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!
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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.