5 TIPS from Pros on Planning Sports Events

by Robin Mackinaw

When it comes to running a successful tournament, it’s all about priorities, a game plan and partnerships. Read on for tips from experts from USA Fencing and the Ladies Professional Golf Association Symetra Tour (LPGA) that will help you create the next winning event. “The most important aspect of planning a sporting event is the partnership with the CVB/sports commission as well as breaking down the event logistics,” said Christine Strong Simmons, Sr. Director of Operations for USA Fencing.

“Event logistics include selecting a location/city, venue/hotel contracting, moving and setting up tournament equipment, hiring officials, securing marketing opportunities, local media coverage, taking care of ‘in tournament’ contracts with convention center vendors and executing the tournament on site. Every step USA Fencing takes is on a shared checklist with the logistics, timelines, team assignment and completion dates identified.” Simmons continued,

“The partnership you develop and maintain with the CVB and/or sports commission is essential to running a great tournament. With these partners, you can get expertise and assistance with marketing your event and access to local business partners to help offset costs or even sponsor your tournament. We have a small event staff so the additional assistance with getting the local news to cover our competitions is essential to our success.”

Simmons stressed that “maintaining a successful partnership with the CVB/sports commission and focusing on each detail of the tournament planning makes all the difference when your goal is running a successful tournament and striving to exceed expectations for your attendees.”

Mike Nichols, chief business officer for the LPGA Symetra Tour, oversees the development of the tour’s strategic plan, budget, sales, marketing, owned events, corporate sponsorships and tournament partner relationships, while also identifying new tournament opportunities. Since 2006, Nichols has served as vice president of tournament business affairs at the LPGA, where he has been charged with oversight of the LPGA Tour schedule and involved in the development and addition of numerous LPGA tournaments. As the primary point of contact at more than 10 of the LPGA’s annual sanctioned tournaments, Nichols has been directly involved in tournament contract negotiations, sponsor addition and retention.In recent years, he was a key player in naming of Sybase to title partner of the Sybase Match Play Championship, the acquisition of Navistar and LOTTE as title partners on the LPGA Tour and the growth of the HSBC Brazil Cup in Rio de Janeiro.Nichols offers 5 tips when planning any event:

1. Start With The End In Mind.

“Too many times I’ve seen people so anxious to get started on their events and feel the need to start doing something. Their knee-jerk reaction is to begin work or a project that needs to be done at some point, without a lot of strategy or thought involved. If you are conducting a running event, for example, start at what equipment you need to have on-hand at the finish line and build back from there. If you picture how many participants you will have crossing that finish line, you will know how much parking you need to secure. Don’t just run out to secure parking lots at the start without knowing how much you will need, lest you waste time on too much or feel complacent with too little. If you think back strategically from back to front, you shouldn’t miss anything, not waste any time on unnecessary tasks.”

2. Prioritize Your Constituents.

“Ask yourself, ‘Who is my most important constituent at the event?’ Is it the athletes? The parents? The venue? The CVB? The sponsors? In professional golf, for example, the events don’t happen without the sponsors, so they are the No. 1 priority. That doesn’t mean you don’t care about the athletes, because you want to be sure to annually attract the best, or the venue, because you need their help staging the event and you want them to welcome you back. But there will be times where the different groups may have conflicting agendas so prioritizing this list in advance of the event can help when trying to make a tough decision on a tight timeline.”

3. If No One Noticed, Don’t Sweat It.

“Dropped balls, mistakes and fire drills are inevitable in the events business. When you are running the same events multiple times, you will fix the past mistakes and new ones will rear their head. It’s the nature of live events. As long as your constituents (see No. 2, above) don’t notice or aren’t significantly impacted, don’t sweat it. What seems like the end of the world one day will be forgotten the next. I promise.”

4. Carry A Notepad.

“Perhaps this is my self-diagnosed ADD talking but when you are running events you are inevitably being pulled in multiple directions simultaneously. If you’ve ever carried a radio, you know what I mean. If you commit to someone you will complete a task, write it down. It doesn’t matter how small – as those are the ones that are normally forgotten – and keep in mind they are probably not small to the person asking. If certain tasks don’t need to be done until later in the day or week (and are usually the ones forgotten because they lack urgency), you can attend to them once things settle down – provided you remember them. If you write them down, you won’t forget.”

5. Did Anyone Die Today?

“This is the question I used to ask my staff at the evening meetings we used to hold during the course of the tournament week at the golf tournaments I used to run. It’s admittedly a little dark but it puts into perspective that whatever happened, it’s not the end of the world. Perhaps the mistakes we made as a team cost us a little more money than we’d hoped or the weather dampened attendance and hurt projected revenues. But the sun will come up tomorrow. The nature of the live event business is that with thousands of participants, it’s impossible to plan for every contingency. But you can always strive to do your best. The reason we got into this business is because of the adrenaline, energy and excitement that comes from running events. Don’t forget that when the day doesn’t go as planned. Sometimes the best days immediately follow the worst.”