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Is sport missing the obvious?

People can not play or watch sport without events. Perhaps this current situation has shined a light on something obvious, but important.

That it is the event days where a sport wins or loses, not just on the field, but off the field.

This may seem obvious, but I do think it’s important.

That ultimately, sport is simply a series of events – and the way we always consume and participate in sport is across a season of events.

And of course, what is obvious right now, is that COVID-19 has shut down our events and therefore our sports, and therefore, our lifeblood. So how do we recognise this, and use it for positive effect as we bring events back into our new world?

The Obvious is the Way – and – ‘The Obstacle is the Way’*

Given it is currently obvious that without events there is no sport, no participants or fans, no broadcast, limited content (and very little revenue!) – if we flip this around, how might we redesign events in a COVID world, and, what might happen if we can focus on amplifying the value of events for your sport, once they can resume?

The Role of Events

While we know it, we often struggle to articulate the full tangible value of events, however, in the roundabout way, this situation where events do not exist allows us to recognise that value, and, even explain it further.

Events are the beating heart of sport

Yes, the essence of sport is what goes on in the fields of play. The athletes, the participants, must always be considered at the core. However, what has become starkly obvious, is that the platform for all this to occur is within the events that we hold. As without events, everything stops.

And yes, this may seem obvious, or semantics (or incorrect?!), I do believe recognition of this will enhance the capability for your sport to reemerge, grow (or even, just to survive) ‘post-Coronacrisis’.

Sport as a series of events

Gameday, match day, the tournaments and tours, from elite to grassroots, these events are how we play and watch the game. Whether it be the AFL or AusKick, Olympics to Little Athletics, National or Saturday leagues, …, these seasons are basically a series of events. Each Saturday, Sunday, and even each practice day, our experience of these sports is a sum of these events.

Event days are the judgement days

I do believe that as a sport, your events are your time to shine, as your events showcase the sport itself. It is the events that are your shop window, the game days, matches or meets, the tournaments and tours are how your product, your content, is consumed and how your participants interact with your product.

Events are the real-life experience your sport provides.

The beating heart of your game, the thing that draws us in, and keeps us engaged. For your club, community, tribe, or nation, events are how you gather. It is on these occasions that you get to embrace with your audience. Events are the judgment day, the defining moments when you and your fans and participants meet up.

Why does it matter?

It’s fairly apparent right now, with no events going on, but it’s all worth keeping front of mind as we roll out our next seasons. That as a sports organisation, it is at these events where all your work must come together.

Where your wider organisational team showcases all of your work to the world. The event experience is what you produce as a team, and whether you will get the outcomes you need as a sport. Where the field of play, front of house, and back of house performance matters.

Events are when the tickets are sold, registrations and memberships are signed up, sponsors seek their exposure, broadcasters their content, and when partners and your stakeholders seek the returns on their investment. Whatever the measurement and however the value is defined, your events will be the measure of your success.

Events days are the ‘judgement days’, when it all comes together, where you will win, or you will lose!

But how do we get events back? And is there something missing?

Back in the good old days of ‘pre-COVID’ most sports, leagues, teams and clubs have a well-considered business plan, something to guide the governance and growth of these entities. And I’m sure there will be well-documented Event Plans that detail how these events should be delivered. But naturally enough these event plans are largely operational, focused on getting the job done safely and to satisfaction, and rightfully so, that is what they are for. But what can often be missing, is a gap between these detailed event plans, and that big picture strategic plan.

A New Playbook

It may have come as a shock, but there is no doubt that we now know, that designing and delivering events in a COVID world presents a whole new layer of considerations, and we are playing a whole new ball game. And then, even if/when COVID dies away, it does seem that a fundamental thing that has been exposed by the virus is that we need more robust and resilient business models, both for our events, and our organisations.

So we need a new way of working together and bringing our best minds together, to ensure we can engage our players, participants and fans, keep them safe, satisfy our stakeholders, sponsors and the authorities, working with our staff and suppliers in a way of working that we have never designed before.

What might that look like?

Even before COVID-19, in the organisations I have seen that use events as a fundamental, core means to achieve their goals, there is a connection, a strategic plan with their events. And for every organisation attempting to be more ‘customer-centric’, fan-focused, or whatever we call it, this will not be achieved without a basic, pragmatic, robust roadmap to achieve this. And those that finding a way through the scenarios are developing a new layer, and a new gameplan to deal with the new ecosystem we are working within.

So there is some intent behind this article (isn’t there always…) in that, the work I do is to provide an Event Playbook, to enable more success with your events, and from your events. But putting that aside, however you do it, I believe a rethink on how we approach our events, within and across our sports, will ensure we have more desirable, influential, manageable, profitable, safe and resilient events, contributing to the business models around them. Which when it all comes back, needs to be a new way.

What’s in it for you??

Well aside from the necessity to conquer COVID, and, the value of events for your organisation, I do think that we all can individually win in our roles (or lose if you don’t), from increasing the outcomes from your events.

Whether you sit in Events, Marketing, Comms, Commerical, Community or Finance, what happens at these events effects your role. It is where the athletes perform, its where the revenue and content are generated, it is what we market, we sell, and we leverage. So if the sport is the reason we exist, I think events are the means to achieve our purpose.

Where are ‘Events’ in your Annual Report?
Most likely on the Front Cover, through all the pages, and the financials.
Your ‘Events’ are in everything.

The essential element

You could say events are a bit like water in an ecosystem, it’s an essential element that is necessary for the life of that system. Take it away and everything dies.

But when you have it, and you manage it well, everything can flourish. So events are the essential element within the sport, and we should optimise them to create the most possible positive influence.

But first, given that our ecosystem has been poisoned by COVID-19, we need to filter that out and work on a safe approach in our new environment.

Its time to change the game

Not only is it necessary to restart everything, but I also think it’s an opportune time to look at how we approach our events, and, I do think the ways we design and deliver events can (and must) change.

This Experience Design approach guides the experiences we provide front of house, for our participates, fans, members, partners and communities, and also, what we need to do back of house, how we optimise the resources, the relationships and the money that we have (and need). Working together to create these new event models, for desirable, viable robust events, for profitable, resilient, sustainable organizations.

And make events a team game!

The events team (or person), is often considered a small, junior, part of the wider team. Someone that sits down there in the bottom right of the org chart [and don’t forget the multitude of agencies and suppliers that sit off to the side that play an influential role].

But come event days, your entire organisation is usually involved, the event managers become the facilitators, the conduits, they hold the lives of our sports in their hands. So I do think it is worth recognising their role, how they are recognised, trained, supported, acknowledged, and perhaps even how your organisation is structured.

Events as Assets – not Liabilities.

Thinking (and doing it) different

So while we may have struggled to capture and articulate the full value of events in the past, what has been illustrated now that it has all been taken away – is the opportunity events are, and how we rebuild and redesign our events will be critical, for safe, and successful events.

The opportunity is here, and perhaps the obstacle is the way. And so, I do believe this phase we have entered could be a time to think, and work, a bit differently, to make it all work for us when we bring it all back.

If you need some help with that, please just let me know.

For more ideas please check out this intro to the  Sports Experience Design Playbook!

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