The moment fans buy tickets for the SEC Baseball Tournament at the Hoover Met Complex near Birmingham, the anticipation builds for an immersive experience that’s as much about entertainment as it is about championship baseball. During the games, fans scream, ring cowbells and do whatever it takes to support teams to victory.
However, between games (or if their team is eliminated), they are treated to the SEC Baseball FanFest. It’s there they can ride a zipline, hop on a Ferris wheel, play a ton of games, listen to live bands, and eat their weight in the region’s best barbeque. Regardless of how their team performed, it’s hard for fans to not come away from the experience saying “WOW” and instantly considering a ticket purchase for the following year.
For event owners, the number of “WOW” moments they can produce is the key to ensuring that their events reach “must-attend” status for teams, athletes, and fans. Creating that “WOW” moment is critical because these groups’ expectations continue to rise year after year.
But how do you create that “WOW” moment at your event? And how can you create it within your budget? Below are tips and strategies for making your event an irresistible draw for athletes and their families.
Listen to Your Audience
Keeping your event fresh starts with listening to your customers. Innovative ideas are great, but only if they fulfill a consumer need. The only true way to know what people want out of your event is to ask them. After each event, Hype Nation, a volleyball event brand, sends out an e-mail survey to all coaches and parents. The survey focuses on two areas, pre-event communication (“Were all your questions answered prior to the event?”) and the overall experience, including customer service, facility quality, and the level of officiating. This information is used to help optimize event operations and produce future events.
While tools such as email and event apps garner feedback are highly successful, Jack Adams, Vice President, Sports & Entertainment Venues at the Sports Facilities Companies, expressed the importance of engaging guests during the event. “The best feedback we’ve gotten has been by simply getting on the ground or going into the audience during events and asking for feedback. Not only are you getting information while it’s top of mind, but it exhibits a level of personal care that helps an event stand out.”
Find Partners for Your Event
Regardless of the sport, several potential partners can heighten the participant experience. A potential impactful event partner is your region’s convention and visitor’s bureau (CVB). As ambassadors of your host city, CVBs are uniquely positioned to support your event in several ways. CVBs can curate local experiences for event attendees. For example, Visit Tampa Bay arranges behind-the-scenes tours of local attractions like the Florida Aquarium and Busch Gardens for event attendees.
CVBs can use digital platforms to introduce their city to tournament attendees as well. For example, with their “Passport to Fun,” Visit Myrtle Beach provides information and discounts on area attractions. Invited guests go online and check off each place they’ve visited. Guests then are entered into a sweepstake for a free return trip to Myrtle Beach.
CVBs also provide access to local vendors, gather volunteers, pull permits, and generate sponsor opportunities for events. These items reduce planning time for event owners and allow them to focus on other operational and promotional details.
The venue itself also serves as an important partner for your event. Whether helping with concessions, providing scorekeepers, or offering superior customer service, the venue is a key ally. At Panama City Beach Sports Complex, a squad of greeters welcomes teams to the venue at each tournament and helps them carry equipment to their respective fields. While the venue provides this service, it’s a benefit that participants consider when thinking about their event experience.
Additional partner ideas include:
• Work with local companies to create an interactive fan zone, including retail shops, family entertainment centers and food trucks.
• Provide immersive experiences like the Adidas Volleyball Experience where athletes perform skills tests and receive assessments.
• Host an autograph session with local celebrities.
• Partner with a local mobile gaming company to provide an athletes’ lounge filled with video game consoles. You can also add non-tech games such as ping-pong tables
Many tech tools can significantly elevate the participant and guest experience. For example, Kansas City Royals fans can now receive “loaded” tickets, including a QR code that allows them to buy food and retail items without leaving their seats.
RFID wristbands work similarly and allow guests to easily enter and exit the venue or grant them access to specific parts of an event. RFID wristbands can also be used to provide incentives to attendees to visit specific event areas such as a vendor’s village or a concession stand. Guest “passports” can be created digitally on RFID wristbands, and attendees can wave their band at designated check-in areas. Prizes are given away when the passport is filled.
In each case, these technologies provide events with the extra benefit of being able to track guest buying habits. The data generated can be used to enhance event features and promote products that guests have expressed interest in.
Events can also benefit from tools such as Open Area by Density which gathers attendee data by using sensors to calculate facility occupancy. Open Area works as a “digital turnstile” tracking when a person enters a venue. This technology recognizes when people are gathering around specific courts, common areas or restrooms, for example and can compare items such as food and beverage sales to event attendance. This information can be analyzed to determine what aspects of an experience attendees visited the most or how event layout positively or negatively impacted the experience.
Apps can enhance the event experience as well. Athletes and families visiting Rocky Top Sports World in Gatlinburg, TN can download a free app that provides information on local lodging. The app also offers discounts on local restaurants and entertainment options and includes event schedules, a venue map, and the ability order food from the concession area.
Video streaming became an indispensable part of many of our lives during the COVID-19 pandemic. “While the technology was initially used to share event action with people who couldn’t attend an event, we are starting to see it used by coaches who need game film to provide additional instruction. It’s also used by parents who want to capture specific highlights of their kid’s performance but don’t want to carry around a camera all day,” said Adams.
Provide the Big Game Experience for Young Athletes
All athletes want to feel like they are in the big leagues, and the top events and venues create experiences to foster that feeling. For example, when young baseball players come to Ballparks of America in Branson, Missouri for events such as the Babe Ruth World Series, they are immersed in the Major League Baseball experience. This includes playing in ballparks that emulate legendary places such as Yankee Stadium and Wrigley Field. What truly stands out is that each game features an announcer who calls the player’s name as they come to bat just like in the big leagues.
A popular feature showing up at tournaments is a players’ lounge or an area where athletes can rest between games. These areas have items young athletes enjoy, such as video game consoles.
Providing the big game experience can also help you market your event to new participants, particularly elite teams and athletes. Producing team and player profiles and posting them to social media can draw interest from other teams competing with the featured squad. The best teams and players want to measure their abilities against other great teams and players. They also want to draw the attention of college coaches. That’s why tournaments such as the Adidas Gauntlet announce the specific coaches attending their regional and national events.
Other big game features that you can bring to your event include:
• Photographers and videographers to capture game action
• A live DJ and walk-up music
• Posting video recaps daily on social media
Don’t Forget About Non-Athletes
While catering to the participating athletes is a fundamental part of producing a fresh and memorable event, it’s nearly as important to consider parents and non-participating children in planning. The partnership with your host facility is critical when building this component of the guest experience.
The Hoover Met Complex partners with tournaments to provide free climbing time for non-participating athletes at their family entertainment center. “We want to provide an engaging, all-day experience for our guests. To do this, we provide activities to keep the whole family engaged,” said John Sparks, Vice President of Account Management for the Sports Facilities Companies.
One gesture that can help win the hearts of parents is providing device charging stations. If you’ve ever attended a tournament, regardless of the sport, you know that it can be an all-day affair, and a charged tablet can go a long way in keeping non-participant children occupied.
It’s the Little Things That Make an Event Unique
We’ve mentioned a few large-scale actions that can keep your event fresh and help it stand out, but there are several smaller gestures that can be equally effective. The Hoover Met complex helps their events stand out and produce additional revenue by creating signature food items for their tournaments.
“In the past, we’ve worked with events to produce pulled pork sandwiches, hot dogs, and even smoothies that matched both the audience and the theme for the event,” said Sparks.
Another example of a small item making a huge impact is at the East Coast Pro Showcase. The baseball tournament partners with Adidas to produce custom shoes on-site for guests.
Use Social Media to Enhance and Promote the Event Experience
We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the role that social media can play in making your event memorable. Along with providing attendees with event information, social media platforms can be used to conduct giveaways. Ask event attendees to share your post in exchange for a fun, branded item. Attendees sharing posts helps build awareness of your event with your audience. You can also develop daily highlight packages and post on YouTube, Facebook, or TikTok. Additionally, you can also give athletes the star treatment by interviewing them on Facebook or Instagram Live.
Another way to integrate social media into the event experience is renting a photo booth with instant social media sharing capabilities or setting up an Instagrammable moment at your event. This could be a large display such as a giant volleyball ball, a step and repeat banner, or an event mascot. Hashtags can be used to help promote these experiences.
In each of these tips, you can find a commitment to giving customers what they want. Keeping events fresh is as much about understanding the changing needs of athletes and their families as it is about developing innovative concepts. Communicate with your audience, and they will tell what they want from your event. Then, if you commit to fulfilling their needs with heart and a little flare, you’ll provide the “WOW” moment that signifies great events. SDM