Stay-to-Play. Stay-to-Save. Stay-and-Win. It’s called lots of different things, but they all mean the same thing: Either the team stays in a “tournament approved” hotel or else they may not be accepted to that event. Some teams complain about it and some try to circumvent it.

Many host organizations use it and many others advertise (targeting their competition) that they do not use it. Stay-to-Play is easily among the most blogged-about topics in amateur sports.

So what’s the deal here? Is it simply a policy of money-grabbing tournament directors to put more hotel rebate in their pockets, or do the business benefits outweigh the complaints from some of the teams that will likely ensue? Let’s take a look and do some myth-busting: 

Myth # 1 – Only Greedy Tournaments/Organizations use Stay-to-Play 

False. Let’s be honest. All tournaments would LIKE to use Stay-to-Play. It allows for better tracking and reporting of roomnights generated by a tournament, helpful in their negotiations for their venues and in obtaining assistance from the CVBs or Sports Commissions. The captured numbers can be 50-70% higher with it than without it. Stay-to-Play keeps rates down. A tournament that institutes it in the first year can expect their average hotel rates to decrease (yes, you read that right: decrease)10-15% from the previous year, and for rates each year after that to only increase at about half the normal percentage. And of course, any rebate revenue will be higher. 

Unfortunately, it is only the business-minded, farsighted tournament directors and organizations that actually implement Stay-to-Play and stick with it. These leaders are most interested in building a successful tournament business model that can perform well year after year in any economy. They likely will take some of the savings on venue costs and increased rebate revenue and pour it back into their event to enhance it, improve the competition, and make it a more in-demand tournament for teams to attend. 

Their profit on the tournament is most likely going to fund a club or organization that is a non-profit in itself, with a mission to support youth sports and various charitable causes as part of their goals. The tournament directors who are afraid some of their teams will not come back next year if Stay-to-Play is instituted are missing the point. Better to lose those few teams now, for the long-term benefits gained. 

Myth # 2 – All Teams Hate Stay-to-Play 

False. The only teams that hate Stay-to-Play are the teams that do not get the hotel they want. That falls into two categories. First, large tournaments held in a convention center will have a set number of usable rooms that are walking distance of the venue. Once those are filled with teams, the rest have to commute in from overflow locations. 

The same holds true for the suburban tournament for soccer, lacrosse or other sports that are often played in numerous locations. The teams that reserve early get those choice hotels located near their fields, while the rest may have to commute for 15-30 minutes or more. Those are the people who (incorrectly) see the Stay-to-Play policy as the reason they are being inconvenienced. As with everything else in the world, it’s first come, first serve in getting the best hotel locations. Not getting their choice of hotel certainly isn’t a policy issue; it’s a timing and/or a quantity issue. 

The other reason for complaint – and this one is valid – is when the official tournament hotel list does not have the type of hotel or rate level the participants need. Stay-to-Play is not about making teams stay in a hotel that does not suit their family’s needs, or that they cannot afford. In this case, it is up to the tournament or their housing service to make sure the hotel choices offered have a broad set of locations, amenities and rate ranges to satisfy the biggest number of teams. 

Myth # 3 – Hotels Hate Stay-to-Play 

False. In every city, there are a few hotels, generally in the best locations, that think they will get the tournament’s business (because of their location) without working with the tournament, or because they simply want to charge higher rates than the tournament will allow. So they book the teams around the official hotel list, and make more money because of it at the expense of the tournament, and most often, at the expense of the teams. Not surprisingly, they do not like Stay-to-Play. 

The rest of the hotels, however, LOVE Stay-to-Play. Those are the hotels that look at the tournament or organization as an important business partner, want to help support their goals, and are considered by the local CVB as their “partner” hotels that can be counted on for room blocks at affordable rates for the events that come to their town. 

These hotels are committing a lot of inventory, many months or years before the event, and appreciate protection from those close-to-the-venue cavalier hotels that take the business without supporting the event. Stay-to-Play rewards these hotels, as they have a better chance of filling their room blocks with the policy in place. 

Myth # 4 – The Bad P.R. for a Tournament Far Outweighs the Benefits of Stay-to-Play 

You be the judge. We have all heard this complaint before: “Stay-to-Play costs my team more money.” And while that may be a statement that can be made by a handful of teams, it is not an accurate assessment of the rates the great majority of teams will pay. As I have stated, the average rates for any tournament using Stay-to-Play will be lower than the average rates of a tournament not using it. 

However, that does not keep teams from finding a tournament hotel that has internally mismanaged their publically offered rates over the event dates, and have inadvertently offered a lower rate when business conditions and contractual requirements beg otherwise. In those cases, it is up to the tournament or their housing service to rectify the situation so the team receives the lowest rate they were quoted. 

The other case where this happens is when a team talks to a hotel, often in an overflow location, who missed being part of the tournament block from the beginning, and is offering a low-ball rate close to the arrival date just to fill some rooms. Yes, a few teams can find a lower rate, in every city, at some hotel. But Stay-to-Play isn’t about what is best for any one team, it’s about what’s best for the health of the tournament. 

Having lower overall rates for all of the attending teams to choose from will assure the host organizers that they have provided the best environment for teams to participate in their event year after year. And that is the primary responsibility of the tournament and the tournament director.

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