Business Development

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Using the Right Process to Attract the Right Events

5 Mar, 2014

By: R. Ron Sertz

When you’re lucky enough to have spent spent an entire career in the field of sports, it’s likely that you will have been on all sides of the sporting event business.

Whether it has been as an event founder, event manager, sponsorship salesman, professional team owner/manager, or now as the head of a sports commission, I’ve seen all angles of the business and I’ve learned many lessons along the way. I absolutely love being in the sports events business and am always happy to pass along advice when asked – even when I’m not asked.

Sports commissions are always focused on attracting events to the community, growing events that already exist, or creating events that fill a need.  Are there keys to accomplishing those goals? Of course. The biggest is having a successful bidding process. Of course, if you talk to a dozen leaders of sports organizations about how to accomplish that, you might get a dozen different answers.

While there might just be hundreds (or more), of factors key to attracting and growing events in a community, there are a few simple recommendations we can give which have led to success in securing sporting events. Here are the steps we value as we negotiate the bidding process.

Create the right relationships

While facilities, location and finances are all important factors for an event director, years in sports and business have taught us that people make decisions based on their relationships with other people. There has to be a mutual sense of trust at play; the sports commission should be a partner with the rights-holder and should want to help them establish and grow their event in the community.

We always start our selection process with the simple question, “Would we enjoy being partners with the event rights-holders to make their event successful in our community for the short and long term?” Once we have a good feeling about doing business with the managers of a particular event, then we would begin our due diligence to look at all of the other key factors of the event.

It doesn’t matter much if the event is of local, regional, or national importance; the major key is not looking to just attract an event, but rather to create the basis of a long-term relationship. The individuals that you partner with will also be the ones that you’ll rely upon for testimonials and recommendations of your services. You’re in it together! And, on the topic of relationships, don’t ever overlook your local partners either – the hotels, venues, attractions and media outlets that will always form the basis of any bid being made to attract an event. Stay in close contact with all of them and keep them apprised of event possibilities and their important roles.

Complete a thorough evaluation

The sports events business is never exact and there are always some subjective opinions that come into play. However, the more exact and measurable data you can use in your evaluation of a potential event, the better. We have developed our own system of determining the possible success of a potential event, analyzing about twenty key factors including number of participants and patrons, projected room nights, estimated economic impact and many more.

We also look closely at the history of the event in other communities or in past years and we always talk with other sources about the reputation of the event rights-holder and the experiences of other organizations working with that individual or group. The experience of a rights-holder is also vital because you want to avoid novice mistakes. Like most other communities, the time of year for an event is also a major factor since, as a tourist town, we are already busy with events during the summer months. Hotels, facilities and attractions are more readily available and affordable in the off-season.

Determine growth potential

We seldom look for involvement with a one-time event, unless, of course, it is an event of national prominence which, by its nature, moves to a new community every year. Our sights are set on regional and national events that we can partner with and have them return annually to our community. We want to help them grow and repeat their business in our city. The repeat business is good for everyone because it speaks strongly to the assistance and support we provide as a sports commission, as well as the confidence the rights-holder has in our organization and the community.

Of course, you can’t ignore local events and local event directors. To the contrary, they can be your bread and butter. I believe strongly that the combined economic effect of a lot of enhanced local events can outweigh the contributions of one large regional or national event. Any time that we can work with a local promoter on a new sporting event, or help a local event to grow their participation numbers annually, we jump at the chance.

Growing and improving local events not only enhances our image as a sports commission, it also solidifies home-grown events in our city. We can assist in helping grow an event from a local event to a regional event and perhaps even a national event. When we do a good job, those events become an annual staple in our community. That practice also helps to attract regional and national competitions in the same sport, because it demonstrates the level of interest that there is locally in that particular sport.

Invest in events for the right reasons

One of the questions I hear debated most often is, “How do we determine the amount of money that we should invest in an event?” That investment usually consists of event fees, support funds and contributions toward the payment of some key expenses such as venue rentals. There is no simple answer and a lot depends upon the level of investment required. Many times the requested amount is simply too high, so you need to be prepared to do one of two things: negotiate or say no. In many cases you’ll find that the distance between the asking price of a rights-holder and the final acceptable amount of investment is far apart.

Like any business, we always measure our return on investment (ROI). This measurement includes many factors above and beyond the direct economic impact, including the opportunities for repeat events, frequency of return, possibilities of similar events and the usage of local facilities that might otherwise be vacant.

There’s also the factor of image. Does having the event add to the prestige of the city and enhance its image as a sports destination? With local events, any investment is either about newness or growth. Can the money invested help establish a new event? Or can some targeted investment lead to substantial growth for the event in terms of participants and/or patrons?

Once again, at the beginning, it’s important to trust your relationship with the event rights-holder and make certain that they are committed to your site and fulfilling all of the promises they have made in securing the city as a site. Of course, every organization trying to attract sporting events has a budget. Some are much larger than others. Don’t forget to capitalize on any in-kind services and donations that can be measured. If facilities, medical services, promotional opportunities or even volunteers are being supplied by your organization, there is a value for all of that and it should be a part of your bid process.

Consider the image of your events

Everyone recognizes major sporting events, such as NCAA competitions, national and state championships and major regional competitions. Those events usually carry their own prestige due to the name recognition. However, even those events need media exposure and local publicity, so don’t overlook the strength of your community in providing those opportunities.

A few cities can be like our location and boast of the presence of all the major TV networks, strong groups of radio stations and a well-respected daily newspaper. They all understand our work and form a strong alliance that we capitalize upon. Every community has its own media strengths. That aspect is doubly important with local and/or smaller sporting events. If we are working with a local event manager, we always attempt to convince that person to have a great vision, set high goals and not think small. The initial branding of a new event is important and it is just as easy to brand a new event as a regional championship rather than just a local city event. Such re-branding helps with the image of the event and to attract participants to a new event. The major goal then becomes making certain that the event actually lives up to the reputation that has been created.

Emphasize your customer service

Every event – big or small – needs adequate support. The better you service your customers, which are your rights-holders and their events, the better reputation you will develop with that event and others to follow. Event directors always talk about their event locations with other event directors. It doesn’t take long for a good reputation to be spread amongst new customers.

The ability to acquire and hold a quality set of volunteers is also very important. Whether an event needs two volunteers or 200, soliciting and supplying good volunteers to assist in event operations is a key ingredient in your image as a great partner.  Different sports commissions provide different services based on the size of their commission or department, but some of the important services right-holders respond to are always the common denominators: local marketing and promotions, venue procurement, volunteer recruitment, government relations and bid development. It is important to determine what areas and levels of service your organization can supply to an event.

You don’t need to have spent your life in sports to understand these basic tenets of sports event attraction. Is it a complete list? Not by a long shot. Are there other key factors? Yes, in fact, there are many. However, these recommendations are a good start for any individual, organization or city looking to attract, grow or establish sporting events.

Finally, don’t try to be an overnight success in the bidding process. Set your own attainable goals for growth. Work hard and work smart every day. Listen to sound advice and you’ll find yourself achieving the event goals that you’ve set and making a difference in your community.

About the Author

R. Ron Sertz

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