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Sponsored: Why one travel company decided to focus exclusively on college sports

Good morning, and thanks for spending part of your day with Extra Points.

I am currently in Las Vegas for the NACDA convention, and will be here until Wednesday afternoon. If you’re in town, I’d love to say hello! Feel free to shoot me an email, or heck, grab a spot on my calendar. I’ll be a little slower in responding to non-NACDA related emails, since I’ll be running around conventions centers, trying to learn more about antitrust settlements and broadcast technology and NIL policy and all sorts of other potential future newsletters.

Today’s newsletter is a completely sponsored newsletter, brought to you by Short's Travel Management. I don’t do sponsored posts very often, and when I do, I make sure to only do them about topics that would be relevant and interesting to my audience anyway. If you’d like to potentially sponsor a post, our sales team would be happy to talk with you at [email protected].

One thing I’ve learned since being on the Extra Points beat over the last four years? Athletic travel can be a huuuuuge pain in the butt.

I don’t just mean that for the college athletes and anybody that has to actually ride the bus. I also mean for everybody involved in planning, budging and executing all the travel. Even a smaller athletic program that only sponsors around 16 teams will have multiple programs on the road every week, programs with differently sized travel parties, going to different locations, with different equipment needs…any of which could have something go wrong at any time.

David LeCompte, now the CEO at Short’s Travel, came to realize that because of the scope and unique demands of collegiate athletics travel, a company seeking to serve those clients really needed to focus on just college sports.

Short’s wasn’t always just a college sports travel company, after all. The firm, based in Waterloo, Iowa, originally focused on serving corporate travel needs, like those of hometown giant, John Deere Tractor, and then later, other large businesses.

Short’s had a technical and data-oriented advantage that allowed them to win major corporate accounts, even when competing against much larger agencies. But LeCompte told me that over time, the company learned that moving engineers and salespeople to different conventions and regional offices was a very different business from moving college athletes

Around the time of the pandemic, Short’s decided to completely focus on just collegiate athletic travel, instead of corporate travel (which, as you might imagine, declined significantly around the pandemic) or even general campus travel.

Would that focus matter? A basketball player takes up just as many seats on a plane as a tractor salesman, right?

LeCompte told me that their relentless focus on just collegiate athletic travel helps college athletic departments in two major ways.

For one, spending all of their time on college sports travel allow the company to negotiate the best possible group rates on hotels in particular cities. “Some schools, they might decide to stay in the same hotel every time they go to a particular city, without taking their business out to bid every time”, LeCompte told me. Short’s is able to make the calls needed to not only make sure that schools get their best possible hotel rates, but also best rates on food, beverage, and other services.

If say, hypothetically, a school knows they need a hotel in Chicago every year because a few of their programs will need to play against DePaul, well, they’ll likely try to book the same hotel as often as possible. But if Short’s is working with a dozen schools that also need to book trips to Chicago, then suddenly, the travel company has the leverage to negotiate for better terms on behalf of everybody. A single school may not be able to do that, especially if the only person making those calls is an already overworked operations staffer.

There’s also being prepared for when things go wrong

I live just a few miles away from O’Hare Airport here in Chicago, and do almost all of my air travel from there. Anybody that ever spends any significant time at O’Hare will get reminded that despite your best efforts, thing go wrong with air travel all the time. Bad weather 700 miles away could mean delays. Aircraft sometimes need unscheduled repairs. Flight crews hit their hour maximums. Stuff happens.

Sometimes buses break down, or roads randomly disintegrate, or all sorts of other stuff happens that can slow down travel or blow up perfectly made plans. For you and I, it’s a pain in the butt, but generally, not the end of the world. But for elite athletes on tight schedules, delays can be devastating.

Short’s has their own in-house team that LeCompte called “our Fire Department”, staffers who monitor exactly which teams are on the road at any given time. The Fire Department monitors weather and travel patterns to try and anticipate potential problems before they happen, and then works to solve them as soon as possible.

“We can send preemptive texts to operations staffers or coaches about potential delays with instructions, but also make calls on their behalf”, LeCompte told me. That means, for example, that a delayed flight could land, a Director of Basketball Ops could check his phone, and see a text that spelled out the team’s new travel and lodging accommodations, all already taken care of.

In a world where coaches and staffers are already overburdened, the travel partner is working to make sure nobody with a team polo needs to spend any time calling airlines or hotels. After all, when was the last time you called an airline? Did you have a positive experience? Probably not!

Time and money are at a premium in college sports, and especially now

This industry conference has only just gotten started, and that’s already a dominant theme in my conversations with staffers, from the biggest schools to DII programs. In a world where revenue sharing, House settlement payments, enrollment cliffs and other outside factors will likely take chunks out of operating budgets, everybody is looking to do more with less. Less headcount, less topline budget, and less time.

Short’s is betting that their relentless focus on what makes collegiate athletic travel unique, from equipment needs to data visualization, to on-the-dime travel booking to holistic solutions, can help schools save not just money on a regular basis, but time…so their coaches and staffers can focus on what they do best.

Which is probably not doing stuff like googling “hotels we can afford near Starkville” at 10 PM. Best leave that one to the pros.

For more information about Short’s, visit their website here. I’ll see you all at NACDA!

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