Q&A: Jennah Wootten, Chief Executive, World Masters Games 2017

The Organising Committee of the World Masters Games 2017 recently celebrated its ‘Three Years To Go’ milestone in Auckland, New Zealand. As the clock ticks down, MEI’s editorial director Rachael Church-Sanders spoke with the chief executive of the event, Jennah Wootten, to get an update on progress and see what Auckland has in store for masters’ athletes worldwide.


What is your background and how did you end up in the industry?

“Events wasn’t exactly part of my master plan but after a brief encounter with teaching, an opportunity arose to step into facility management which focused on motorsport and international music concerts. Since then, I haven’t looked back. I’ve worked in the sector now for over a decade, in the sport and major event space. This has included time in blue chip corporates, local government, national sporting organisations, agencies and now a local organising committee. I’ve experienced major events from every perspective and it was fond memories of leading Auckland’s Rugby World Cup 2011 NZ$97m delivery programme that prompted me to apply for this particular role. An opportunity to deliver from a blank canvas, from day one, doesn’t come along often. Certainly not in your own home town.”


Why did Auckland bid to host the World Masters Games 2017?

“Auckland has big aspirations to become a globally recognised major event destination and judging by the recently awarded third place in the 2014 SportBusiness Ultimate Sports Cities awards, it is making great progress. Two key outcomes within the city’s major events strategy are increasing visitor nights and driving new money into the economy. WMG2017 contributes significantly to these. We’re planning to host 25,000 athletes from 100 countries across 10 days, generating approximately 250,000 visitor nights for Auckland and NZ$36m of GDP. Delivering the best World Masters Games to date will also demonstrate that Auckland can successfully host multisport events of scale and help the region take one step further into the events limelight, to hopefully secure more major events.”


How would you describe the World Masters Games?

“Something of a blank canvas as far as multisport major events go. As the event is held every four years by a new host city, there is an opportunity to innovate and bring something new to the table. The participants in the Games attend for many reasons – for the sporting competition, the social programme and the allure of the destination – and what unites them is a love of sport. I hope New Zealand through its scenic beauty, cultural identity, quirky sense of fun and unshakeable sporting passion will create something unique and set the bar very high for future hosts.”


When will it take place and what’s involved?

“We have just announced the dates being 21–30 April 2017. The dates fall in the New Zealand tourism shoulder season and within the school holidays which is good for two reasons. Firstly there is more capacity in areas such as transport and secondly it means families including children can take part as volunteers and spectators. Autumn is also mild in New Zealand with clear fine days without the hot humid spells of summer so perfect conditions for sporting competition. The sporting programme will include up to 30 sports of which roughly half are core. We are currently deciding on the optional sports. Full details on the sport programme will be announced in late June 2014.”


How is the event funded?

“The Games will cost NZ$34m to stage. Auckland Council and the New Zealand Government have each invested NZ$11m. The remaining NZ$12m will come from athlete registration fees and commercial sponsorship. So it’s a true example of public/private sector partnership.”


What preparations are taking place now, and is everything on schedule?

“Having just celebrated three years to go we are in a great place. We have developed a brand and launched digital channels to facilitate ease of communication for local and international audiences. We will announce the sports programme in June and competition venues in late 2014. In terms of our organisation, I believe we are building a world class delivery team with extensive skills and experience spanning many major international sporting events. This places us in good stead to remain on schedule to deliver the best World Masters Games ever.”


What have been the main challenges so far in organising an event of this magnitude?

“Delivering a multisport event is very different to something like the Rugby World Cup which New Zealand delivered very successfully in 2011. We have been working with more than 30 sports partners and have run a contestable process to ensure we understand capability, capacity, opportunity and challenges across each sport. Getting the sporting programme right is of paramount importance and it’s something we’ve focused on very early.”


How important are volunteers to the staging of the event?

“We estimate we will need 5,500 volunteers to stage the Games. That’s a big number. About twice the number as were required in Auckland for Rugby World Cup 2011. Managing this size of workforce presents a logistical challenge but it’s a challenge we’re happy to take on. Volunteering presents an opportunity for New Zealanders to give back and be a part of a global sporting event. New Zealand is known for being a warm, friendly country and our volunteers will be the human face of the event. We can’t do it without them.”


How supportive have media and the public been so far?

“It’s very early days but we have been heartened by the response to our three years to go celebrations. We announced our first five ambassadors being Olympic swimmer Anthony Mosse, Olympic gold medal winning triathlete Hamish Carter, international sports administrator and squash icon Susie Simcock, NZ businessman and masters stalwart Garth Barfoot and TV personality and ex-netball Silver Fern Jenny-May Coffin. They each have a unique story to tell about their reasons for being involved with the event. We achieved some strong media coverage of the milestone despite being three years away. People are already talking about what they will compete in, and whether they will try something new, which for us is early recognition of the fact that this is such an inclusive event.”


How is social media being used to promote the event?

“At the three years milestone, we launched a new website and social media including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google Plus and YouTube. We are currently using these channels to communicate information such as the Games dates and to answer a steady stream of customer queries. Social media for us is a way of establishing a two-way dialogue with athletes and understanding from them what they want and expect. Later on the purpose of the channels will change to one of driving registrations and sharing important Games-time information. We are lucky to be promoting the WMG2017 at a time when social media is truly ubiquitous.”


What will be the main legacies for Auckland and New Zealand?

“WMG2017 is another chance to present Auckland to the world – both as a visitor and major event destination. Aucklanders already love their sport and need no excuse to get involved, but we hope to support the Olympic movement and promote the ‘sport for all’ philosophy as it applies to masters athletes. Sport is not only a way of keeping fit but also a way of making friends and socialising. So the economic benefit of an event like the Games is enhanced by a social benefit that is inclusive and long lasting.”

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