By Grant Boyd, California Ultimate’s Executive Director
The amateur athletic industry is changing, and it is of utmost importance for our community to prove the financial impact our sport has on local economies. At California Ultimate Association (CUA), one of our goals is to give our members access to world class event facilities while keeping things affordable; to make this possible, we need your help, we need your literal buy-in.
What prevents CUA, or other organizers, from booking premium venues for local, regional, and national events?
You may have noticed that California ultimate teams are frequently on the road or on a plane, and there’s a reason for that. Most elite venues attract events by strategically partnering with community supporters. Organizations like local tourism bureaus, park departments, travel agencies, and sports commissions work together with Local Organizing Committees (LOCs) to help make venues and event services more affordable (I’ll explain this in more detail below). Let me give you an example: in contract negotiations for Club Nationals in San Diego for 2018 & 2019, the Sports Commission offered DUDE (the LOC) and USA Ultimate (the Event Organizer) several thousand dollars as an incentive that would help offset the pricey field costs. DUDE was offered that incentive as a show of good faith that the ultimate community would drive substantial hotel revenue into the local community. The problem is, the ultimate community in California doesn’t have a track record of supporting local preferred hotels (who are the major financial backers of community incentives). At least, not yet. The unfortunate result of last year’s poor hotel booking rate is that the SD Sports Commission opted not to provide any financial incentive this year.
Without financial subsidies, what happens?
There’s an old saying, “Penny wise and pound foolish.” When teams don’t frequent an event’s preferred hotels, the individual team price might be lower for accommodations, but the event organizer might not get community based financial incentives. And without offsetting financial incentives, organizers then have to charge higher fees to participate in each event — so a savings at one end is a cost on the other end. Choosing this path also means that CUA’s bid might not be competitive: the venue might choose a different event instead of ours, or USA Ultimate or WFDF might choose an LOC with a better financial package. Either way, players will be paying the same or more per player when accounting for the cost of traveling farther from home.
In short: what your team may be saving on lodging by renting Airbnbs or crashing with friends locally, is costing you travel time, expenses, and quality fields and facilities; and it’s also costing our sport precious relationships with communities and organizations that will help support and promote ultimate now and in the future.
So why stay in tournaments’ preferred hotels?
- It gives organizers more negotiating leverage to keep an event at a great local venue or to bring in even larger events so you don’t have to travel as much;
- It allows organizers to keep costs down via strategic partnerships with cities, parks, and sports commissions; and
- It makes our sport more attractive to big media and corporate sponsors, which will eventually help CUA and USA Ultimate influence the LA2028 Olympic planning committee.
I’m hoping this is reason enough to sway teams toward staying in preferred hotels, but for those of you who want more information I encourage you to read further (see below). Organizers’ long term goals are only attainable with the support of our community. Players are the core of our community. With your help we can expand our community to include local cities, sports organizations, and service providers that will in turn open doors to under-served youth and adults.
GETTING GREAT FIELDS IS HARD, BUT THERE ARE INCENTIVES TO PURSUE
If you haven’t read my article about the increasing costs of ultimate, it delves into the scarcity of quality fields and our fight to secure them. Field sites cost cities or private owners a ton of money to build and maintain; but localities also know that these sites are major attractions for athletes turned tourists. Many cities understand this potential for tourist related revenue and seek to encourage it so that their local businesses can thrive: a happy business means happy staff, happy workers, and that makes residents happy. To persuade organizers to bring their events to town, visitors’ bureaus and sports commissions offer a few different incentives:
- Free hotel room-nights: Upon reaching a certain occupancy, a hotel will offer the host organization a free room-night which usually covers the Tournament Director and a few observers which directly helps to reduce overall costs for you, the player.
- Rebates on preferred hotels: This gives the host organization incentive to send folks to preferred hotels, but it also allows the event site or city to arrange a good deal with the hotels ensuring the visitors have a great stay in their city.
- In-kind support: This can come in many forms, from subsidizing the cost of fields, to providing tent rentals, or stadium use, etc.
- Financial support – If an event is large enough a community might offer a financial sponsorship to bring the event in.
- Other – Cities are getting more and more creative; this could include welcome banners at airports, goodie-bags in hotels, or help recruiting local volunteers. It also means that our organization can propose incentives to help us meet an event’s specific needs.
THE METRIC: HOTEL ROOM-NIGHTS
In order to receive incentives from cities, the event organizer is asked to provide an economic impact report for the event: how much money is being pumped into the city? This is obviously a little tricky given humans spend varying amounts on food and housing wherever they go. However, there is one key metric that anchors both the organizer’s and the city’s understanding of the event: hotel room-nights. By knowing this one single metric, accommodation revenue is known and city officials can estimate how much will be spent on food and other goods, given that these visitors will be away from home. Unfortunately, AirBnBs and other vacation rental properties – while being very fun for teams to party in or for sharing meals together – are very hard to track, which means localities don’t include them when considering incentives for events.
WHY GETTING LARGE EVENTS IS HARD
Ultimate organizers and most players alike envision big events happening in their backyard, or at least within a reasonable drive. But getting awarded larger events — the US Open / YCC, TCT events, Club or Masters Nationals, Worlds, etc — is harder than simply getting field permits. These events require proper bids from Local Organizing Committees (LOCs) like California Ultimate that also address things like accommodations, volunteer support, and financial details. For larger events there is more staff involved, more media coverage, more tents, and a lot more need for volunteers; so there are additional costs and human capital involved in making the event a success. This is where an LOC’s relationships with cities come in handy; as mentioned before, local organizations and city officials may be willing to help with volunteer recruitment or may even be willing to provide financial incentives to make an LOC’s bid more attractive to the event organizer. And with these larger events, the event organizer is typically USA Ultimate or WFDF, which means while they are looking out for the best interest of the event, the players, and the sport; they also have to run an event that at least breaks even. With some persuasive documentation, in-person meetings, and financial impact data proving that the next ultimate event will be great for a city, an LOC may be able to 1) convince the locality to support the event; 2) put together a tempting bid for USA Ultimate or WFDF; and 3) win the bid to host the next big tournament you want to compete in closer to home.
ECONOMIC IMPACT DATA & THE FUTURE OF ULTIMATE
Ultimate’s future is bright: the inherent values of our sport mixed with a generally progressive and supporting community are essential roots to ground us. Awareness of our sport is certainly vital to future growth, but securing and running large events is like a sapling striving for attention. Hotel room-nights are a key into a much larger world of sports. With hard economic impact data, SBOs and LOCs can approach larger sponsors and form partnerships with larger orgs. With more financial and community support, these same organizations can reach more kids, plug into under-served communities, and offer heavily subsidized or free programs until ultimate is everywhere. And with greater visibility, greater diversity, greater infrastructure, and greater growth along the way; we all can say we gave ultimate its Olympic berth while holding tight to the very values inherent to the game.
Ultimate can be the Giant Sequoia of sports. The seed has been planted. And now we have to nurture it. For some that will take the form of donating, for others it will be coaching, or encouraging a football player at a park to play pickup. Some will spend a great deal of time supporting this community, others will climb the branches and quickly run to the next pursuit. All I ask is that if you consider yourself a leader or an organizer, you don’t just enjoy the shade. Support doesn’t take much effort, it’s the little things that have lasting impact. Be purposeful when deciding where you stay, thank volunteers, retweet a Girls Ultimate Movement clinic announcement. If we each can step up in these little ways, our SBOs and LOCs will propel ultimate in California (and beyond) to be a leading sport in Character, Competition, and Community. And if you want to get more involved — really help shape the future of ultimate — please reach out to the California Ultimate Association Board so we can get you plugged in!