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Mastering the Game: The Art and Science of Sports Event Management

Welcome to the world of sports event management, where the exhilarating blend of art and science comes to life! They are no longer single-celled, consisting only of the actual competition. They now contain many more elements and heaps of work goes into pulling them off. Behind the scenes of every sporting event is a well-coordinated and meticulous event-management team who work tirelessly to ensure an unforgettable experience for athletes, workers and fans alike. Sports event management has evolved into a complex and dynamic field that requires the convergence of strategies, logistics and entertainment to create a successful event. From pre-event preparations to post-event evaluations, today we will discuss all the secrets that go into planning and managing a successful event.

Courtesy of Susan G Komen

For a successful event, there are a few things you need to have planned and prepared before you can start planning the actual event. Call it the pre-planning phase. One of the most important pre-planning steps you must take for a successful event is defining what the objectives and goals of the event are. Knowing what the event is trying to achieve and bring to its participants will not only help you to gauge how successful your event is, but it will also help guide you to making the best decisions for the event as well as lighten the load of those decisions.

After you set the goals and objectives for the event, it’s time you get into the more difficult decisions. One of those is setting the budget and figuring out where that money will come from. We will get more into the receiving funding aspect of event planning when we talk about sponsorships and marketing later on. After determining your budget, you’ll be able to determine what you want the venue to be and if you will be able to afford it. Having your budget completed, or at least a rough draft, will allow you to pick a venue that you will be able to afford while supporting the rest of your event’s financial needs. At this point you’ll also have to determine a date for your event. This is one of the most obvious and most important steps, especially when picking your venue. The type of venue and its availability affects the way you choose your date.

Courtesy of J Meredith

Once you determine your date, it will be helpful to create a comprehensive timeline for the event. Ask yourself when you want to accomplish what? Think about all the different tasks that need to be completed. When do you want to start reaching out for sponsorships? When do you need to have the applications completed? When will you start social media outreach? When will you start selling tickets? Etc. To make sure that you and your team are successful, you should have a good idea of when you want everything completed.

If you are new to event planning, you might forget this important aspect: permits and licenses. When I first started hearing about all the permits and licenses you need, I was shocked. Depending on where you live, what type of event you are holding and what you want to include at your event the types of permits and licenses that you need will vary. With that being said, I unfortunately can not provide a complete list of which you will need. However, some popular licenses and permits people need are a lottery license, a tent permit, potentially a road closure permit and a liquor license. It would be helpful to do extensive research on which ones you’ll need and it might be helpful to consult your local government or office that handles these items so they can help you apply and receive all the necessary items.

Behind any successful event, there's a strong and exceptionally skilled event management team. There are certain roles that many event management teams have, however more than just assigning roles and handing out titles, it’s best to define each person's responsibilities and what the other team members need them to accomplish. Once you have decided what each person's responsibilities will be, you can very easily assign roles and titles if you feel that’s the route you want to take. However, more traditionally you can have a list of roles that you need filled and each of those roles will have a corresponding set of responsibilities.

Courtesy of Hannah Busing

If you choose to go the route of having specific roles that you assign people to, you will need to develop a list of what those roles are. Some typical roles of large events are the following.

  • Director or Head of Events

    • This role will be responsible for all event strategy, setting the vision of the event, building the team, allocating the budget, representing the event and managing external and internal relationships. Essentially, they will play a part in every aspect of the event.

  • Event Coordinator

    • The individual in this role will work closely with the director/head of events as they are responsible for overseeing the entire event process and supervising the rest of the team. This role will be in constant communication with the director/head of events.

  • Marketing/Communication Lead

    • Marketing lead will be in charge of creating the strategy and execution of event communications online and offline as well as before, after and during the event. This would typically involve invitations, email marketing, social media posts, traditional marketing like ads and billboards, website placements and any other creative endeavors you wish to pursue.

  • Sponsorship/Customer/Sales Lead

    • Depending on your type of event, as well as the size of the event, this role will look slightly different, but it is highly possible that you will need to have some aspects of all of these categories. For many sport events there is a heavier focus placed on sponsorship, so this role would mainly be focused on reaching out to potential sponsors, overseeing the communication with them and developing those deals and partnerships. If there is a retail aspect, you would also deal with the merchandising. You would be responsible for pricing, managing the money and so on. You might also be responsible for ticketing if it is a smaller event; with larger scale events, you will need to have someone specifically responsible for ticket sales.

You’ll have to take this list as a starting point because every event will require different roles and teams. For larger events, you will need to have teams behind each role and assign a lead to successfully complete the responsibilities. has many incredibly useful resources for event planning and specifically staffing and managing your team. They recommend using a model called the RACI Model. This model consists of having the following roles for each task…

  • Responsible: This is the person who ensures that the particular task gets completed.

  • Accountable: The accountable individual is the person who actually executes the task (they say that this person can be the responsible person).

  • Consulted: This person will give final approval of the work that has been completed.

  • Informed: They are on a FYI or need to know basis (they are aware of the work being completed but are not directly involved).

The next aspect of event planning that you will need to deal with is sponsorship and marketing. These two pieces are crucial to a successful event. Both of these will provide financial support to be able to actually hold the event as well as make it so that people will attend the event. You can no longer only rely on word of mouth to make it so that people attend your event.

Dealing with sponsorships can be a daunting task. Many people don’t know where to start or how to reach out to businesses and potential sponsors and request money. A great place to start is developing a sponsorship deck. A sponsorship deck is a communication tool that is used to facilitate effective communication and partnership building between partners. This will allow the party requesting to be sponsored a means to effectively share their message and why they need funding and it will provide the sponsoring party with the understanding of why the sponsorship would be beneficial to both parties as well as get them invested in the event.

Courtesy of Windows

Typically a sponsorship deck will include a pretty standard list of items, however, every deck’s information is customized for the event. First, you should start your deck with an overview of what the event is. This chapter should include what the event is, the history of the event, and what you would like to achieve with the event. Keep this section rather personable as this will help to get sponsors invested in the event as they are more emotionally connected to it. Basically, share your story. Next, include some audience insights. You can be rather creative with this aspect. Do you want to share audience/participant stories, metrics, etc.? I would recommend including a mix of these, but it comes down to how you want to represent the event. Keep in mind you should include some basic data like audience demographics, social media metrics, etc.

Potentially the second most important part of a sponsorship deck is including the benefits to those wanting to sponsor your event. What’s in it for them? How will supporting your event in the capacity you’re requesting be mutually beneficial?

Now to discuss the most important aspect of any deck. After benefits, include details about the partnership. What do you expect of them and what can they expect of you in return. These items are simply a starting point that any sponsorship deck should include, you can go on to include other aspects as you feel appropriate.

Now to discuss event marketing. For this, you will need to develop a strategy for your marketing. Take time with your team to develop your strategy to meet your goals. Take into account your budget, timeline and sponsors as all those aspects will affect your marketing. I’d recommend using a mix of traditional marketing like television, radio, paid ads and email marketing combined with social media outreach. Keep in mind your marketing strategies and outreach will depend on who you’re trying to reach. As an example, if you are trying to reach a younger audience, you’ll want to place a heavier focus on social media marketing.

For specifically sporting events, an important part is athlete and participant experience. When considering their experience and positioning the event in a way to prioritize the enjoyment of your athletes and participants, you’ll be able to have a more successful and enjoyable event. If your event is more so people viewing the athletes, ensure that you have some type of briefing or orientation for your athletes. This will make sure the event runs smoothly and is enjoyed.

Courtesy of Braden Collum

Depending on where your participants and athletes are coming from, make sure that you have your amenities and hospitality services completely taken care of. It should be a priority for you that your athletes and participants are having a stress-free and enjoyable experience. Making sure their hospitality services and amenities are taken care of is a great step.

Next, you’ll need to consider fan engagement and entertainment. You’ll likely want to have some type of activations to represent the brands that are sponsoring you and a great way to have successful activations is utilizing games and different activities that people attending the event will want to participate in. Maybe you want to have some type of fan zone where people can go and play games or other activities to make an enjoyable event. There are more ways to keep people engaged than just games Consider live music, a lot of people really enjoy listening to live music and it's great publicity for the band. For sporting events, a great way to get people involved is through autograph signings.

Something that should be in the back of your mind when planning fan engagement and entertainment is novelty and uniqueness. How can you provide people with an interesting experience they've never had before? Try including new technology within your event. Maybe a VR or AR tour of a sporting facility or being a player in the game. Or you can try a 365° camera. The possibilities are truly endless, you just need to be creative.

Courtesy of K. Mitch Hodge

After you have the event planned and it is all completed and the craziness dies down, you may think you’re done with the event. However, your event isn’t quite over yet. You now need to complete post-event evaluation and feedback. Post-event evaluation and feedback is important for understanding how the event actually went, good or bad. When completing this part of the event, it is important to consider all those involved perspectives. Remember to include staff, participants, athletes, sponsors, vendors and more. This will allow you to gain a more candor perspective of how the event went. From there, you will be able to identify what went well and also areas for improvement for events in the future.

In the ever-evolving landscape of sports event management, success lies in the mastery of blending strategic planning, logistical precision and entertainment elements. Embracing innovation, creativity and a dedication to enhancing participant and fan experiences will ensure that sports events continue to captivate audiences and leave a lasting legacy in the world of sports.

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