Dear Event Doctor: Our sports organization will never be producing anything the size of the Super Bowl. But is there an easy way to boil down what it is that big events do well that can translate to other events? What aspects of organizing large events are applicable to smaller ones? —Thinking Big
Dear Thinking: I actually believe that big events can learn as much from smaller ones as the other way around. For instance, smaller events generally recognize that passion for the sport is the reason fans buy tickets and attend the games. Smaller events often do a terrific job of preserving competitive integrity and providing an environment in which athletes can do their very best. At larger events, organizers are often occupied with other issues that compete for their attention, such as sponsor hospitality and media needs. Maintaining a focus on the competitive aspects of a sports event must always remain the highest priority.
There are many yardsticks by which we can differentiate between a “small” and a “large” event, but for our purposes let’s define it not in terms of the number of athletes but as a function of spectator attendance and the impact on venues and community infrastructure. By this definition, a large event requires a greater level of planning, including transportation, accommodations, VIP guest management and a variety of auxiliary events—for media and the community, for instance—designed to elevate the image and business of the sport. It is incumbent on major-event organizers to invest more time and resources into site planning, marketing and sales campaigns, media plans and entertainment for guests beyond the actual competition. All of this investment is at risk if something should go seriously amiss, so wise planners develop a set of contingency plans that address the most predictable of potential challenges.
Although small events do not generally encompass as many details, thinking through likely potential problems and formalizing well-reasoned responses is a best practice worth considering irrespective of the size of the program. Documenting an event is another best practice that well-managed large events embrace. That involves creating a set of written plans that are useful for reference, for simplified planning of future events, and as a guide should responsibilities shift to new staff. Institutional knowledge and succession planning can be just as vital to small events as to larger ones.
Finally, remember that many large events aspire to be even larger, and most started their lives as smaller programs. Study larger events similar to yours to determine what made them successful. It is likely that their formula for growth included engaging the community, developing partner relationships with local business and telling compelling stories about their sport and the athletes. Good luck!
Dear Event Doctor: We’ve got an upcoming event that we hope will fill hotel rooms in our city. Our concern is that a considerable percentage of attendees are going to either stay in one of the surrounding communities that offer less-expensive hotels or use Airbnb to go it on their own. What more can we do to ensure that people will stay in the rooms we’ve blocked at our city’s hotels? —Staying Power
Dear Staying: Part of the answer, of course, is in your question. If participants and spectators are fleeing to more economical properties, they are doing so because room rates in your host hotels are significantly higher and the experience of staying there is not worth the difference in price. Some hotels raise the room rates beyond what is realistic and customary for the time of year, increase the length of the minimum mandatory stay or otherwise put themselves in a position of competitive disadvantage. They may wrongly assume that the convenience of their location, the strength of their brand or the quality of their facilities will outweigh the economic benefits of staying farther away or at a limited-service property. Guarding against hikes in room rates is essential to encouraging spectators to book at participating hotels. Depending on the demographics of the event, a rate reduction might even be considered during non-peak seasons to increase the likelihood of bookings.
Recognizing that the guest’s decision will always center on cost and value, there are ways of clawing back at least some of the business leaking to less-expensive neighboring options. The hotels, host city and event organizer can work together to offer packages that include rooms, dining and attraction options, discounted parking, hospitality opportunities, courtesy shuttles, exclusive merchandise and services of real and calculable value. This can serve to narrow the economic differences in the room rates. The key here is making the experience in your host hotels superior and narrowing the effective cost difference.
The convenience of attending welcome receptions and fan activities at or near the host hotels also promotes guest bookings. Staying “where the action happens” should be attractive to fans, in terms of both price and experience. Stay focused on providing more value and narrowing that economic gap!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.