Tampa Super Bowl looks to local firm for software: High-profile client could help Simply Hospitality

Keywords Sports Business

Event-planning software developed by a local firm has been the backbone of volunteer efforts for the Men’s Final Four, the Indianapolis 500 Festival and the USA Track & Field Championships.

Now it will add a Super Bowl to its resume.

The Tampa Bay Super Bowl Host Committee, which is staging the 2009 NFL championship, will use Indianapolisbased Simply Hospitality’s TRS software to recruit and coordinate the 6,000 volunteers it expects to use for the big game.

Officials looked at eight software firms and identified three finalists before awarding the contract to Simply Hospitality in mid-March. The Super Bowl is the Holy Grail for event planners, said company President Flory May.

“It’s a tremendous proving ground to show you can handle something like the Super Bowl,” said May, who declined to disclose the terms of the contract.

The company has been in talks with Tampa for years, May said. Simply Hospitality considered bidding on previous Super Bowls but waited until it built up its roster of large-event clients.

That didn’t hurt.

“They had great references,” said Amanda Holt, spokeswoman for the Tampa Bay Super Bowl Host Committee. TRS’ capabilities were another plus.

Short for The Registration System, the software is a Web-based application Simply Hospitality developed to help manage events. It can handle a variety of backoffice functions like management and financial reporting, but its primary application is registering volunteers and participants-then managing them.

Founded as an event-planning firm in 1999, Simply Hospitality came up with the idea for TRS after landing the contract to run the U.S. Grand Prix in early 2000. May and her staff quickly realized coordinating the event with Excel spreadsheets and Access databases wasn’t ideal.

So Simply Hospitality figured out what it needed in an event-management program and contracted with Champaign, Ill.-based Riverwatcher Studios to write the code.

May’s company started using the software internally in 2001 and first sold it in 2003. In 2005, clients used it to coordinate 12 events; last year, the event list surpassed 450. Since the growth began, Simply Hospitality has dropped almost all its event-planning business to focus on TRS.

Sports events represent only about half the company’s business. TRS can be used for everything from small corporate luncheons to mega conventions. Simply Hospitality signed the Ottawa Blues Fest as its first international client last year, and is working on translating the software so it can continue expanding overseas.

May said much of TRS’ growth can be traced back to word-of-mouth referrals. One big fan is the Indiana Sports Corp., which uses the software for most of its events.

The Indianapolis-based organization tested the product in 2005, then used it for the 2006 Men’s Final Four.

“It performed wonderfully,” said Allison Melangton, vice president of special events.

By automating many of the volunteertracking activities, the software freed up the equivalent of one full-time staff person to tackle other chores.

“We really feel strongly that this program is the best thing that’s ever happened to our department,” Melangton said.

That’s a message she shares at conferences where out-of-town colleagues often bemoan the labor-intensive process of getting people to volunteer, finding shifts for them, and contacting them to assign work.

The Tampa Super Bowl’s volunteer registration Web site went live April 1, and more than 1,000 volunteers signed up the first day despite sporadic Web site outages due to volume.

Any publicity gained from the Super Bowl gig can only help. TRS competes in a crowded field with at least 50 software offerings. Simply Hospitality markets and sells the software while Riverwatcher Studios provides the technical support. The firms employ 23 people who work on TRS.

Despite the growth, Simply Hospitality is not yet profitable. May declined to disclose annual revenue but said Simply Hospitality hopes to break into the black by this fall.

The company has added other large events to its roster, too, including the 2009 Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla., and the 2010 World Equestrian Games in Lexington, Ky. TRS will help coordinate about 30,000 volunteer shifts for the international competition held every four years.

May said landing the Super Bowl shows the company is in the top tier, ready to compete for the only larger fish out there-the Olympics and the FIFA World Cup, the international pinnacle of soccer competition.

“The prestige of the event is enormous,” she said. “This shows you can play at that level.”

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