The ABCs of RFPs

By Clair Urbain

For many sports organizations, an annual event such as a local or regional competition further promotes the group’s cause and creates an incredible opportunity to put funds in the group’s coffers.

While daunting, these events can be successfully accomplished with proper planning. Most often, that starts with developing a request for proposal (RFP) sent to a destination management organization or sports commission.

WHERE DO YOU START?

“We see many different types of RFPs, some of which are very detailed while others are not,” says Jamie Schlagel, national sales manager for the West Michigan Sports Commission, which specializes in attracting events to the Kent County/ Grand Rapids, Mich., area.

While the sophistication of these documents can vary, they must include basic event details. “RFPs at a bare minimum should outline the dates, times, facility needs, number of people who will participate and the number of people who will also attend. We need a lot of questions answered in order to assist the event planner in making their event successful in our community. That information helps us gauge our ability to host the event and helps us open the doors for your group to make the local connections needed to execute the event,” says Schlagel.

Attendance estimates are key. “Venues needed for 3,000 participants are much different than those with 12,000 participants. This is important information to assure a community can accommodate the sport’s needs,” says Schlagel.
She also adds that it is very helpful to know whether you have flexibility with your dates.

Throughout the entire RFP process, communication with the organization you are working with is very important. This includes following up after the bid is awarded to inform those that didn’t receive the contract.

“To have a successful event, we need open dialog. We can offer lots of service; we can even be there to help out at the event. We can help the group get set up at the event. We just need to know what the group’s needs are and we can take it from there,” says Lynn Hunt, vice president of sales at the Quad Cities Convention and Visitors Bureau in Moline, Ill.

Hunt says the RFP is the best place to start.

“Clearly communicating the expectations of the event will lead to a win-win event for planners, hosts and participants. We are presently working on a junior national disc-golf tournament hosted by the Professional Disc Golf Association coming in July. They have a very complete RFP with a planner checklist that outlines who does what by when. An extensive RFP will help your group get better deals, greater involvement and increased attendance,“ Hunt says.

So when should you start the RFP process? Planners say it depends on the size of the event. “Working two to three years in advance is very common, especially with larger events. We often host championship-level events, so planning must be way in advance,” says Hunt.

DON’T OVERLOOK LODGING

Hunt says hotel planning is something that groups often put lower on the priority list, but proper lodging planning can make your event wildly successful from an event and financial standpoint, and is a key component of your RFP.

“If there is a way to estimate how many room nights are needed, that helps. Any historical data that explains the event can be helpful. It allows us to go to local hotels with estimates and they can use it to forecast their inventory needs,” according to Schlagel.

Hunt reiterates this and adds that the historical data can help you demonstrate the economic impact of your event, giving you more leverage throughout the process.

Hotel stays can be hard to track, however, Hunt has a suggestion. “Event holders often put out a list of hotels, but don’t have a requirement that attendees stay at certain hotels. When this happens, you lose your ability to track the economic impact accurately. There’s no need for a ‘stay-to-play’ hotel requirement, but if there is a way to track how many stayed overnight, how much they typically spent at the event as well as before and after the event, you and the visitors bureau are in a much better position to negotiate discounted rates and rebates for your group,” says Hunt.

“We started collecting this type of information when people register for an event,” she adds. “It has allowed us to capture data on 30 hotels instead of 10. It’s a great way to negotiate a percentage of the rate and other perks. It helps you get a good picture of the people and helps you establish a baseline,” Hunt adds.

Schlagel recommends that your RFP include information as to whether you plan to use a thirdparty housing company. This information is very important during the initial planning process. “We try to provide our hoteliers with as much information as we can so we can get the best rates for the clients. Many convention and visitor bureaus (CVBs) and sports commissions have the ability to use an in-house booking system as well, so being able to determine if that is an option can be a benefit to the planner,” Schlagel says.

“Housing seems to challenge tours and teams. Sometimes, the housing situation is a secondary thought for groups, but it’s an opportunity to capture additional funds for your group,” says Hunt.

Depending on the number of room nights you are booking, your event may earn free rooms, upgrades or even a rebate. It varies from hotel to hotel, and if you work with a CVB or sports commission, ask them about it. These opportunities are not typically as lucrative when working with a third party.

GET LEVERAGE WITH YOUR EVENT

If your event has a “pay to play” component, which according to Hunt is becoming more common, you will need to include that information in the RFP as well. There may be other sources of funds, especially for larger events that draw many thousands to a venue. “Convention and visitor bureaus may have connections with local funds to meet those requirements,” says Hunt.

Event sponsors or advertisers from the venue area may be an additional source of funds and support, says Hunt. “Sponsorships can be overlooked, but are an important source of additional revenue. Car dealerships, bars, restaurants or possible fan hangouts are good targets for sponsorships. We have worked with the local Army recruiters and a local credit union for support. Sometimes a car dealership will provide courtesy cars for the group. The point is to think about these additional fundraising opportunities that should be outlined in the RFP.”

In the end, the more complete your RFP is, the more accurate the proposals you receive will be.