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SEC Football Big Business for Montgomery, Alabama Hotels -
Plus - They Put Away a Lot of Food Inspiring Awe in Hotel Staff

By Cosby Woodruff, Montgomery Advertiser, Ala.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Nov. 12, 2010--The yellow line down the western-most block of Tallapoosa Street has been something of a line of demarcation the night before most Auburn home football games this fall.

Auburn's football team has set up camp at the Renaissance Montgomery Hotel & Spa at the Convention Center before its home football games.

Many foes have set up shop across the street at the Embassy Suites. So far this year, South Carolina, Arkansas and LSU have been guests at the Embassy.

That makes the street between the hotels almost a ground zero the night before the game, but the hotels like it.

It is a block sale of plenty of rooms, plus audiovisual equipment and food service. In short, bringing in a football team and support staff is big business, but it comes with its own set of unique demands.

Tom Quatrochi, general manager at the Embassy Suites, said teams want as much privacy as they can get, great service, meeting space and lots of food.

Carolyn Dwyer, area director of sales and marketing for the Renaissance, said the most important thing is a reputation for doing it right.

Both hotels said college football teams are different than other groups in their requests for as much privacy as possible and their dietary demands.

An accounting convention, for example, is unlikely to draw autograph seekers, and most CPAs can't match a 300-pound lineman in food consumption.

"They eat a lot of food, plus they eat every couple of hours," Quatrochi said.

A typical serving schedule might include an arrival snack, a large dinner the night before the game, a bedtime snack, a wake-up continental breakfast, a mid-morning full breakfast and a boxed lunch for the bus ride to the stadium, he said.

In between meals, the coaches expect plenty of performance beverages.

Watching players put all that food away can inspire awe in hotel workers.

"It is pretty impressive," Dwyer said.

Preparing all that food taxes the kitchen staff more on the quantity end than on the creative side. College football teams generally send detailed lists of what items are to be on the menu, and often how they should be prepared.

The ability to feed a team of hungry players is only one of the requirements teams look for when booking a pre-game place to stay.

The hotel must be able, and willing, to meet demands on accommodations, meeting space and even the check-in procedures.

Rooms are pre-assigned, and the team officially is checked in long before the buses pull up in front of the hotel, Quatrochi said. Each player's room card is placed in an envelope, and they are arranged alphabetically on a table in the lobby.

That way, the team can simply walk in the door with each player finding his key quickly before heading to the room.

Both the Embassy Suites and the Renaissance are multi-floor properties -- Embassy Suites has seven floors of rooms and the Renaissance has 10. The team must be concentrated on just two or three floors rather than scattered throughout the hotel. That keeps fans away from players as much as possible.

In fact, Quatrochi said most teams don't want the hotel to market itself as the official team hotel, which would encourage supporters coming to the road game to stay at the hotel and create more threats of disruptions.

While both hotels are more than happy to have college teams as guests, they must keep the doors open for other guests at the same time. At the Embassy Suites, a typical team will occupy about 35 percent of its rooms. At the Renaissance, Auburn generally fills about 20 percent of the rooms.

When the teams are at the hotel, players are engaged in one of three activities most of the time. They are eating, sleeping or meeting.

The hotel must be able to provide a large enough room for complete team meetings and enough smaller rooms for position-by-position meetings. Each room must be fully equipped for the team's audio and visual demands.

Of course, before a hotel can even get a football team to give it a look, it must be in the right place. The downtown Montgomery hotels have location in their favor.

Both are convenient to Montgomery Regional Airport and provide easy access to Auburn on Interstate 85. They are close enough for it to be a short drive to the game, but far enough away that they are isolated from any on-campus, pre-game craziness.

Still, that is far from enough to ensure the property will bring in sports teams.

Dwyer said the much newer Renaissance was at first not successful in bringing in a football team, but once attracted the band traveling to Auburn for a game. That went so well, teams began to give the hotel a chance.

"It is so hard to get your foot in the door," she said. "The football teams are very clear on what they want, and it has to be perfect."

Quatrochi said his property had to work to build a reputation as well. He said it has done so.

"We have pictures of almost every SEC coach in our hotel," he said.

Neither property would discuss how much a team might spend on a pre-game visit, but said the business is substantial.

"College football in general generates so much money," Quatrochi said.

He said most SEC teams have about the same travel budget and expectations.


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