A VIP Trip to Spring Training and a GuestPass

With Spring Training now upon us, I recently recalled a VIP trip to Florida for Spring Training in 2003 while working as Marketing Director with Sporting News. As done by many media properties, for many years Sporting News hosted key clients – advertisers, from both agencies and brands – annually at a special 3-day trip to Tampa. While there, the group would enjoy a few Spring Training ballgames, a round of golf, attend presentations from Sporting News’ management, play softball with former players, and dine with former and current MLB ballplayers, often including the coaching staff and front office management from a specific team.


The dinners were often a somewhat casual affair, where a local restaurant would serve as host for the 40 or 50 people in attendance. A cocktail hour, where Sporting News’ VIP guests would have the opportunity to mingle with the “celebrity guests,” often included the likes of Joe Torre, Buck Martinez, Juan Marichal, Gaylord Perry, Ferguson Jenkins, and others. This was followed by a brief presentation by a Sporting News representative, and a “keynote” address from one of the celebrities on-hand.


During a 2003 Spring Training dinner with members of the NY Yankees coaching staff and front office, Joe Torre was the main speaker for the evening. Within his speech, he introduced his boss, Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman and members of the coaching staff, including Willie Randolph and Luis Sojo. It was the first year that Don Mattingly was a member of the Yankees’ coaching staff, providing Joe with an opportunity to “roast” Mattingly, teasing him about being a “rookie” again in the Yankees organization. After a few light-hearted jokes at Mattingly’s expense, dinner was served.

Sitting next to Luis Sojo, I enjoyed hearing his stories and his take on the season ahead. He was cheerful, open and gracious in his sharing of thoughts on certain players, the coming season, and his own career with the Mariners and Yankees. He smiled warmly, shared jokes with the other diners at the table, and played the role of “celebrity guest” perfectly.


However, once dinner was served, Sojo’s expression and demeanor turned sour. “I can’t eat that one, and I won’t eat that other one” he shared, eyeing the two large family-style entrées served by the restaurant wait staff. “Do you have other options?” Hearing that there were no meal options that appealed to him, Sojo looked at me and quipped, “Aren’t you in charge here? The person in charge of these dinners should really know about your guests’ food allergies, likes and dislikes.” He wasn’t wrong.


While I wasn’t necessarily “in charge” of the dinner event, I did have a hand in the planning, monitoring and management of the overall trip to Spring Training. This included the scheduling, booking of venues, travel coordination, and monitoring of all guest invitations, registrations and their confirmation. All of this – and more – was done either by hand, or by using a large excel spreadsheet. At the time, this seemed the most efficient and seamless “system” for managing and monitoring the logistics of the trip, even though it had many “moving parts.” Unfortunately, hindsight is always 20/20, and I see now that in planning, managing and executing such a high-end VIP hospitality event, there are better, more effective and efficient – and budget-conscious – tools readily available. For starters, our “system” for securing guest details (using an excel file) didn’t even take into account the food likes, dislikes or allergies of Sporting News’ client guests, or “celebrity guests.”


Search the Internet for “corporate event guest management” (and variations thereof, using related terms), and Sports Systems’ GuestPass system comes up. As described on the SportsSystems.com site, GuestPass is a fully comprehensive online hospitality tool that streamlines guest nomination, invitation, registration and data collection to help event organizers and planners improve the guest experience, save time and effort in the planning, and enable greater overall efficiency. As well, the system helps improve communications and data exchange internally, with guests, and with vendors and entertainment service providers. From branded digital invitations, a customized site specific to the event itself, guest registration and confirmation, travel schedule coordination information, and even the ability to gather data often looked at as the “minutia” of events, such as food allergies, Sports Systems’ GuestPass presents as the perfect solution.


Within the Sports Systems media kit, Kathryn Poe Switzer from the Southeastern Conference praises GuestPass, sharing this: “Coordinating the official party for the SEC Football Championship Game and managing the logistics of our annual meeting have been part of what I do for as long as I have been at the SEC. As with most things each has grown in scope and complexity each year and the system that Sports Systems has built for us has made the whole process much less stressful. I spend a lot less time worrying that something might have been “missed” and a lot more time interacting with our guests and trying to improve their experience. I can’t imagine having one of these events without this.”


Sports Systems boasts an impressive roster of clients who turn to GuestPass for their events: This includes the NFL, MLS, Bowl Championship Series, along with corporate clients such as Intel, CA, Vodafone, Merrill Lynch, MillerCoors and Verizon.


Bill Hancock, the Executive Director of the Bowl Championship Series shares this within the Sports Systems’ media kit: “Sports Systems electronic registration is an efficient time-saving system. The guests enjoy it because it is simple, accurate, secure and easy to use. We meeting planners (and also the hotel) enjoy it for the same reasons – and it provides instant and complete data. Everything we need is available in one package. It’s great.”


Having planned, organized and executed small, medium and large-scale corporate hospitality events within sports, it’s hard to imagine the prospect of going forward with an event without the use of Sports Systems’ offering. The idea of receiving a full suite of services for the event – from identification and nomination of invitees, personalized digital invitations, a custom designed and branded site with registration for activities during a trip, to the ability to capture guests’ personal needs (e.g. food allergies!), and even a post-event branded e-mail notice, complete with photos from the shared experience – makes the decision to use Sports Systems an easy one.


Tracy Snyder at the NFL agrees, as she’s also quoted within the Sports Systems’ media kit: “I honestly cannot imagine keeping track of everything without [Sports Systems].”


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