Working With Professional Sports Teams

Steve Conklin is a busy man year round, but his workload picks up during football and hockey seasons. As director of sales and marketing for the JW Marriott Chicago, Conklin has developed strong relationships with professional sports organizations to make the 600-room property the go-to hotel for teams rolling into town.

This year the JW Marriott will host six NFL teams as well as several teams from the NHL and NBA. The hotel also served as the home base for the Chicago Blackhawks during their Stanley-Cup championship run. And when a full roster of players, coaches, and managers take over a hotel, Conklin says you have to be prepared to handle operations a little differently. “You can’t question things. You have to be really flexible,” he says.

Superstitions run rampant in professional sports, and hotels have to be prepared to cater to a team’s special requests. At the JW Marriott Chicago, one coach refused to stay in any room marked with the number 13, or one where the numbers on the door added up to 13. In another instance, a group of hockey players would not take a different security elevator up to their rooms for fear it would break their winning streak.

Flexibility is also important when it comes to culinary requirements and security protocol. Most teams come into the hotel with nutritionists in tow, so chefs should be prepared to meet special dietary needs and provide calorie counts for dishes. Sports organizations also bring additional security personnel, who work closely with the hotel’s security staff to ensure players’ safety and privacy. This includes making special entry preparations, helping with bed checks to ensure players are in their rooms, and keeping crazy fans at bay.


“The players are here because they have a job to do,” says Conklin. “They are in town for a short period of time. The more distractions that we can take out of their visit, the more they will keep coming back.” And while the profit margins from sports teams may be smaller than other types of group business, explains Conklin, the payoff of gaining those professional contracts are worth it.

“You have to look at the whole picture and not just the team,” he says. “If you’re looking for a certain profit margin, they won’t meet it. But from a marketing perspective, it’s an opportunity to get your name out there.”

Photo credit: Peyton Manning via Bigstock

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