Game Plan: 6 Tips for Managing Successful Sports Events

It’s an understatement to say that there are numerous details to keep in mind and consider when it comes to managing sporting events. Budgets, schedules, communication and marketing plans, referees, venue selections – there are many elements to balance in order to be successful. But while planning for and managing sports events can be quite a headache, there’s nothing quite as exciting as seeing the event go off without a hitch. To help make that happen, we’ve complied six tips shared by planners across the country that can help lead to success.

TIP 1: Everything Speaks, So Know Your Message 

Everything associated with your event speaks to the customer: your website, emails, design, the layout of the event, the signage. Literally everything associated with your event tells a story to your customers about you and your event and because of that, the event planner must first understand the story they want to tell their customers, said John Connors of The Color Run: “You must look at every single detail of your event and ask yourself, ‘What is this detail saying? Is this detail consistent with the story I want to tell?’”

To answer those questions, Connors creates a customer journey map that identifies every single possible touch point for the guest. “Once I’ve done that, I can look at each of those moments and ask, ‘How do I design this particular moment to make sure it adds depth to the story I am trying to tell?’”

TIP 2: While Everything Speaks, It’s Not All At The Same Volume

Because certain aspects of an event speak louder than others, event planners should fix the “loudest” things first. Otherwise, the list of communication moments gets almost impossibly long, Connors said. “There is just so much to do and there is a temptation to just start finding things I can quickly check off and start doing them in whatever random order they present themselves just so I can tell myself that I got something done,” he said. “But doing that has proven to be a mistake for me. The list is so big that it’s unlikely that I will be able to address every single potential moment of communication with the amount of thought I would like.”

Instead, Connors notes, it’s critical to prioritize the list before trying to check anything off of it. Some things are simply more fundamentally important to the event and those have to be made right. “These are the things you have directly promised to your participants in your marketing,” Connors said. “You cannot compromise on these. Make sure you know what they are and get them right first, then focus on everything else. There are so many things to do in the lead-up to an event and you can keep yourself busy on things lower down on your list and really feel like you are getting a lot done but if there are a few key promises that you are not going to be able to keep because you incorrectly prioritize them, you’re going to be in trouble.” 

TIP 3: Put Together The Right Team

One thing event planners must ensure right from the start is the sports committee supporting the event, said Ross Balling of the EVP Beach Volleyball Tour. “The committee can make or break an event,” he said. “That committee should be thought out, from the sports commission to the local operators.”

One thing to consider when selecting members of the team: passion for the sport. “You must find people who are passionate local stakeholders who can support the event, as well as put a good word in or make things happen,” Balling said. “That’s one key to long-term success.”

TIP 4: Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

For an event to be successful, it’s critical to have everyone on the same page and on the same schedule, and prompt and clear communication to team managers is the best way to make that happen, said David Raflo of USA Ultimate. “If there is the potential for a big change before your event, let your team managers know you are monitoring and evaluating the situation, and communicate updates early and often,” he said. “Uncertainty and unknowns are rough but teams will be more understanding if you are communicating about them frequently and transparently.”

Event organizers must also have a plan for communication during the event, whether tweeting, emailing, texting or using some sort of app. “If there is a big change during your event, ask people for their patience and let them know you’re working hard to figure it out as quickly as possible,” Raflo said. “People are more patient when you keep them in the know.”

TIP 5: Think Through The Location

It’s always tempting when selecting a location to select a city you’d like to visit. But oftentimes, as Robert Pozo of Continental Events and Sports Management Group points out, the best location for your event might not be where you want it to be. “It has happened to me,” Pozo said. “What better place to have the event than Honolulu, for example? It sounded great. But in my case, it was too expensive for my target participants and there was a six-hour time difference between my location and Honolulu, making planning really difficult.”

When thinking about the best location for an event, instead of focusing on where you think you’d like to go think about up-and-coming destinations or perhaps cities that recently received grants to bring in sporting events. “They will often bring you in and roll out the red carpet for you and your attendees, and potentially give you funding,” Pozo said. “That destination might not be what you deem as the best vacation for you or your participants but if you get the best treatment there and the city makes your participants feel right at home, what better place is there for your event? So always keep in mind that the right fit for your event may not be the best location for you.”

TIP 6: Engage With Potential Participants Year-Round

It’s easy to think about engaging with participants during an event but it’s critical to engage with them before and after as well, said Mike Mon of the Asian Basketball Championships of North America. Before the event, utilize marketing to make participants look forward to and appreciate the event. “For example, if you are doing a preview article, include something like ‘The Top 20 players to Watch,’” Mon said. “Everyone will be looking forward to that preview.”

During the tournament, event planners should be constantly posting to social media about what is going on but once the event is over, the communication shouldn’t end there. It’s important to stay engaged with those participants, Mon said: “Most engagement after the event is going to be via email and we typically do email blasts afterward. We’ll send one a couple of weeks after the event to say thank you and that we hope to see them again next year. Then we keep posting things throughout the year. You’ve got to stay on people’s minds.”