Ex-wives and king-size beds: On the road with sports stars

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Story highlights

  • Professional athletes are valued regular guests at luxury hotels
  • They can have special requirements for check-in, privacy, food -- even bed size
  • Hockey players are the best behaved, according to two Boston hotel managers

You might not consider baseball or basketball players to be your typical business travelers. But the realities of life for professional athletes, whose job requires them to spend months on the road each year, means they become every bit as travel hardened as the most experienced sales executive.

Golf legend Gary Player claims to have racked up about 15 million miles during his career, while Major League Baseball teams play 162-games a season, traveling across the United States in the process.

Bill Acree, director of team travel for baseball outfit the Atlanta Braves, says his team spends nearly a third of the year on the road, so they look for comfort. The team stays in luxury hotels, with good 24-hour room service, and privacy and security are major concerns.

Sporting events are big business for the travel industry, with the U.S. Travel Association estimating they account for more than a quarter of the entire travel market -- worth about $182 billion a year in the United States alone.

For the hotels that do play host to traveling sports clubs, although those teams might only comprise a relatively small percentage of a hotel's trade, their reliability makes them an important part of their business. Increasingly, hotels are pulling out all the stops to cater to the particular needs of their high-profile guests.

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That means many hotels boasting state-of-the-art gym equipment, to allow athletes to work out on the road. But it also means putting special procedures in place to give sports stars the most comfortable guest experience.

    Boston is a sports-mad city. Its teams -- including baseball's Red Sox, football's Patriots, basketball's Celtics and hockey's Bruins -- have won championships in every major American sport.

    Local hotels The Liberty and The Westin are no strangers to visiting sports stars. Mike Jorgensen, general manager of the Westin Copley Place, said about half of the baseball teams that come to town to play the Red Sox stay at his hotel.

    "When you get into the summer months, we might be checking one baseball team out and checking another one right back in," he said.

    Acree said that typically, when the Braves check in, the hotel staff have each player's key packet laid out on a desk ready to go, so the entire team can be checked in a matter of minutes.

    Jorgensen explained: "The key is to get them in and up as quickly as possible, so that the big stars ... aren't bothered by the autograph seekers and that sort of thing."

    At The Liberty, general manager Rachel Moniz says her staff whisks athletes in via a secret entrance unknown to the general public.

    "We have a private back entrance and no other hotel guests know about this," she said. "We always have two elevator attendants, so both elevators are used exclusively for the professional sports teams that's coming in."

    Moniz said that by bypassing the regular check-in in the lobby, her team can have the arriving athletes in their rooms in "four minutes door to door."

    Athletes have certain requirements that the average guest doesn't. Some need extra-long beds and, because they spend so much time on the road, some have complicated family arrangements, requiring tact in deciding which rooms to place them in.

    "I would say that things can get a little complicated when families start to arrive, especially if somebody has multiple ex-wives, kids," said Moniz. "You really get to understand a little bit better somebody's family dynamic, and how to handle that and where the connecting rooms should be and which floors they should be on."

    Jorgensen said football teams in particular had special demands around food and drink.

    "Football teams want to make sure we have on every floor Gatorade, Powerade, fruit," he said.

    "You know football players eat a lot so we need to keep them with enough food all the time to keep them busy."

    As for the best behaved athletes? Moniz and Jorgensen agree that hockey players are the most hassle-free guests.

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