By John Torsiello
Coaches and managers spend hours devising game plans prior to their teams playing an opponent. The same can be said about the carriers who shuttle those teams to and from events. Just ask Ginnie Whitlock, an operations manager for Athletic Transportation Services.
“When we work with an athletic team client, we spend a lot of time preparing for their trips,” she said. “This is especially true when we have a new client that we haven’t worked with. We ask them what their specific needs are, what hotel they are staying at, where the venue is and then determine if the bus can fit into that destination’s parking spaces. Is there a grocery store or shopping center next to the hotel where we can park the bus? We need to know these things.”
Whitlock related a story about a college team that her company transported to an event in Idaho. “They wanted to make a bunch of stops and wanted to have lunch at a Pita Pit,” she said. “But the restaurant didn’t have a big enough parking lot and we can’t leave them off on the side of the road or park the bus on the road, so we had to adjust.”
Whitlock spends a lot of time on Google Earth to determine if there is ample parking at hotels or event sites where teams are travelling, mapping out the trip in order to make the journey as smooth as possible for both the team and the driver of the bus.
At Windstar Lines, account specialists speak with team clients to ascertain if they have “unique needs” when travelling, said Jeff Greteman, company president. “The key to success is to communicate any and all needs to the actual driver of the team. The driver plays a monumental role in determining if the service is deemed a success or not.” Most carriers ask that a liaison be provided by the school to supervise the individuals to allow the driver to concentrate on his job: driving the bus safely. It is often a moot point as coaches and/or parents are on the bus with the athletes and will supervise their charges.
Michael Orsene, charter manager for Peter Pan Bus Lines, said, “Basically, when it comes to sports clients, we need to know their exact needs. Do we need extra buses? Do they want to leave early to an event or stay later? We have to be flexible. If there is bad weather coming, a team might want to get to the event early. Sometimes this is a challenge because we have regular runs and are dealing with other clients. There can be a lot of moving schedules around but we always try to accommodate.”
He added, “We work up a complete itinerary with our sports team clients. If they are staying overnight, the bus driver will stay overnight. The coach of the team may want to hold an extra practice and we have to adjust on the fly.”
When a client has a contract for an entire season, Orsene keeps tabs on the team’s progress on wins and losses to determine whether or not they will have transportation needs to and from post-season tournaments, which allows him to be proactive with scheduling.
All teams have different needs, said International Motorcoach Group president Bronwyn Wilson. To provide the best service, a carrier needs as much information as possible from a client before the trip. “The motorcoach company also has to be very reactive and available, as at times around Final Four when teams do not know where they will play and all is subject to winning, scheduling is quite a last-minute challenge,” she said. “We know sports teams well and know how to plan. That includes making sure as much information in advance is secured from the coach or travel manager so that if time is required for practice or other requirements, it is planned accordingly.”
In keeping with the age of social media, teams demand that motorcoaches and buses be equipped with the latest in technology. Said Wilson, “Some individuals will be studying while travelling and need electrical outlets and Wi-Fi (though that request is made by most teams).”
Greteman said when dealing with any client, “service must be executed flawlessly.” Any delay due to traffic, weather, navigation or mechanical issues are oftentimes met with frustration. “The transportation needs to be a non-issue. Sometimes bumps in their travel plans affects morale and can ultimately affect how the athletes perform.”
Sam Trevino, marketing and sales manager for Aries Charter Transportation said each team his company works with has a transportation director who coordinates with a company representative to make sure teams “arrive safely and on time.” His company also contacts the arena where the team will be travelling in order to determine if there is ample parking and where teams should be dropped off and picked up after an event. He said college teams usually require a “more upscale ride” while youth teams basically are looking for “the basics”: bathrooms on the bus and electrical outlets. Food and refreshments are left up to the teams.
The transportation of equipment – sometimes a lot of equipment – can provide a challenge. “We address this typically by understanding what the team requirements are in advance and assigning the correct vehicle for the number of travelers and luggage,” said Wilson. “It will depend upon whether the sports teams are professional, collegiate or high schools and then what sport they represent. Some sports, such as hockey, have a lot of equipment and their needs for luggage space are more specific. Basketball teams often would like fewer seats in the vehicle due to the players being taller and wanting more leg room.”
“With all of buses there is undercarriage storage,” said Whitlock. “It’s the whole underside of a bus and there is quite a bit of room, whether it is for baggage or equipment. One of the biggest challenges when it comes to carrying equipment is when we are transporting the school band. Often, the band and cheerleaders will travel on a second bus or we will assign a trailer to accompany the bus carrying the team or band.”
More often than not, said Greteman, the transporting of team equipment “is just a routine part of the service we provide.” He added, “Today’s motorcoaches have plenty of under-floor luggage space. Football team gear for the teams we haul in the Big 10, Big 12 and other Power Five conference teams are often carried by the team’s tractor trailer. There some smaller schools that will request a box truck for their gear. We transport several hockey teams and arena football teams where we pull a cargo trailer for the extra gear.”
mentioned that drivers who know their way to the stadiums and where the locker
rooms are vital to ease the transfer at stadiums for games and practices.
“Typically, many teams require the motor coach to be at the pickup points – be
it airport or hotel, etc. – often earlier than other groups that charter motor
coaches but this can be team- or coach-specific,” she said.
“Professional teams can be somewhat superstitious and request same motor coach and driver.”
As for the needs of youth teams, Greteman said, “Youth teams are always fun to transport. Good communication between the driver and the coach, parent or chaperone is just as key here as it is with any other group. Youngsters are excited to be able to travel via motorcoach as opposed to school buses. It makes them feel like the NCAA and professional athletes.”
Just as with a sports team, providing a winning experience demands that carriers devise workable and efficient game plans that make all parties winners.