SBJ/March 26 - April 1, 2001/Opinion

Don't play around with game travel

Are you an executive of a company that uses sporting events as a vehicle to entertain important clients or to reward key employees? If so, you may have organized excursions to major events like the Super Bowl, college basketball's Final Four, the Masters golf tournament or the Olympics. And if you've done so, you most likely know how easy it is for plans to go wrong once your guests arrive at the event.

The details and concerns are many. Will the tickets promised to us actually be available? Will the hotel rooms be what we reserved and expected? Have we considered all of our guests' transportation needs from the airport to the hotel and back, as well as to all of our events? Will our buses, vans, limos or town cars be on schedule — with new, clean vehicles and drivers who know the routes? Will our guests be able to mingle with celebrities? Will they be able to attend those big parties that are often a highlight of the trip?

Far too often, the answers to these questions are "no," rather than "yes."

And it's a definite "no" if you leave the planning to someone in your organization who does not have the know-how, background or contacts to organize trips to these multifaceted events — or if you work with travel agents who are novices in the field.

But it's a "yes" if you have experienced and knowledgeable in-house personnel, or if you assign your business to outside experts who plan and organize these trips as their full-time enterprise. I can't emphasize enough that companies should not leave the planning to the "bright young employee" right out of college, for they might be enthusiastic and energetic, but their lack of experience and contacts will come back to haunt you.

Horror stories abound. I have heard countless tales from people who thought they were saving dollars by trying to put together their own programs. One person I know of attempted to organize a package to one of the most popular and prestigious events for some of his clients, and it resulted in him not receiving about 200 credentials that he had promised to these business associates.

Another person I know about tried to assemble a Super Bowl package from scratch but did not do a site check of the hotel that he had purchased. It turned out to be a roach-infested dump. To say the least, his clients were not pleased.

So how do you avoid these pitfalls — and get added value for your buck at the same time?

Once you have made the decision to use sporting events as a business entertainment vehicle, check to see that the following points are followed:

Make sure the individuals organizing your travel arrangements plan additional activities surrounding the event your group is attending. A wide choice of additional functions and activities is always available at the site to help a company get the most out of the money it is spending. Be sure to explore all your options, including golf outings, various VIP events, concerts and the like. At many of these functions, your group will be able to meet and talk with athletes or coaches who are in attendance, which will be a value-added experience they weren't expecting.

Determine in advance the level of VIP you are entertaining, and plan accordingly. Among the areas of particular concern to a corporate decision-maker and your corporate travel company are things like the hotel in which you want to accommodate your clients, the type of ground transportation you will provide to them and the seating you want to get for them at the game. Once you realize that ticket prices usually jump considerably when you request the best seats in the house, it is easier to balance getting the best experience for the client vis-à-vis trying to effectively manage your budget.

In general, baseball's All-Star Game is priced considerably lower than the Super Bowl and the Final Four, and is not only a very cost-effective package, but also one that most executives enjoy as much as they do these other major events. Add in that the MLB All-Star Game is played in July each year, and you can imagine the additional outdoor activities — like golf and tennis tournaments — that can be added to the group's experience.

So how does a corporation go about choosing which event(s) to attend, and how much in advance should it begin making plans?

In response to the latter question, our motto is, "It's never too early to start preparing for a successful sports entertainment package." We began booking Super Bowl XXXVI packages to New Orleans in January 2002 the day after Super Bowl XXXV was completed this year. We've already begun making arrangements for a number of companies for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City next February.

As to which events to select, we recommend that a company set its budget first and then consider only those games, series or tournaments that will accommodate the amount of money it wants to spend. For example, the Super Bowl is usually the biggest and most popular corporate hospitality event of the year and tends to be more pricey than the baseball All-Star Game or the NCAA Final Four.

On the other hand, if you have a limited budget, you might want to consider the NFL's Pro Bowl in Hawaii. Even great tickets to that game aren't too expensive, which cuts the cost of the package considerably, and it is a beautiful and relaxing location for entertaining clients.

Additionally, there are different activities associated with each event, so you have to plan accordingly. Some functions already have built-in VIP cocktail parties, which are great for entertaining your clients. Also, weather is a factor that should be taken into consideration. The Super Bowl is primarily held in warm-weather cities, so plan golf and other outdoor activities during the day around that event. On the other hand, the host city of the Final Four is often in a cold climate, so golf is probably out of the question. That's why you should work with a professional corporate travel company or have an in-house expert who has been involved with these events many times and has the know-how to ensure that alternate recreation and entertainment options are made available for your guests.

You know the old real estate truism: location, location, location. When it comes to planning sports entertainment trips, just change the phrase to experience, experience, experience to make sure that your guests have the memorable occasion that will make them even friendlier to your company.

Robert Tuchman is founder and president of Manhattan-based Tuchman Sports Enterprises, a sports marketing and corporate entertainment agency.

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Colleges, Football, Olympics, Opinion

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