Intense planning and attention to detail are the hallmarks of a successful Virginia event and the state’s experts deliver

From the outside, it might appear Virginia’s sports services wear multiple hats in their community. In fact, they do, but with just a single mission. Danny Bonifas, sports event manager/Richmond Region Tourism, describes his organization’s mission as a “Resource to the rights holders every step of the way, including community outreach, vendor sourcing, and side events. Our purpose is to enhance the attendees’experience.”

Kenneth Payne, of the Virginia Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau, defines the role of sports services in Virginia Beach in a personal manner: “What can I do to make a rights holder experience a great event and make them want to bring their event back to Virginia Beach.” Payne continued, “That commitment extends to providing a great experience to the participants, too.”

Success from teamwork

Many Virginia sports staffs are small and in most of those destinations the sales team operates as sports services, also. Whether it’s a full-time destination sports services person or the sales team taking on the responsibility, sports services often begin with the conception of the event. Sports services is looped in from the early stages of bid and site inspection and that often begins with researching past events. Working with the sales team, sports services is looking for ways to make events happen and exceed the past performance.

Whether the Virginia sports teams are one person or more and include a sports services member, interaction with the sales team is critical and often includes travel to conferences. Their knowledge of the destination venues is often critical to the process. Likewise their first-hand expertise in non-competition events such as social, opening events and other services that can deliver the full experience is just as important in the early process.

Success from experience

When you Google university degrees in Sport Services, the 688,000,000 responses list an abundance of good sources to find degrees in Sports Management, Entertainment and Sports Management and others, but nothing specifically about sports services as a major. It’s certain Sports Management degrees provide coverage and possibly sports service classes. Full-time sports service professionals, or even a member of the sales team, may very well have a sports management degree. However, it’s more than likely they bring specific experiences that qualify them for their sports services position. Anyone coming from a destination’s parks and recreation will have specific knowledge of facilities and each one’s capability. Likewise, anyone coming from the event-planning environment will have a head start on handling the non-competition side of their position. Partners throughout Virginia are willing to share their experiences, while organizations like Sports ETA and Events Services Professional Association offer further educational tracks at their conferences.

Success from planning & preparation

Virginia sport services seem to agree that planning and preparation are essential to the success of their events with both the rights holder and athletes. As pointed out earlier, it begins on tradeshow floors, bids and site inspections. And it’s ongoing. How much time is spent on event planning is dependent on the type of event and the level of competitiveness.

Virginia certainly has the facilities to host top-tier events for elite athletes. These top events bring athletes to compete, eat, sleep and compete again. The facilities, accommodations and dining options are each critical and require a close working relationship with partners in the local community.

The community partner relationships are even more impactful when an event requires a dynamite noncompetition event. Sports services is often required to provide an opening event that might include catering, a venue, dejay or volunteers. Virginia Beach recently provided a boardwalk scavenger hunt for a cheerleader competition. Regardless of the situation or demands, Virginia sports services rise to the occasion.

Although being in regular communication with the original point of contact whether it be the rights holder or their delegate, and in some cases, a Local Organizing Committee (LOC), no two days seem to be the same in sports services. Certainly, the seasons and sports being played impact each day. Beyond that to be the best, Virginians are always planning.

They are staying on top of their touch points that enhance the experiences of their visitors. Sports services are continually updating their dining and accommodation options along with off-field event venues and the variety of what’s needed to host a successful event. Virginians attribute much of their success to those on their sports team, but also to their community partners where deep relationships have been formed.

Success from evaluation

Another success point for Virginia sports destinations is the detail placed on their evaluations of performance after each event, even the most successful events. The first step is debrief and evaluation with venues and facilities. An honest assessment of what was done right, what could be done better and how could we improve. In most cases, the next step is to reach out to the rights holder for their assessment to include facilities, off field events, accommodations and dining.

A summary is prepared and distributed, but multiple evaluations are generally the rule. The main purpose of an evaluation is to assure a positive experience with the intent of bringing the event back. Just as importantly, evaluations serve as the benchmark for exceeding expectations of both athletes and rights holders on their next visit.

Approaching the finish line at the Richmond Aquatic Centre

Approaching the finish line at the Richmond Aquatic Centre

Success from meeting challenges

Ask anyone in Virginia sports services and you will likely hear they enjoy their job. However, the job does come with challenges. Whether it’s pursuing sponsorships outside your destination due to your bureau’s rules or a caterer cancelling on short notice, there are challenges.

Possibly none will ever be as demanding as presented by COVID-19. There were shutdowns and mandates that seemed to change state by state. Virginia certainly dealt with its share of problems, but by spring 2021, sports began leading the tourism rebound. With that return another challenge presented itself.

Danny Bonifas said it best, “Welcoming visitors and providing the best experience while not overwhelming our hospitality partners is still a challenge.”

Every segment of the industry is still hurting and many are not yet at full staff and service. Bonifas continued, “Richmond addresses the situation by regular communications with the hospitality industry. The goal is to be pro-active in preparations, so establishments can be prepared.”

Virginia’s sports services people are the poster for how to get things done right. There’s more about Sports Virginia on the pages of this guide, then visit online at

By Dave Bodle