Have you ever wondered how, and why, a NFL team picks a hotel when they’re on the road or even when they’re at home? Even though I worked in the NHL for many years, I never really paid attention to what went into picking the team hotel. I worked with a ton of hotels in my role for the NHL teams, but never had to think about the needs of the athletes. The following is an interview with a former NFL team operations executive. In additional to the NFL, this executive has worked many other major league sports and global sporting events and has 20 years of experience with pro sports.
Q – When do you start planning what hotel/s the team will stay in?
A – All hotel site visits are done in March-April. Once we get our schedule in April, we contact the hotels to see if they have our dates available and go from there. Each site visit takes about 45 min to an hour and some cities find us seeing anywhere from 5 to 20 properties. It’s a lot and once you get a feel for it, you can usually determine very quickly if the hotel is a good fit for a possible stay.
Q – What are you looking for when you visit a hotel?
A – We would look at everything at the hotel from how the team would arrive through to when it would depart. That means first going outside to understand what the block is like – for bus staging – will buses unload to the curb or will they unload street-side? Would the travel party have to cross the road or cross valet area? We want the street to close for our arrival and would sort that with the city police department. We’d want to know many buses could fit curbside and with bus #1 carrying the Head Coach being directly or as close to the main entrance as possible. The hotel would be advised to have executive staff to escort key personnel to their rooms or meeting spaces at the time of arrival. We would look at entrance doors – are they revolving, automatic, can they be propped open? There’s a lot to bring in and a lot of people going in and out.
Q- Once you’re inside, what are you looking at?
A- Inside, we’re looking for the path to the elevators and any service elevators in the area. How big are the elevators? Do they require key card access to specific floors? If so, we’d need to arrange access for key people on select or all floors we are using. We ask all hotels to staff the elevators and lock them off to just our floors for the arrival so we can get in and out of the way faster, be less of an inconvenience to other guests and maintain as secure an environment as possible. We look at where arrival tables with room key packets will be staged. We let the hotel know who is allowed to authorize room changes and when bedchecks will take place.
Q- When the team arrives at the hotel, how long does it take to get everyone from the busses to their rooms?
A – We time our arrivals and target 7 minutes total. If it is longer than 10 min due to minimal elevators or other issues, that isn’t good.
Q- Once you know how you’ll arrive, what else do you look for at the hotel?
A – We look at sleeping rooms and see a king, double and all possible suite types. We note the layout of the hotel and if it is the same on each level. Are there suites on each floor or select floors? How many total? How many styles? Rooms that connect to suites? We note where exit/emergency doors are and where the best site lines are so we can place security stations overnight.
We take over full floors – usually two consecutive floors for the players so we note how many kings vs doubles are on the floors. We note if there is key card access. We note size of beds (king, queen or full) and if beds have pillow-topper or other mattress nuances. We lay on a bed to test firmness and we note where the plugs are relative to all beds. We make note of any unusual amenities, if rooms are uncomfortably small and we pay very careful attention to bathrooms. We also look to see if there a safe in the room, a docking station of any kind, how is the water pressure, what are the room service hours?
Q – What’s so important about the bathroom?
A- We are looking closely at the size overall, size of shower, is there a shower tub combination or just shower? How high is the shower head? How close is the toilet to a door/wall? These are big guys we take care of so you have to ensure they are as comfortable as you can make them.
Q- Outside of the rooms, what else do you need in the hotel?
A- We have zero interest in hotel restaurants and just because they are athletes doesn’t mean we care about the gym. We don’t.
Q – You mentioned you need meeting space, what is that for? What are you looking for?
A – We look at meeting space to see specifically how the hotel would lay out our meeting room needs. Is it on an exclusive floor? If it is a larger hotel or convention property, how do they handle clients sharing space and maintaining privacy so no one is walking through the team’s space? Privacy is very key!
Each meeting room has different, specific needs so we discuss those. Generally, we look at ceiling height, if lighting panels are individually controlled in each room, discuss the temperature, pre-function space (a lot of hotels have very little furniture in pre-function space so we ensure residential furniture can be brought from elsewhere so players and coaches have comfortable chairs outside the meeting rooms.) We look at meeting room signage holders, determine if separate elevators or escalators access the meeting room floors or if the regular elevators to sleeping rooms are used. We discuss security checkpoints, set-up times, policies and review the meal room set-up, menu and service schedule at length.
The team meets in this space, the team eats in this space and it’s used for logistics. We look at how the team would leave to go to the buses for departure on game day since most players come from Pre-Game Meal to the buses not their sleeping rooms. We review how long buses can park in staging areas, where overflow bus staging is and where our Equipment Truck would park overnight. We discuss cab and town-car usage and preferred vendors, bellman needs if any, daily newspaper drops, wake-up calls, calls to rooms late night and autograph seekers.
Q- Autograph seekers, that’s a topic I can talk about for years! I have nightmares about sharpies and paint pens. But back to you, how do you decide on location?
A – We determine distance to the airport and to the stadium and prefer downtown hotels closer to the stadium but each city is different.
Q- Anything else that’s helpful when picking a hotel?
A- We want to know if they have hosted teams before and if so, from what league and who. Is the hotel busier on the weekends or during the week? What would we need to do to arrange late check-out if we are playing a night game? Is there an extra ballroom available for a light practice/walk-through? Is there a college nearby with a field in the event it is a west coast trip and we’d arrive Friday night and need to do a walk-through Saturday morning? Is there a pool in case a strength coach wants to work someone out that way. How big is the pool?
Q- Do you get special request from the players about the hotels?
A – We’ve heard every request on the road from wanting specific bedding to room service needs. I’ve changed beds, made beds, stripped beds, set up ballrooms and stuffed key envelopes. It’s a team effort between us and the hotel and having a great rapport makes a world of difference. We partner with them to take care of our family, our clients the team.
Q- Any superstitions about hotels?
A -Regarding superstitions, we have sometimes changed hotels from season to season if we have had consecutive losses in previous stays at the same hotel.
Q- What types of hotels are you staying in? Do you have any personal Favorites?
A -The team stays at a majority of Ritz’s, a few Four Seasons, a St. Regis and maybe an InterContinental or Westin. The hotel’s staff can make a big difference! Some hotel staff makes it very fun, a little less high-stress which it really is so that’s a difference maker.
Q – And your personal favorites?
A-The St. Regis in San Francisco is a definite favorite (love their rooms and bathrooms) as is the Ritz Downtown Atlanta (amazing staff).
Q – The St Regis – I knew I liked you for a reason. Great hotel. Do the players earn points/miles for their travel? Do you and the staff earn points/miles?
A – No, the team flies on a charter flight most of the time, so no one earns miles. As for hotels, no, the players and “advance team” do not earn points. It’s part of the contract with the hotel. The advance team may earn points on flights for site visits or other planning meetings.
Q – Speaking of planes? Do most team have private planes?
A – Not most, but a few do. Most teams charter some type of plane, even if it’s a Delta or American airlines flight, it’s chartered and only the team is on the plane.
Q. – I never see pro teams straggling through the airport.
A. – No, the busses usually take us to the plane or to a private terminal. We’re taken by airport personnel through security so we don’t have to deal with the airport lines.
Q – Thank you for your time and sharing this great travel insight.