Two Sides: Stay to Play

Stay-to-play requirements have become a hot button topic for competitive gyms and the event producers who serve them. CheerProfessional looks at both sides of the debate.

Many gym owners—and parents—have long appreciated the autonomy of making their own travel arrangements for competition, due to the flexibility and options afforded by this approach. However, more event producers are now requiring “stay to play” (requiring that teams stay in a designated room block set up by a third-party company in order to compete). The practice has sparked debate inside the industry: some gym owners are boycotting these types of events, on the grounds that rooms are being egregiously marked up and that it creates less choice for budget-conscious families. However, event producers maintain that stay-to-play is necessary in order to maintain ongoing relationships with the venues and cities their customers have come to love. See what Cheer Zone owner Tamara Reed and Cheer Power’s Regina Symons have to say on the topic.

Editor’s Note: Please note that the views expressed in this article are expressly those of our sources and not those of CheerProfessional.

Tamara Reed, Owner, Cheer Zone Cheerleading

Tamara’s take: We are a small gym with four full-year teams, as well as a few mid-season teams that don’t travel as much. Every year, we do at least a few travel competitions. We are big enough for [booking travel] to be a pain and small enough where event producers don’t care about us. This year, we’re doing the American Championship in Chicago and JamFest Super Nationals, both of which require stay to play—as it seems almost every single major competition does now.

On why she opposes it: For us, our parents aren’t willing to just throw down money. Our travel competitions are very well thought-out and we try to give lots of notice [with the details]. With stay to play, you have to go through these companies and don’t have a choice as to where you’re going to stay.

Two years ago, we went to the American Classic, and our parents loved it and begged to go back. Now that they follow stay-to-play policies, we’re running into problem after problem—our group can’t stay connected, we’re far away from the venue and now families have to rent a car since we’re not staying nearby. It seems like stay-to-play just comes with the territory now—and if you want to compete on a national level, you have to put up with these hassles.

On housing company issues: Right now for Super Nationals, we are about 15 miles away from the venue; when we inquired about NCA in Dallas last year, we were told we’d stay 20 miles away. For American this year, we still don’t have a hotel at this point. We were told they didn’t have any hotels available—and that we have to wait until they find more partner hotels and can locate a block with enough room. We never came across any issues like this until event producers started doing stay-to-play.

On issues with parents: We’ve had problems with parents going online and finding a room at the exact same hotel for cheaper. Initially for SuperNationals, they put us at a Jameson Inn near the venue for $95/night, but if you went online, the Jameson Inn website was offering rooms for $50/night. Our parents wanted to know why they couldn’t get it at that rate, and we’re the ones dealing with the upset, angry phone calls. The parents assumed we were upcharging them and trying to get our coaches’ rooms free—but it didn’t include any kickbacks for us. We had to pay the same prices parents were paying.

In the end, we called the hotel company and asked for somewhere further away that was better. Now we’re paying $110/night for a room that is about 20 minutes away from the venue. Our parents are already paying thousands in competition fees, travel, uniforms and everything else—we’re constantly asking them to shell out, and it makes it so much harder when they don’t have choices. Stay-to-play has taken away some of the options as far as parents feeling like they had a say in where their money was going, and the gym owners look like the bad guys.

On possible solutions: I think “Inform To Perform” is great; obviously, we would much prefer to just ask parents where they’re staying and make a list, as it would be much easier. I understand the event producers need to know exactly how many rooms, but it seems like there are other ways to do it, whether it be Inform To Perform or something else. I don’t think they need to be the ones that dictate where we’re going and what we’re paying.

I’m not saying competition travel should be a free-for-all, but it should be very easy for event producers to say, “We’ve got 20,000 kids performing and this is how many parents are here.” Most cities should consider it pretty reasonable to look at your competition numbers and estimate the total from those.

The bottom line: Our industry has gone this long without needing stay-to-play, and I’m not sure why all of a sudden it’s so necessary. I think it benefits event producers and has taken away from gym owners and parents. We have parents who can’t afford to stay at a $200/night hotel and others who can—and I’d like for them to be able to make that choice.

It’s basically become a “Deal with it if you want to compete” type of attitude. Other coaches have said, “Just don’t go [to competitions that require stay-to-play],” but if you want to compete at big competitions outside your local area, that’s not an option anymore. It is what it is, but I’d like to see it change.


Regina Symons, CEO, American Cheer Power

Regina’s take: Until a few years ago, Cheer Power did not participate in “Stay to Play.” I believe in staying where you want for the price you want to pay, so I resisted all housing companies’ requests for stay-to-play. However, I had to change that way of thinking.

A few years ago, Cheer Power had 500 teams in the Alamodome—but the city showed only 200 rooms for this event. They had a nice, long chat with me and indicated I may lose the facility if I was ever challenged by another group bringing more rooms to the city! I also could not get my dates years in advance. That was a real wake-up call for me.

On why it’s necessary: That meeting was definitely the motivation for Cheer Power to get correct room counts in order to keep the venue—this season, we have three large national events where this is needed. For instance, in the Midwest, we use the Columbus Convention Center; so does every other cheer company that holds competitions in Columbus. This is our World Bid event, and I cannot even think about the possibility of losing the convention hall due to not showing enough rooms. We use the Alamodome for our Southern Nationals with the same possibility.  There are no other venues large enough to house these competitions.

At our Cash Bash in Galveston, the city promises $20,000 to Cheer Power, but we have to satisfy their requirement for rooms for the weekend. Cheer Power gives the $20,000 back to the athletes!  We have to have an accurate room count and satisfy the city’s requirement or risk losing $20,000.

On housing company issues: We have held meetings with our housing company and made it very clear that our parents need to have rooms within their budget. If parents want the River Walk, great, but if they need a more reasonably priced hotel, our housing company has promised to find it for them. If gym owners experience any problems with a housing company, you should contact the event producer directly. When we receive complaints, we contact the owner and get an immediate response.

On issues with parents: Many gyms send a link to parents and they all get their own rooms, which is the easiest thing for the gyms to do. (Our housing company provides the link to send out.)  Certainly, we want to make this easy for our coaches and gym owners.  We also want to offer rooms in every budget.

We never require booking a room if a hotel is not necessary. Some gyms are close to the competition, some stay in RV’s, some stay with friends.

On incentives/rewards: I have instructed our housing company to give coaches free rooms when requested.  Normally you get 1 for every 50 rooms booked.

On gym owners boycotting Stay to Play: Refusing to compete where there is a stay-to-play event doesn’t make sense if the hotel price is reasonable and housing company is handling the event professionally. Price gouging is completely unacceptable! Anyone having any issues with a housing company should get in touch with the event producer and let them know. The housing company works for them and their customers, and they should remember that at all times. Coaches, owners, and parents have too much going on to deal with unprofessional people.

On gym owners’ obligation: I do believe that every gym should abide by stay to play if it is required. Certainly, it’s not fair for only some to do so! We have been a lot stricter this year because we feel like we can find a hotel for every budget. If I feel we are being fair and the prices of rooms are right, then it’s easier for me to enforce.

The bottom line: Pressure from City Chambers of Commerce in order to keep venues is our main concern. They are going to put the group that brings the most rooms to their city in the more desirable venues that they own. It is my wish that gyms could understand the importance of getting these room numbers! We want to give them a great location for their National Championship and keep it from year to year—and accurate room counts are necessary to continue doing so.

In saying all of that, we need to make this easy on the gyms and reasonable for parents. If we can do this, then I feel like all of the gyms will be supportive.