Planning to succeed

Sport Business News

They say that if you fail to plan you plan to fail and that's certainly true in the complex world of major sports events. Rachael Church–Sanders, author of the SportBusiness Ultimate Sports Cities Reports, takes up the story.

Although some cities have been accused of not giving enough consideration to hosting sports events after winning them in the past, most major ones now have the models in place to prevent mistakes of old being repeated. A danger however still remains that less–experienced cities entering the hosting game for the first time may still make those errors and would therefore benefit from some event planning expertise. Jon Coxeter–Smith, who works for AECOMs Davis Langdon – a business with over five decades of experience in planning and delivering major events – and who is a director in the AECOM Global Sports Group, has a personal opinion that successful event planning isnt necessarily a given now the industry is ostensibly more sophisticated. On the one hand best practice, 'state of the art' [event planning], is being moved forward and London 2012 provides many exemplars of this, he explains. But on the other hand we can see that some cities continue to struggle with the scale and complexities of the challenge. The ongoing reporting of Brazil 2014 [FIFA World Cup] and the recently published Comptroller and Auditor General of India's Performance Audit on the Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games provides overwhelming evidence of this. The huge sums of money involved in running a major event mean they are always going to attract their fair share of scrutiny. Running a major event is big business after all, says Andrew Sharp, partner of Event Planning Group. Its generally all about public–funded money in terms of the high profile events and therefore there is that accountability in terms of organising committees and government bodies to really deliver something that not only performs for the event but also has an ongoing legacy for the community and the country. Working under the strapline Global Reach, Local Focus, Event Planning Group offers a range of services and resources to a wide variety of organising committees of many major events globally. The companys CV includes work on the Rugby World Cup 2003 and 2007, the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games, the 2007 Cricket World Cup, Beijing 2008 and the England 2018 World Cup Bid, and is currently working on several high profile events due to happen in the next few years. From consultancy to logistics, technology, security and overlay, Event Planning Group is able to offer a range of solutions to organising committees of any size event. Sharp believes that more consideration is now definitely being put into planning an event than previously. Particularly in the last decade, the industry has become much more knowledgeable in terms of how to deliver an event, he says. The knowledge transfer exists and is documented from event to event more thoroughly so theres a planning model that can be adapted to every event, but the delivery model isnt always the same. It does depend a lot of things such as local environment and capability and event profile. The planning model and the framework to get to that delivery process is continually evolving and can be applied across all events. But why would an organising committee come to a company such as Event Planning Group for help? Sharp explains: We have experience of working across this landscape for many years and understanding the requirements and demands placed upon an organising committee. Major events start up from scratch so the knowledge and experience isnt always in the core team of executives that were part of the bid for example, so they may look to find expertise externally. Where we really add value is being able to justify and challenge some of the requirements of the external stakeholders. Rushmans is another highly experienced company offering major event planning expertise to organising committees and event organisers. Nigel Rushman, founder of Rushmans, believes that the industry throws up multiple challenges that need addressing. Today's major sports events are massively complex projects which carry the hopes and expectations not only of their organisers but of entire nations, he says. Whilst event experience is essential and knowledge transfer a key asset, the fact is that no two projects are identical means there are no one–size–fits–all solutions in event planning and management. Davis Langdons Coxeter–Smith agrees that there can never be perfect fit model to running a major event: Breaking an event down into modules for example is a fairly classic way of 'eating the elephant' but it all needs to come together in one, comprehensive plan at the top level. There are many examples over history of problems arising out of fragmentation, out of treating each piece as if it is the only piece. While the classic challenges are constant – i. e. Leadership, Capacity, Ability, Skills – levels of each are variable from place to place, so solutions need to be particularised to recognise the resources available at each location. Paul Bush OBE, chief operating officer for EventScotland, (with Scotland the host nation for the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games and 2014 Ryder Cup), agrees: There are always basic logistical and planning elements to all events but each will have their unique requirements too based on the type of event, its location and scale etc. Brendan McClements, chief executive of Victorian Major Events Company (VMEC) in Melbourne, provides another host city view: Whilst there are common elements to all events – functional areas like operations, finance, media, commercial, transport and so on – its important to take the time to understand the event, whats required to deliver it and the benefits it has the potential to deliver to the relevant sport and to the host city. Nigel Rushman has spent many years listening to event organisers and looking at the mechanics of a major event, but recognises event planning is not an exact science: Without the aid of a very large piece of paper and an almost inexhaustible pen, it is nearly impossible to envision all of the different, highly–specialised and often inter–linked functions which have to work in harmony to make an event happen, he explains. Each is an individual project and each involves lots of people and lots of egos; a combination which means that rational thinking and decision making all too often goes out of the door. Rushman believes an holistic approach to planning and delivery should be adopted by event organisers, requiring the elimination of the 'silo mentality' that exists in so many events and using a joined–up collaborative approach to identifying and solving problems in the cause of achieving the final objective. To that end, Rushmans has introduced Rushmans Major Event Architecture (RMEa) in order to give organising committees access to the same sort of planning tool that some of the worlds biggest and most successful corporations from industries as diverse as aviation and IT have been successfully using for some years. Working with our partners, weve harnessed 25 years of specific events experience to a system which effectively unravels the complexity of an event to allow optimisation of resources and capabilities, avoid duplication and to motivate staff and stakeholders, explains Rushman. In essence RMEa is a unique visualisation technique which draws all stakeholders into a truly collaborative environment which ensures understanding. It eliminates assumption and miscomprehension and fosters a sense of purpose and unity among the event team. In that way we can plot a journey from inception to completion, identify obstacles and challenges along the way and finding ways of overcoming them. Such a journey should start immediately according to VMECs McClements – and by immediately he means at bid level. To run a successful bid, you need a clear vision and a high level approach to event planning. You often need to be able to paint a picture of what the event will look like, where and when it will be held, the principles that will underpin delivery and the expected legacy, as well as who the key players will be – this only comes with a degree of event planning. Coxeter–Smith from Davis Langdon agrees: Planning is an iterative process with each iteration exploring new levels of detail. At a high level at least, there should be a plan in place at the time of bidding. We start planning for some events up to 10 years in advance, adds Bush from EventScotland. The bidding process can have positive impacts on legacy and sustainability, along with the impacts of the event itself years later. Planning and running a major event means negotiating an ever–changing obstacle course according to Rushman. That means having the vision and the tools to be able to look at a project from a range of different angles, identify what needs to be achieved, the barriers which will be faced, the path which must be followed and the impact that any decisions or actions will have on other parts of the project. In terms of facing such barriers, what sorts of things can go wrong when it comes to planning an event and how can you best manage them? Anything and everything can go wrong, says McClements. When the wheels fall off, you discover just how solid your event planning is. Last year, for example, our national football code [AFL] Grand Final ended with a tied score for the first time since 1977. No one expected it, and you couldnt really plan for it. This meant that one week later, 100, 000 people turned up once again at the Melbourne Cricket Ground to replay the Grand Final – which happened to be the same weekend as the UCI Road World Championships womens and mens road races were held in Geelong. Having a good crisis management/risk assessment model in place is vital according to Bush: Things to consider would include financial viability and close monitoring of cash flows; unexpected global activity such as the ash clouds and riots and the general economy. Your crisis management plan should factor these in and then its a case of putting it into practice. When it comes to the successful planning and running of an event, McClements believes it is critical to have absolute clarity on what the event is and what the host city/country is trying to achieve in hosting the event. The management consultants mantra – strategy, structure, and staff – rings true, he explains. Whether youre running a global consumer goods business or a major sporting event, if you get the strategy, structure and staff right, you will have a world class major event on your hands. Rushman stresses that teamwork is vital to success: Perhaps the most important aspect of the management of any complex project is ensuring that every single key individual involved is aware of the goal and their role and that they are empowered to contribute fully and frankly to the process. That means leaving egos at the door and becoming part of a team dedicated to problem–solving and positive action. Davis Langdons Coxeter–Smith has himself identified several elements that are crucial to the smooth running of a major event: Strong leadership and governance; absolute clarity of objective – why are we doing this, what is it for? ; the right people; the right processes; sufficient time and the effective use of time are all essential. The final word goes to Event Planning Groups Sharp who agrees that time is a critical issue. Many organising committees focus so hard on the delivery of the event and dont spend as much time on contingencies for when things dont go according to plan, he says. Its about making sure there is time within the planning phase to really focus on such matters. The most successful events are the ones that spent a great deal of time on risk assessment and contingency as even the best planned event never runs strictly according to plan. Its about being trained and ready and having that flexibility to respond accordingly.

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