Corporate Games Bring Field Day Back to Life
12 Aug, 2021By: Mary Helen Sprecher
Remember Field Day in school? It was basically a day-long outdoor recess, with kids engaged in racing, playing and enjoying good-natured competition – generally for nothing more than bragging rights (those lasted pretty much that one day – but were fun while they lasted).
Corporate games, usually organized by a sports commission, are the grown-up version of grade school field day, with the additional element of team building thrown in. And they create great experiences for the participants.
In fact, says Karl Schmitt Jr., President & CEO of the Louisville Sports Commission, organizers of the Louisville Sports Commission Corporate Games, they’re offered around the U.S.
“I think it’s worth noting there are a number of sports commissions around the country putting these on,” he says. “Indianapolis has been doing theirs for at least 10 years, and we studied their model to get started.”
“Oh, we stole ours from Indianapolis too,” adds Jenny Carnes of the San Antonio Sports Commission, which puts on a similar event, the San Antonio Sports Corporate Cup. “I was in Indy in 2011 and I went out to lunch with Indiana Sports Corp and heard about it. I came home and went right into my boss’s office and said, ‘We have to do this.’”
That's welcome news to Indiana, according to Ryan Vaughn, Indiana Sports Corp President
“Indiana Sports Corp took over the Corporate Challenge from the Indy Chamber in 1996," he notes. "Since then, the annual event has brought together an average of 100 Central Indiana companies per year and created a day of team-building and camaraderie for thousands of Hoosier employees. What started as a basketball tournament, golf outing, and run/walk has transformed into a multiple-day fundraiser for Indiana Sports Corp consisting of more than 20 different activities including tug-of-war, dodgeball, and cycling at the iconic Indianapolis Motor Speedway.”
Different cities and states continue to assimilate the concept. Louisville is preparing to offer its fourth Corporate Games (they weren’t offered in 2020) in mid-September. Sports are divided into two categories: competitive and non-competitive, mirroring the two types of participants.
“People generally fall into several categories,” says Karl Schmitt. “Some people are very competitive. They have a real passion for a particular sport like volleyball or basketball. They may belong to a league that plays regularly. Then you have the people who have competed in the past and understand how a sport works so their company might say, ‘Hey, why don’t you come out and help out. Others are really just interested in having fun. You want to try to offer an experience for all those people.”
“We definitely see both competitive and non-competitive people,” says Carnes. “That’s one of my favorite things about the event.”
It’s reflected in the amount of effort companies put into preparation, she adds.
“Some of them put a lot of resources and training time into it. Others are into the tailgating and networking and that’s it for them.”
Competitive events offered at the Louisville event include 3x3 basketball, 4x4 soccer, dodgeball, lawn pong, tug-of-war, volleyball, cornhole and others. Non-competitive events include a wellness walk, food drive, sports equipment drive, parallel parking contest, team tent or tailgate competition (because there isn’t any alcohol involved, the emphasis is on the food, theme and fun), as well as others. (A full list of all activities can be found here). Companies can participate in as many (or as few) events as they like.
“We have a broad spectrum of events, and we try to make things inclusive and not intimidating,” says Carnes. “We have a wellness 2K walk and a 5K, and it goes all the way to 3x3 basketball, golf, football throw and soccer kicks. We also have fun things like a hula hoop challenge, obstacle course, swim relay and 4x100 relay. Everything outside of the wellness walk and the 5K is designed to be team-oriented and to build camaraderie. Our slogan is “Let us plan your company picnic” because that’s what it really is for a lot of people.”
Sometimes, the events grow organically.
“Companies started showing up with their tents and it turned into this tailgate party,” recalls Carnes. “It was like an Alabama football tailgate team. They have people whose job it is to set up and decorate their tents, they have dances, pep rallies – they’re out there having a great time.”
Both events have preventing sponsors in the wellness space; Louisville works with Humana and San Antonio with OrthoNow. Both have other sponsors as well.
Schmitt notes that Louisville charges a per-company registration fee based on the size of the company itself.
“What we’ve learned is that companies have certain buckets of money that are designated for employee health and wellness programs, and events like this are what they’re looking for.”
He advises companies thinking of starting corporate events to concentrate on what is important – and leave the peripherals behind.
“You really have to pay attention to the experience. Whatever you say you’re going to do, deliver a great experience. Listen to what people say, take into consideration what they suggest. At first, we spent a lot of time talking about what we were going to feed people and then we realized we didn’t have to go through all that; people can go anywhere and get a meal but they can’t go anywhere and get a field day. Don’t worry about the wraparound stuff. Find partners – the local YMCA provides officials, and a fitness club helps us out with some other events. Have rules and guidelines set up and make sure people can have fun and find something they want to do.”
And at the end of the day, it’s about making connections and strengthening teams.
“It’s interesting,” says Carnes. “People will be out having a good time and you’ll see CEOs who are meeting people who work out in the field. You see people networking and sharing – there are so many great stories that come out of this.”