Dear Event Doctor: We’ve seen weather become a bigger issue when it comes to postponing or canceling events. Safety obviously comes first for athletes and spectators, but what are the best practices to follow in reviewing weather patterns, making that final call and communicating the decision? —Rain or Shine
Dear Rain: The great thing about being a meteorologist is how often you can be totally wrong and still keep your job. Event people don’t have that luxury. If weather disturbances strike while an outdoor event is in progress, evacuations of both the playing field and spectator areas could be in order. Indoor events can also be affected by weather outside. Snowstorms, ice, flooding and high winds can make travel to the venue inadvisable and could disrupt air and transit systems that deliver spectators and athletes to the host city and event.
If you’re a planner like me, you start watching long-term weather patterns 10–14 days out, even though these forecasts are more for entertainment value than for real planning. The probability of a weather forecast being correct increases significantly enough three to five days before an event to begin to activate the weather plan—at least on a contingency basis since such forecasts are still not 100 percent reliable.
Have your contingency plan developed long before the long-range forecasts are even published. Go through all the what-ifs and decide how you will respond well ahead of time so you don’t have to start thinking about what to do once the three-day forecast is released. Develop a framework for when to make the decisions. What costs will you encounter if staff or contractors report for work at an event that is postponed and rescheduled? How quickly can city services such as police, fire and traffic control respond to a change of schedule? How far in advance do you need to alert participants and the media to a postponement to keep people off the roads?
Is there a potential for tropical storms, hurricanes or blizzards at the time of your event? These potentially devastating storms require an earlier decision to keep inbound fans and athletes out of harm’s way. Thunderstorms that require the clearing of the field and seating bowl often precipitate a decision an hour or less before the storms reach a venue. Event organizers work with local public safety officials to monitor radar and make decisions on a minute-to-minute basis, taking into account how long an evacuation might take and the distance to points of refuge. As you plan, remember that even if there is only a 25 percent chance of thunderstorms, if it does rain, you will still get 100 percent wet.
Dear Event Doctor: We’ve seen a number of sports commissions lately taking on the full task of organizing an event, particularly international federation events that are coming to the United States. In some cases, the sports commissions are even responsible for selling television rights, sponsorships and merchandise. Is that a trend you see continuing? —Bearing the Burden
Dear Bearing: Sports commissions, convention and visitors bureaus, parks and recreation departments, and other public or quasi-public agencies have increasingly been called on to contribute to the success of international and domestic sports events. For many years, it has made good business sense for federations to transfer much of the responsibility of delivering events to the host city. A local host agency can often secure lower staffing and procurement costs than the international sanctioning body could for similar services. The cities, for their part, have delivered great events because well-executed programs attract further business.
Federations often reserve the rights to sell global sponsorships and broadcasting deals, while host agencies are given the right to sell non-conflicting local partnerships to help them recoup some of their costs in organizing the event. Generally, the more success international sanctioning bodies enjoy in selling global partnerships, the more difficulty the host agency faces in crafting deals with local sponsors because the more sponsors a federation has, the more categories are blocked from local partnerships. Additionally, global partners will typically receive on-site benefits such as signage, in-market promotions and hospitality, further reducing value for local partners. It is, therefore, a delicate balancing act for the federations to provide the host agency with local sponsorship opportunities. My observation is that this balance has been difficult to achieve.
Agencies charged with selling a local broadcast deal on top of local partnerships have a doubly hard job. Frequently, the host agencies must bring some of the event’s sponsors to the broadcaster as advertising partners, or must purchase the airtime and resell the commercial time to recover their costs. Either way, there is an element of financial risk to the host.
But to get back to your question: Do I see this trend continuing? I do, in the short-term, but I also think it will plateau soon. Federations will continue to strive to generate more and better global partner deals and move as many non-competition functions to the host city. As they do, it will become more expensive and more risky for cities to host successful events. At some point, the cost/benefit equation for the host will weigh more heavily on the cost side. Some mega-events, such as the Olympic Games, have seen a drop in the number of cities able or willing to host. Some smaller sports events may soon reach a similar inflection point, one in which fewer cities compete to host, and bid proposals become less aggressive.
The Event Doctor is sports-event veteran Frank Supovitz, president and chief experience officer of Fast Traffic Events & Entertainment, an event management and consulting firm. From 1992 to 2014, Supovitz served as the senior event executive for the National Football League and National Hockey League. He is also the author of “The Sports Event Management and Marketing Playbook.” Questions for The Event Doctor can be emailed to Frank Supovitz at email@example.com.