Sports Planners Rise to the Challenge of Planning for Hurricane Matthew's Uncertain Course
19 Oct, 2016By: Mary Helen Sprecher
Hurricane Matthew was the epitome of a fan displaying poor sportsmanship. He ruined games for everyone else and left a mess in his wake. Worst of all, he was completely uncommitted until the last minute, leaving planners guessing as to whether he would go out to sea or come inland. When he ultimately made landfall, his actions had rights holders scrambling to postpone, or outright cancel, their scheduled events.
The storm finally pounded the east and southeast caused deaths and over two million power outages across five states. Even after Matthew was downgraded to a post-tropical cyclone on Sunday, October 9, and moved out to sea, officials warned that the worst was not over. It could take days before waters crested and repair crews were able to reach all of those who had been affected, they noted.
Sports events necessarily had to take a back seat to the storm, although not without some dithering. Case in point: the Florida/LSU match-up was up in the air for days, with both sides arguing about home-field advantage and going off-schedule. Ultimately, the game was postponed once “it became clear that the University of Florida could neither host nor travel to a game this weekend considering the circumstances,” said SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey in an interview published in SEC Week.
The Georgia/South Carolina matchup, meanwhile, was pushed back a day, but was ultimately played.
Some areas didn’t have as much trouble making the decision. According to the Post and Courier, the South Carolina High School League announced that football season would be extended one week to allow this week's postponed games to be played at the end of the season. In fact, almost all football games and high school events on Friday on the east coast of Florida and the southeastern coasts of Georgia were either postponed or canceled.
The Bank of America NASCAR Race was also affected. The Charlotte Observer noted that the race, which has been rescheduled for noon Sunday (NBC), was postponed due to rain coming from Hurricane Matthew. It ultimately was followed by the Race For The Cure 300 Xfinity race (NBC Sports Network), which had been postponed from that Friday. (It was the second consecutive weekend there would be a Cup-Xfinity doubleheader; the previous week’s scheduled Xfinity race at Dover, Delaware, International Speedway was rained out Saturday and run Sunday before the Cup race.)
Other events also suffered. The Web.com Tour Championship, a golf tournament scheduled to be played near Jacksonville, Florida, was canceled (meaning players lost their final chances to get a PGA Tour card), and Thursday’s Tampa Bay at Florida preseason NHL game was postponed.
And with roads impassable, triathlons, marathons, 10Ks, 5Ks and more were a washout. In Florida, the Jacksonville Marine Corps Half-Marathon and Freedom 5K, both scheduled for Saturday of that weekend, were cancelled. In South Carolina, the Lowcountry Trail Half Marathon and 5K scheduled for Saturday were called off. Myrtle Beach postponed a rodeo and a bridge run as well as a fundraising walk to end Alzheimer’s. Postponing events such as marathons creates problems, since the original schedules were made after consultation with other event owners and with the goal of not conflicting with those events.
The Seagull Century, a fundraising bicycle ride held on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, was cancelled last year because of Hurricane Joaquin. This year, the Delmarva Peninsula saw rain and wind, and as a result, the event (which went on as scheduled) had a slightly smaller crowd. Many riders elected to drop back to shorter routes (for example, doing the Metric Century of 100K rather than the traditional 100-mile route) and the event had fewer volunteers on the course, as well.
And with hundreds of flights cancelled that would have flown from or landed in the Southeast, ancillary sports events suffered a few setbacks. Those who were in affected areas and who wanted to fly into Chicago for the Chicago Marathon, for example, were stuck. Marathon organizers tweeted that affected runners could have their entry deferred to the following year. Sports facilities suffered dreadfully; in fact, Myrtle Beach made a photo essay showing Matthew's impact on golf venues in the area. It also created a mechanism to check on the status of all local golf courses.
CVBs helped visitors and tourism groups stay informed. Visit Florida set up a Florida Now page, with information on the most current weather conditions and safety information. North Carolina's ReadyNC site carried news during and after the storm. The Discover South Carolina site's home page included a listing of information on various counties so that the tourism market could learn when and where it was safe to travel. Explore Georgia offered similar resources. Individual cities, such as Savannah, posted messages of welcome and reassurance in pop-ups that appeared as soon as someone clicked on the website for Visit Savannah.
In many ways, it was a rerun of last year when at almost the exact same time, Hurricanes Joaquin and Patricia roared into town. Following the frustrations and cancellations caused by those storms, Sports Destination Management featured a poll on its website, noting that Atlantic hurricane season ran from June to November. Planners were asked if the possibility of bad weather affected their site selection process. A total of 31.58 percent of respondents said it did affect their decision-making. Another 21.05 percent said it wasn’t a factor. One segment (36.84 percent) did consider it but said it was not a deciding factor, and 10.53 percent said it did not apply to them.