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Championship tenting

Features | August 1, 2014 | By:

From weather-related concerns to time-sensitive deadlines, tent renters tackle the unique challenges sporting events create.

In today’s sporting world, the need for tents abounds. From simple structures that house media to elaborate units geared toward the athletes themselves, tents are a key element from start to finish.
And as each sporting venue is unique, so are the requirements that make these tents efficient, versatile elements that meet the needs of participants and spectators alike.

Fit for a queen

Like no other event in the Charlotte, N.C., region, the Queen’s Cup Steeplechase, held annually in April, requires hundreds of tents to make this an unforgettable horse race.

Party Reflections Special Event Rentals in Charlotte provides tents, ranging from 10-foot-wide high-peak frame tents to 60-foot-wide tension tents. At race time, there are more than 225 tents on the property, including 10-by-10-foot individual patron tents, 20-foot-wide sponsor tents and a 60-foot-wide Elkhorn Lodge tent, which functions as the main hospitality tent for the VIP guests. “The event needs tents for ticketing and will call, first aid, restrooms, sponsors, volunteers, patrons, hospitality and for the horses themselves,” says Daniel W. Hooks, president of Party Reflections Inc. “There is also a jockey tent for the guests to view the jockeys as they enter the race,” Hooks says.

The tent production schedule takes into consideration the large amount of mowing that must take place up to the day before the race. The Party Reflections’ team works around the facility’s timetable of mowing to make sure they are not hindering their efforts to properly prepare the grounds.

“Our large production team is capable of installing all of these tents within a week of the start of the race so that it lessens the impact on the course,” Hooks says. “We wait to install sidewalls and deliver equipment until the last two days before the event so that the landscape team can mow as close to the day of the event as possible.”

To streamline the process, weeks and months in advance of the event, the producers hold several meetings to ensure that all of the onsite vendors work together and do not get in each other’s way. 

“Obviously, we are on site much earlier than the caterer or florist, but it is paramount to the success of the event to know when these other vendors need to start their work so that we are finished with that area and not interfering with their timetable,” Hooks says.

A project of this size requires Party Reflections to bring in equipment from its other two locations, so the project manager is tasked with coordinating these efforts as well as controlling deliveries and the production schedule. This year, the installation took a team of 10 people on average working seven days, 12 hours a day to complete. They left two crew members on site to deal with tent-related issues that may come up, such as sidewall removal or fan placement.

“Given that the race is in the middle of the day, we do not have any lights to contend with, except the ones in the catering tent because they arrive before dawn to start preparing food and the jockey tent which is completely enclosed for their changing area,” Hooks says. “HVAC is only requested in the jockey tent, but is on standby for the other sponsors if the weather turns too hot.”

The tent installation team also has to contend with the weather. The Member’s Hill section of the sponsor tents sits on top of a knoll that catches wind during April storms. 

“This year we had 30- to 40-mph gusts that were wreaking havoc on the sidewalls and draping we installed in the main tent,” Hooks says. “We had to let the storm blow through after attempting to fix the sidewalls and the drapes to no avail.”

A final challenge the team faces is setting up 1,000 chairs the morning of the race and putting tablecloths on the tables, all after the dew has stopping forming. The team begins working before dawn and finishes about 10 a.m., when the gates open to eventgoers.

At Mother Nature’s Mercy

The Body Glove Mavericks Invitational surf competition is the premier surfing competition in the world. The event takes place at Mavericks surf break, known as one of the world’s most dangerous breaks on earth, located in northern California just north of Half Moon Bay. Held almost every year between January and March, the surf competition is contingent on available wave sizes.

Big 4 Party Rentals in Novato, Calif., is responsible for outfitting this extraordinary competition with tents.

Rob Roberts, president and CEO of Big 4 Party Rentals, says the biggest challenge of this event is not having an exact date every year because the event is completely dependent on the wave activity of the area.

“When we signed the contract the first year, we were told that the event will be some time between January 2 and March 31, and that we will typically receive 48 hours’ notice,” Roberts says.

In addition to installing approximately 20 tents, ranging from 10-by-10-foot structures to 30-by-50-foot VIP tents, there are considerable power needs for all of the vendors and the giant LED screens that display the surfing competition for the crowds.

Wind speeds and gust forces are another major component to consider in producing this event. “In prior years, the spectators and the festival-style event was directly on the beach and adjacent cliffs. But a few years back, a person was struck by a rogue wave and killed,” Roberts says. “The local authorities and the U.S. Coast Guard discontinued allowing the event to take place on the public lands and so the event was moved to a parking lot at a nearby hotel and spa.”

Because of the high winds on the central California coast, Roberts’ team has to secure all of the truss work and tenting with 500-pound concrete blocks. The 12- to 15-member team sets up the event with all of the truss needs, tenting, tables, chairs, AstroTurf® and 10 to 12 generators.

While completely dependent on the weather, planning for the surf competition is straightforward. The local jurisdictions are present early in the planning to address road closures, media access, emergency contingency planning and medical preparedness.

“Because there is no set date for the event, the authorities must be flexible and have pre-approved tenting and event permits in place with the dates of the event left blank,” Roberts says. “They all have to be flexible and work around holidays and try to coordinate with the weekends.”

The risk is that the weekend in question may be the only time that there are sufficient waves to produce an event. “Two years ago, we did production on a festival that did not actually have any surfing, since the perfect waves never happened,” Roberts says.

Because of the huge unknown of when the event will occur, Big 4 Party Rentals has a Mercedes Sprinter outfitted as a “Rapid Response Vehicle” that is always loaded with 25 10-by-10-foot festival style tents, complete with tops, walls and frames.

“I brought this idea from my previous life as a first responder,” Roberts says. “The vehicle is outfitted for this type of work and also assists in alleviating storage needs in the warehouse. All we need to do is bring the ballasting equipment, stakes, water barrels and concrete. This way, when we get a call 36 to 48 hours out, most elements are preloaded and we can just get in the vehicle and go. We are truly at Mother Nature’s mercy.”

Endurance Matters

During the third week of July, at the StubHub Center in Carson, Calif., the Reebok CrossFit Games, a strength and endurance competition for all ages, takes place. Choura Events, Torrance, Calif., is responsible for outfitting this popular event within a tight deadline.

As Shannon Kelly, vice president of sales and marketing at Choura Events, explains, because there are other events held at the locale before and after the CrossFit Games, Choura Events has less than two weeks to build and one week to strike the required tents. Even more challenging, the vender village, which has more than 50,000 square feet of tents and structures, is not available until four days before the event opens.

“This is a yearlong planning process with event producers and vendors,” Kelly says. “We are fortunate that the property is owned by the California State University system so we do not interact with any city or state officials. The facility manager handles all permits.”

In addition to the vendor village tents, the title sponsor sets up a 25,000-square-foot retail outlet comprised of a 16,000-square-foot clearspan structure and two large truss shade structures. The event features a 21,000-square-foot athlete area, complete with locker room, lounge and dining areas. Each area is separated with hard walls and doors. The locker room is composed of 90 individual lockers and dressing rooms.

“There is no staking on the venue so we have to bring in more than 500 weighted anchors, ranging from 55-gallon water barrels for small 10-by-10s, to 8,000-pound cement blocks for large structures,” Kelly says. “Having a location to store the blocks and move them into place is a logistical puzzle.”

For the past two years, Choura Events has set up an 80-by-260-foot structure on the stadium field, complete with floor, HVAC and generators, and they typically have a staff of eight on site during the event to deal with a variety of challenges that emerge.

“Because this is an active soccer field, we could not drive heavy equipment across the field,” Kelly says. “All deliveries were through the stadium tunnel and equipment could only drive on the track around the field. We built plywood roads to get onto the field only at locations directly adjacent to the structure. On top of that, we had 24 hours to install and 18 hours to strike because there were professional soccer events within several days of the installation and strike. We worked around the clock.”

Based in Plymouth, Minn., Maura Keller frequently writes about applications of specialty fabrics.

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