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ABC 2011: Counting Up the Costs of Recreation Programs

Striding up and down the aisle of his packed seminar room, Chris Nunes is talking about "Budgets, Cost Recovery and Pricing in Action" and asking Athletic Business Conference attendees to back up what he's saying by comparing their experiences with his own. Everybody's nodding; they've been there. The director of parks and recreation for The Woodlands Township in Texas, Nunes has in the first 20 minutes committed to memory where various members of his audience work. As he talks, he addresses them as "Nova Scotia," "Dallas" or "Phillips Exeter," as in, "Will that work, Phillips Exeter?" When he asks that last question of an audience member, the answer is bound to be no. Nunes' habit of acquainting himself with his audience helps him drive the point home repeatedly that what's going to fly in his Texas park district, where the property of every home owner abuts one of the master-planned community's 121 parks, might not get airborne in the Canadian Maritimes.

But as more questions are raised, and the discussion around these questions develops, it becomes clear that not everybody has been there. A surprising number of attendees haven't come to Orlando with a solid understanding of their own budgets and what the figures mean with regard to their ability to cover the costs of the programs they want to run. Doesn't everyone contemplating offering a new program start by listing the direct costs, the indirect costs and so forth? "You'd be surprised," Nunes says after the seminar. "I give talks on these topics all over the country, and as I go through the process, one attendee after another will say, 'Awwww, we have to add that?!' "

At one point, Nunes brings up a small tournament that the township wants to run - those 10 youth baseball teams that will come in from elsewhere in the region will mean money in the township's coffers, says the tournament's biggest proponents. Yes, Nunes tells them, there's no doubt that these types of events bring in needed economic activity. As he's begun relating this anecdote, he's walked to the back of the room, and now he stops there, creating a kind of huddle as the attendees surrounding him lean in to hear what he thinks of the plan. "Those 10 teams are coming for the day, and they're all going to stop at McDonald's on the way out of town," Nunes says. "Each kid'll spend $6 on food, so that's about $800. We collect 3 percent sales tax, so we'll get $24."

Nunes starts listing expenses on his fingers as he walks back toward the front of the hall. "And let's see, we've got to pay the guy to stripe the fields, we might have to turn the lights on for the late game, let's make sure we know exactly what this tournament's going to cost us," he says. Turning suddenly arch, Nunes adds, "We get twenty-four dollars? Yeah, we can do that." Everybody nods, and quite a few laugh.

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