Special Events in Campus Recreation
By Zachary Snyder, Mark Hoying & Dr. Peter Titlebaum
Special events have become a reality for all facilities, not just recreational facilities. The revenue potential that these events have is immense, but the impact they have on the operation of campus recreation facilities cannot be understated. Departments have the difficult task of balancing the priority of their patrons with ever-increasing rental requests. A balance is required in order to bring in needed revenue and still please the members who invest time and money into their physical betterment.
The following eight steps provide a special event methodology that offers an opportunity to determine if special events could fit into the campus recreation facility.
1. How important is rental income?
Are special events an absolute necessity when it comes to your budget? On the other hand, do special events just provide discretionary income? These questions need answers in order to determine an organization's special event philosophy. If you need the revenue, then you need the special events. If the money is there without the revenue generated by special events, then an organization must ask itself the purpose of these special events. In order to determine a special event methodology, you must first determine your special event priority.
2. Create organizational structure and a pricing list.
One of the most important factors is creating a cost structure that works with your facility. Rental groups receive priority and different pricing than others, and determining those groups is imperative. The key is making a cost structure based on different tiers of internal and external rental groups, keeping in mind your school's structure. Examples can include: internal departmental events (intramurals or departmental meetings); sport clubs; university-sponsored events (student orientations or graduations); university club events (Greek life, clubs); external nonprofit groups; and other external non-university groups.
The key to these tiers is that they need to be easily determined, and each rental group must be assigned a distinct group. It is also crucial that this structure is posted for all potential groups to see so that there are no surprises later in the rental process.
Departments have the difficult task of balancing the priority of their patrons with ever-increasing rental requests.
3. When are spaces available?
The answer to this question relates directly to the importance of special events to a facility's budget. Are space rentals available during all operating hours, or during limited hours such as weekends or nights? Other facilities have implemented weekly hour caps, meaning that rentals can only take away a certain number of hours in a week. The key behind this determination is transparency. If a group does not meet the criteria, they need understand why, and the organization needs to provide an experience that will make them come back to your facility, even though their event did not happen this time.
4. Create rental rules.
All events and rentals are going to be different. Due to various rental requests, you need a core set of rules that will apply to all rentals, no matter the rental category. These rules should be generated directly from your facility rules and provide a benchmark to inform all rental groups what is allowed and not allowed. All rules start somewhere; an easy place to start is the ability to bring food or drink into the rental space.
5. Use rental agreements to guide expectations.
Rental agreements and addenda are pivotal when it comes to cataloging all requests made by the rental group and what has been agreed on by the organization. It is the perfect way to doublecheck with the rental group that all the i's are dotted and the t's are crossed. The agreement should include everything that your organization has agreed to provide as well as the rental group's fee. As new information on the event comes in, update the agreement with addenda. Provide these documents to your front-line staff ahead of time in order to educate them before the event.
6. Communicate with other departments.
As requests are accepted, other areas of the facility may be affected. Scheduled programming may become displaced, or an event may be going on in that programming area (such as the aquatic center). Communication with these departments is incredibly important for the success of the event and the success of the entirety of the organization's operation. Without this communication, spaces could be easily double booked, correct staffing may not occur, or the event may not be up to the organizational standard.
7. If patrons are displaced, notify them immediately.
Patrons are bound to be displaced as an organization continues to embrace special events. The key is keeping all parties happy, especially patrons who use the facility every day. It is crucial to go out of your way to communicate any changes that could affect their regular workout schedule. For instance, if a swim team has requested five of the facility's six swim lanes at 6 a.m. when the building opens, it would be a good idea to let your patrons know as soon as you know, since it is such a niche time to swim. The lifeguards who are there every day at 6 a.m. have formed relationships with those specific patrons and can inform them that they will have limited lanes that morning. This is better than those patrons showing up and finding out in the moment.
8. Communicate event information with front-line staff.
Arguably the most important part of the event process, it is crucial that your staff is proactive rather than reactive when it comes to these events. Use a communication system that you have in place to inform staff of any important aspects of the event. Pass along the rental agreement and any addenda as discussed earlier. This is essential to making sure staff are aware and prepared for the event. If the event occurs during a busier time of your operations, assign an event liaison whose only job is to tend to the event in order to ensure its seamless operation. The goal is to provide an experience that will make the event group feel like you care about their business. Make the event group want to come back by providing an experience that no other facility in the area can provide.
As special events become more normal, it becomes essential to have a plan when it comes to implementing these events. These events can have a tremendous impact on campus recreation departments, but this impact can turn negative if a proper plan is not formed and followed. The balance between special events and the priority of patrons is challenging when properly mediated by understanding the capabilities of your department and knowing your priorities and limits.
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