THE BENGALS NFL FOOTBALL TEAM AND AAA CORPORATE TRAVEL: 30+ YEARS OF EVOLVING TRAVEL TOGETHER.
The Cincinnati Bengals began playing in the NFL through the ownership of Paul Brown in 1968. Since then, they have grown into a $380 million enterprise with 100 employees, which includes 24 coaches and 6 scouts. And since that time, they’ve been one of the longest-standing clients of AAA Corporate Travel.
Of course, when the relationship began in the 80s, there was no Concur online booking tool. Everything was handled manually--through hotel “books” and telephone calls to airlines to look up flight options and times.
“When I was hired by the Bengals 28 years ago, the contract with AAA had already been in place,” says Debbie LaRocco, Executive Assistant/ Player Personnel Assistant. “It’s a long-standing relationship and one we are very happy with for many reasons, but if I had to give one main reason, I’d say it’s the customer service. We are not always an easy client,” she laughs.
Booking Travel Before Online Booking Tools
The Bengals, like other NFL teams, send scouts and coaches all over the country to watch potential recruits. And they fly players in as well. AAA, in the early years, would sit down with the coaches to make a plan and then research hotels and book flights. It was often a very complex and time intensive process.
“We would do these elaborate 2-month long travel plans for scouting. For instance, five people would need to travel to multiple cities over 2-3 days,” says Lucy Corcoran, AAA Lead Agent, who worked on the Bengal’s account exclusively for 30 years.
“And back then it was a lot of research on hotels using a printed book to find hotels closest to the locations needed, then phone calls to book and of course working with the airlines to get multi-leg flights set,” she says.
Travel then, like travel now had its ups and downs. Weather issues would happen suddenly or someone would miss a flight. “We were there for the Bengals 24/7 and we definitely got phone calls in those early days at all hours. And there’d be last-minute travel needs,” recalls Corcoran. “But that’s who we are and what we’re known for—customer service.”
Over the years, as technology has evolved, AAA has worked hand in hand with the Bengals to continue to update and customize their travel tools and experience.
“We developed the Concur site with them. And every year we review and make functionality changes. We are a partner with the Bengals, getting their online site up and running the way they want it to work.” explains Anthony Jover, AAA Technology Manager.
One of the unique aspects of helping them with their travel policy was that AAA understood the players are not necessarily going to fit comfortably in a middle seat in coach. “We opened up premium Comfort+ seats for the Bengals to see in Concur. If there are no aisle seats available, someone from the Bengals calls us and we work with our partner airlines to make it happen,” says Jenny Corken, the Bengals current AAA Account Manager.
And because scouting and bringing in players for interviews requires a high level of secrecy and confidentiality, AAA keeps everything very private for the Bengals. Trust is a major component of the relationship.
“When we need something, AAA is there regardless of time of day. They make themselves available. They get issues resolved. And while we’ve been pitched to move our business from AAA, we won’t do it,” says LaRocco.
“There’s so much travel with this football team, so it’s a constant shuffle of cancellations or rebooking. We keep a very close eye on ticket credits and alert the Bengals about them so they don’t lose any,” says Corken.
Fond Memories Over 30+ Years
Lucy Corcoran at AAA looks back over the relationship with the Bengals with fondness. She has many memories, and in particular she recalls that Dick LeBeau would come sit with her to create travel plans for his coaches as they scouted for draft picks. “Dick was a very nice man and he’d show up with flowers if I’d helped him out of a travel jam,” she recalls.
“Dave Shula would always take me and his secretary out to a very nice lunch every year and even send over Bengals’ swag and jerseys,” she laughs. “These jerseys were huge so I could never wear them of course.”
Today, the relationship with the Bengals is still going strong. “We’ve really evolved together as travel and technology has changed,” says LaRocco. “We could not be happier with our AAA team. Yes, we can be difficult. We have a different level of travel needs, but AAA has always been right there to help us every step of the way.”