, transparency and the free sharing of information are critical in the discussion. Most facility operators will want to have access to the historical data of the event, such as locations the event has been hosted in the past, the number of past teams/participants, and credible references. This can be a challenge for new rights holders, especially those in their first year of operation, which places even more emphasis on the key to a successful contract negotiation.
If there is something we have learned in our many years of managing facilities and developing strategies to help them succeed, it’s this: there are best practices and approaches to use to create a win-win between events rights holders and facility owners. Here are seven key points:
Timing is everything
New rights holders may have a tough time breaking into the most prime weekends in their desired venue. For venues, especially those that are successful, prime event dates are booked years in advance by their most trusted events rights holders. The solution to this common problem is to ‘stretch’ the season and book your event on the shoulder – before or after the traditionally peak weeks and months for your sport/event. Rates during premium tournament months and holiday weekends are much higher than the shoulder-season options. Shifting the date of your event by even a few weeks raises chances for availability and potentially lowers the rental fee significantly.
Additionally, rights holders who are willing to collaborate on the format and scheduling of the tournament to optimize participant and spectator stay in the facility are preferred. Too much time between games or matches is a missed opportunity for the facility because players and guests leave for lunch, dinner or breaks. On the other hand, too little downtime also has its disadvantages because visitors aren’t able to enjoy and spend on the ancillary services the facility provides. A great way to partner with your facility and to build the win-win is to be flexible and collaborative in tournament or event scheduling.
Play the long game
Similar to key No. 1, playing the long game for new events rights holders means developing trust and a great working relationship with your preferred venue(s). This means clear communication, follow-through on commitments, demonstrating growth and accurate sales forecasting. Time after time when these conditions are met, the relationship is strengthened and the rights holder is poised to take the prime spot if and when the opportunity arises.
For newer events, to cultivate the long-term relationship with a venue, it’s especially important to provide accurate and reasonable projections for the success of the event. Don’t overpromise. Many venues are rights holders themselves and understand the time necessary to develop an event or tournament.
There are distinct advantages to rights holders who can ‘bundle’ their events. This could mean signing a multi-year deal with a venue, therefore ensuring your preferred dates and their expected revenue well in advance. Multi-year deals and long-term contracts are desirable by both the facilities and by the event owner or rights holder.
Another way to bundle is by packaging multiple tournaments or events into the same negotiation. Often, venues are more apt to offer aggressive pricing to rights holders who are able to broker multiple events, especially if one of the events takes place during the non-peak season in the same calendar year.
Depending on the ownership or management of the venue, there may be an opportunity to bundle the event bookings for multiple locations in the negotiation. Case in point: at Myrtle Beach Sports Center, managed by The Sports Facilities Management, rights holders could potentially negotiate a bundled deal for a rotating agenda at other SFM-managed locations in the southeast such as the Hoover Metroplitan Complex (Hoover, Alabama) or the Rocky Mount Event Center (Rocky Mount, North Carolina). If you have the ability to do so ask about such arrangements.
Understand the fee
Not all fees are created equal. Before you experience sticker shock at the price for your preferred venue, be sure to dig into what the fee entails. Some venues have a higher booking fee, but offer all-inclusive services. To those facilities, first-class customer service means not just blocking a date, but securing whatever the events rights holder needs to have a turn-key experience. This can include things from obtaining staff such as scoreboard operators, athletic trainers, coordinating specialized equipment like stages or pipe and drape, to security, down to the best place to put the Gatorade on the court. Don’t have a knee-jerk reaction when you read the contact; keep reading to find out what the fee entails.
For facilities with smaller fees, these event planning duties often fall to the events rights holders and there is little to no additional customer service. The agreement most simply covers access to the building – event owners do the rest.
Count the ancillary revenue
When events rights holders bring ancillary revenue opportunities to the table, facilities are able to be more flexible on rental rates. Parking fees and merchandise sales, concessions, entertainment and retail are some of the most common ways to bring shared revenue to the negotiating table and make an event more attractive to the venue. By revenue sharing in these ancillary services rights holders may be able to negotiate a lower rental fee.
Safety is never negotiable
No matter the event or the venue, safety is never up for negotiation. Each party should be clear on the insurance and risk management protocols for the event. Be prepared: most facilities will require rights holders to provide a certificate of coverage for the event. Reviewing other topics such as participant and spectator safety, event security policies and crowd control are also important. Many facilities require the event rights holder to perform an inspection of the viewing areas, glass, boards, locker areas and playing surfaces prior to the event.
Understand what success means
For many publicly held sports tourism venues, economic impact is more important to their success than actual revenue dollars. That said, there are still tangible dollars required to properly staff, maintain and operate a sports tourism venue. Events rights holders should seek to understand the balance of revenue and economic impact dollars required to create the win for the community.
Whether for profit or not, often privately owned facilities find less value in economic impact or room nights and find more value in direct revenue associated with the event. In this case, it’s still beneficial for rights holders to coordinate with the local CVB or sports commission that may have a budget allocated that can offset rental fees if the event will generate economic impact.
With all these tips in mind, the final tip for events rights holders and facility operators alike is to come to the table with an open mind and to be prepared to look for the win-win. Successful deals are made, and long-term relationships forged, if each party is prepared to think creatively, maintain flexibility and communicate effectively during the process. A great way to start the conversation is with a question: “How can we make this work for both of us?” SDM