How to Travel Like A Pro: The Minnesota Vikings
You might think cramming the Little League team, their gear and the snacks into the bus for a trip across town is a challenge, but that's nothing compared to getting a major league sports team, plus crew and equipment ready and off to an away game. We asked Luther Hippe, Director of Operations of the NFL's Minnesota Vikings what it takes to pack for 53.
Matthew Stockman, Getty Images
While all eyes are locked on Brett Favre, behind the scenes Hippe and his operations staff are on top of their game. The Vikings might not have a private jet or travel only in first class, but there's no being squeezed into the dreaded middle seat for any of the Vikings. The team has an agreement with Delta and fly on charter flights to away games. "They travel in coach, but in window or aisle seats, so everyone is comfortable," says Hippe. And the players are surprisingly low maintenance. In the two decades he's worked with the Vikings, "nobody's ever asked to sit in a special place on the plane or had to travel separately."
While the Vikings' travel arrangements have to cover anywhere from 125 to 160 people per game, there's also the significant matter of coordinating the enormous amounts of equipment the team needs. While the three-member operations staff works full-time to coordinate the team itself, a dedicated equipment staff plans, gathers and loads obvious gear such as balls, helmets, jerseys and shoes, and less obvious necessities such chemical hand-warmers and heated benches either in the charter plane's cargo hold or in a truck, if the destination is closer.
Winslow Townson, AP
It's not just football teams that have their own set of rules and requirements. Major League Baseball's Players Association -- the sport's union -- specifies that players must fly first class to games, but if no first class seats are available, it has to be three seats for every two players, and meals must be "first class." L.A.'s Dodgers require a row of three seats all to themselves. While almost all major league sports teams from football to basketball fly under charter agreements with major airlines, some baseball teams have their own jet. The NBA's Dallas Mavericks cruise in to games and to pick up new draft picks in a private jet bought by owner Mark Cuban, and the Portland Trail Blazers fly courtesy of a plane owned by Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft.
When it comes to choosing hotels, baseball players and their reps can add extra yardage to the task of arranging accommodations. The Players Association states that the club informs players' reps of "in-season hotels that the club intends to utilize during the next succeeding season" three months before the season even starts.
A leaked copy of the Pittsburgh Steelers' rider (a 17-page document that outlines needs and requirements of an NFL team on the road) outlines in precise detail just how much detailed hotel planning is required. Similar to the demands laid out in the documents rock bands and their entourages provide to hotels, the Steelers' rider stipulates the team's needs from precise numbers of omelet toppings (five) to multimedia equipment, from the brand of condiments on the table (Heinz, in homage to the hometown company) to religious services. Since the Steelers are owned by the Catholic Rooney family, hosting hotels have to arrange for a priest to say mass on premises the day the team arrives.
If you're an NFL player, a stay in a luxurious hotel is very different to that of an everyday traveler. The team's riders also put a zone block on the entire floor or floors occupied by the players, and hotel staff is strictly instructed not to stock room mini-bars with alcohol or deliver it to rooms. In the Steelers' case, a 10:45PM curfew is enforced by a bed check and no incoming phone calls are allowed after 11PM.
The Viking's Hippe says the operations team makes the call regarding the team's accommodation, "Most cities we've been to 20 or 30 times, so we know the hotels," he says. "If we go to a city we haven't been to for a while, we fly down in spring before the schedule is announced and check out hotels."
If you're trying to work out which properties NFL teams might stay in, Hippe remains tight lipped about which venues the team stays in. According to Hippe, there are just two or three hotels per city that teams stay in, so fans can make an informed guess (popular choices include hotels of the caliber of Ritz-Carlton Boston, Peninsula Chicago, Hyatt Denver and New York's Westin Times Square). Here's another clue -- there's one thing an NFL team really needs and it's not a top-of-the-line gym or famed restaurant. The number one priority is a lot of meeting rooms for all that pre-play game planning.
"A lot of times people will find out where we stay," says Hippe. "Between hotel security and our security, we keep on top of that. Some players might walk through the lobby and stop and talk to people. Or they'll politely walk over to the stanchions and take a minute to sign autographs."
So what else does an NFL team look for in a hotel? "Location in relation to the airport and the stadium is important. The hotel's experience as far as hosting NFL teams and basketball teams, hockey teams, baseball teams, is important," says Hippe. "Some hotels, we've worked with people there for ten years and they've seen teams come through 50 or 100 times. That's very helpful, because it's a very intense 24 hours."
So next time you are feeling stressed about arranging the family vacation, be thankful that you don't have 53 football players in tow.
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