Bidding To Win

There are many factors that make a city a world-class events host and many cities that believe they have what it takes when it comes to staging major events, writes Rachael Church-Sanders, editorial director of Major Events International. Over the last decade, the process of bidding for major events and then subsequently hosting them has become more sophisticated with cities realising that they need to tick an increasing list of boxes to establish whether costs are worth the returns. Meanwhile, having a designated blueprint and body within a national, federal or local government to target events and work out what they can do for a city is a major factor in determining a successful events city.

If an event can be made to wash its face financially, there are many benefits from hosting a major sports event such as image, public support and legacies ranging from environmental and social through to economic. But major events are no longer seen by successful sports cities in isolation. Those cities recognise that hosting one major event every few years is no longer enough to make them truly great event hosts. They need to create a calendar of annual events that keeps sports federations, athletes and visitors coming back to their cities year after year. Increasingly those annual event lists are including home-grown events allowing a city to showcase its particular expertise and locations to the best of its ability. Cultural events are also being acknowledged as being part of a major events portfolio and increasingly managed under the same umbrella as sports events by the more successful host cities.


Changing Trends

When it comes to size of events, experts recognise that there is an increasing trend for some cities to move away from bidding for mega events such as an Olympic Games or FIFA World Cup in favour of events that are more affordable to stage.

Terrence Burns, managing director, Teneo Strategy, believes that some cities simply just don’t want to host mega events anymore. “We’ve been going about it wrong and times have changed,” he explains. “We are in reflective point in terms of the world’s economy and perhaps properties like the IOC and FIFA should organise a host cities development group with potential candidate cities where they look at long term opportunities rather than leaving it to chance every two years. They need to take a more strategic approach to their franchises by saying these are the four or five places we want to be in over the next 20 years.” Burns believes the likes of the IOC and FIFA should take action now. “Let’s start working with those potential bid cities and countries right away so that they are ready when the time comes and are therefore not burdened with something that’s almost always impossible to achieve in a seven year build up.”


Less is More

When it comes to the world championships of major sports properties sitting below the IOC and FIFA properties, there is already trend for significantly less bids, often down to one or two cities, according to Lars Haue-Pedersen, managing director, TSE Consulting. “Things have to be reconsidered as far as the Olympics goes,” he says. “If you look at the most successful sports commercially such as Formula One and tennis and golf, what characterises them is that we know where they are going to be held for the next five or 10 years. They might add or take away stops to keep their events dynamic, but they don’t have to find new hosts every single year. They work on a circuit-based system which is much more sustainable than choosing a host and then not going back there for 20 years or so.”

Hazem Galal, partner, PwC, seconds the opinion that a city’s sporting calendar should rely on recurring events and making sure that they are a part of these events year in and year out. “That is much more beneficial compared to going for the big events that probably will be once in a lifetime or once in 20 years that come your way. That is a much safer approach for smaller and medium-sized cities in terms of managing and reducing risk.”


Managing Risk

Indeed when it comes to managing risk, should cities be trying to find the right event that fits their own criteria rather than throwing cash at the biggest prize on offer?

Galal believes it really depends on what a city has as its main objectives for hosting an event. “If it is all about branding your city and making sure you get the world’s attention for a good reason, then a small city like Doha would have every right to dream and become ambitious, provided that they have the resources to do so and if it is part of a longer term strategy for the city. The danger is, if you are a city that doesn’t have the resources and hasn’t really thought through the legacy, that is where it can lead to potential risks.”


Balance of Power

The balance of power between cities and rights holders is often a tricky part of the major events equation according to Burns. “At some point we have to understand and think about whether is there an audience to support the events that these cities are hosting. There is a delicate balance between the city’s needs and the rights owner’s needs. Another variable in this equation that we haven’t yet talked about is what makes a great event.” He believes that rights owners have to look at future ones not only in the construct of whether they have the money and the venues and desire, but also whether they can put on a show and create a festival and a celebration around this event. “That’s an intangible as to what makes an event a great event. One of the benefits of taking an event to a large city like London is the large population that can support that event. It is just a great world destination.”

When it comes to a city or country’s major events strategy, is the end game always going to be hosting an Olympics or the World Cup? Haue-Pedersen believes: “To a certain extent yes, people want to see things moving forwards and not backwards and see things moving up and not down but that does not mean that every city should ultimately end up as an Olympic Games or World Cup bidder. But there needs to be a certain flow in this and that is what an event strategy for a city is really about. It is about creating that dynamic flow where the citizens and the politicians are constantly looking forwards and not back. When a city gets into this game they should realise that this is a dynamic race and the stakes will get higher and higher but of course the city will be more and more experienced and be able to benefit more and more from hosting these larger events. But whether it should be an Olympic Games or a World Cup, that is less important as there are other major events out there.”


Successful Event Strategies

Haue-Pedersen doesn’t agree with the phrase ‘bid to lose’ that is often bandied around in the industry. “I recommend that a city needs to win even if they lose, meaning that if anything else than winning a major bid is a disaster then they should probably not get into it.” He believes that a successful event strategy comes down to which perspective the city is viewing it from: “A good event strategy for a city is a strategy which helps the city move forward on things that are really important to the city - and that’s not the event. However, the event can help drive that development. The event strategy for Copenhagen as an example is about highlighting the things and reinforcing the developments that are already important in Copenhagen and then the event can help reinforce that development.” He adds that cities need to ask how much would an event help improve their city compared to if they did not organise that event? “In principle London did not need the Olympics to rebuild East London for example but events can make change happen faster. Event strategy from a city perspective is really about using the events in a smart way so that the city moves forward. Then you have a good strategy.

The final word on this subject goes to Burns who sums up as follows: “The best cities are ones with the strongest vision.”

The above article is an extract from a forthcoming SportBusiness Ultimate Sports City White Paper on Event Strategy. For further information visit

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