Tent rental companies win big when they snag contracts for athletic events.
By Sue Hegarty
Winning a contract to provide tents for sporting events can provide a rental company with a high level of public exposure and prestige. In addition, employees who are also team fans are likely to be highly motivated. Regardless of the outcome of the actual contest, tent rental companies record a win when they have a solid game plan, make strategic investments and execute a smooth event.
Know the rules
Winning that valuable contract for any sporting event involves an in-depth understanding of the needs of the clients and the event. Jim Bach, director of tent operations for AprÃ¨s Party and Tent Rental in Edina, Minn., has never run a marathon. But he says he easily logs 26 miles while planning and executing tenting for the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon.
For marathons, tents along the route need to be appropriately spaced so that runners can replenish bodily fluids when they need it the most. Keeping athletes moving after they cross the finish line is important, too.
“You have to have [the pathway] clear, because if people ran the marathon and just literally stopped, their blood pumps so fast that they can have cardiac arrest and die on the spot,” Bach explains.
When prize money is involved in a marathon, a U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (ADA) “doping tent” is required. AprÃ¨s erects a frame tent over two ADA-approved portable bathrooms, and medical personnel work from behind a pipe and drape partition.
AprÃ¨s color codes the tents so that 11,200 runners, as well as 300,000 spectators, know where they need to be. While it may seem logical to use red-and-white tents to indicate medical services, à la the Red Cross, shadows from the red stripes make it difficult for medical personnel to discern the level of redness on a patient’s body, so AprÃ¨s uses all white tents for those purposes. Over the years, AprÃ¨s has refined the hospital tent’s interior lighting to include six 400-watt metal halides. “It’s lighter than [it is at] 12 noon,” Bach says.
The race begins in Minneapolis and ends near the steps of the State Capitol in St. Paul. To keep the Capitol groundskeeper happy, AprÃ¨s sets up a low temporary tent over a flower bed to protect the botanical landscape. Then they lay the bigger tent over the smaller one while preparing to raise it.
Develop a game plan
Proper planning is another key to executing a successful event, says Tony Tauer, president of American Event Services, Danville, Ill. For him, that meant checking in daily with the tournament operations manager when the company supplied temperature control and power distribution to the Solheim Cup golf tournament. “That’s the person who’s going to get you revised site layouts and revised tent sizes,” says Tauer.
Golf courses, by design, are challenging for tent installation—nearly every tent at a golf tournament must be erected on level flooring and scaffolding. And driving cranes and forklifts with 3,000-pound air-conditioning units across championship greens is not an option. When Kirby Rentals LLC of Orlando, Fla., installed tents for the PGA’s Greenbrier Classic at White Sulfur Springs, W.V., in August, installers brought in forklifts, semitrailers and miles of plywood to use as temporary roadways to prevent heavy equipment from damaging the course.
Water is another common hazard for both golfers and tent installers. Kirby crews have been called on to install equipment on floating barges and they have spanned equipment across ponds and other bodies of water.
Once a tournament opens to spectators, keeping guy-wires and power cords in check and tents firm rather than billowing can be as challenging as a birdie on the 18th hole.
“Safety and proper installation is paramount,” says Jim “Smitty” Smith, Kirby general manager. “A tent is just a giant kite waiting to go somewhere.”
A good offensive plan is better than any defense when it comes to satisfying local inspectors. “Get that guy happy right out of the gate,” Tauer advises. “It’s too vital a thing to risk. When event day comes, you don’t want the fire chief walking in saying, ‘I’m shutting this thing down.’ That would be a disaster. None of them wants anything bad to happen because an event is bringing money to their community. They want it to happen—they just want to be involved in it right away.”
Consider an investment
For high-end clients such as the PGA, NFL or NASCAR, tent providers say it is well worth the cost—and often necessary if you want the contract—to invest in custom designed or colored tents.
Kirby Rentals routinely supplies tenting for PGA, LPGA and Champions Tour tournaments. What made the Greenbrier Classic unique was the client’s desire for green-and-white striped tents and custom ceiling liners, says Eric Allman, Kirby general manager. The management wanted the golf course to have the same color and feel as the historic resort, Allman says. The green and white stripes also were reflected in the event’s logo.
When the Dallas Cowboys organization debuted its new stadium in 2009, it wanted tenting that was as sleek as the venue. “They did not want a circus atmosphere, so they didn’t want high peak tents” says Brian Jenkins, president of Dallas Party Tent and Event. “We worked with our tent manufacturer and developed a West Coast frame tent that tensioned all the way around so it’s a clean look.”
Dallas Party Tent now plans to invest in gray tents to complement the stadium color. Many collegiate tailgate suppliers, however, say they can get by with plain white tents.
“You can dress it up or dress it down,” says Sylvia Norton, general manager of Party Time Rentals Inc., of College Station, Texas. The company brings in color through linens and other decor rather than investing in maroon tents for its hometown client, Texas A&M University.
Some of the biggest tent users for Texas A&M athletic events are corporate recruiters, who use pregame parties to attract students and alumni as potential employees. Recruiters are ideal customers for upselling, Norton says.
“If you have four or five top consulting companies up here, they really want to keep up with each other because they are bidding for the same students,” she says. They may start out with plastic tablecloths and a few folding chairs, but the following year the competition heats up, with clients upgrading to festive linens, more seating and large plasma televisions.
Other rental items required for sporting events can include fencing if alcohol is served and perhaps staging, says Kevin Yonce, MFC, IFM, CPP, CEO of Champaign County Tent, the preferred vendor for the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Though the company rents tents in the school colors of orange and blue, most requests are for solid white so clients “can do whatever they want underneath,” Yonce says.
A win all around
Winning the contract to be the official tent provider of Cowboys Stadium gave Dallas Party Tent and Event opportunities to score other events on and off the field. For example, at each football game, the company receives 30 seconds of electronic ribbon advertising around the stadium four times per game. And by securing logo usage rights, the company put the highly recognizable Dallas Cowboys logo on each company vehicle with the words “Official Tent Provider of Cowboys Stadium.”
“For us, hooking ourselves up to their wagon is much more than the money we make from any particular game,” Jenkins says. “It’s a symbiotic relationship.”
In addition, since November through February is typically the company’s slow season, the contract provides year-round job stability for installers and, in many cases, overtime pay, Jenkins says. Not that keeping his employees motivated and enthused is difficult, even when they are working back-to-back collegiate and NFL games.
“We thought that would be a hard thing to do, but it’s actually turned out that all of our tent installers take pride in the Cowboys and being a part of that stadium,” he says.
Everyone wants to be on a winning team. If you know your event, formulate a game plan and make strategic investments, you will increase your odds of winning that valuable, annual contract or “official vendor” status—and cheering all the way to the bank.