By Taylor Peyton Strunk
As with any new venture, the concept of launching a new event can be a daunting task, but with the right plan in place, “It’s really the same process as running an existing event,” said David Boyd, event manager of the Columbus Sports Council in Columbus, Ga., which conducts approximately 50 events each year. “The only differences are that you have to do a little more investigating, you have to put a strategic plan in place, and you need to consider that it is going to take a little more time.”
1. Put A Plan In Place
As opposed to an annual event, which can start to run like clockwork year to year, “Planning for a new event can take up to several months, Boyd said. “An annual event can be coordinated with minimal time by using a model you’ve already developed with that particular event.”
With that in mind, Boyd advised that one of the best things any event planner can do is take notes—from start to finish. “When I do an event for the first time, I take copious notes and keep records of everything. That way, the next time it is so much easier to streamline everything. You can make improvements and go into autopilot.”
The one uncontrollable factor that can necessitate a change in plans, however, is Mother Nature. “The single scenario that is the toughest to handle is weather,” Boyd said. “But, if you plan for the worst and hope for the best, you won’t have any surprises. And with a contingency plan in place, you will have all of your bases covered.”
2. Find Your Niche
For Robert Pozo, owner and executive race director of Continental Event and Sports Management Group LLC in Miami, developing a unique concept was crucial to the successful launch of the Divas Half Marathon® and 5K, a destination event held in various locations across the country and Puerto Rico.
In the developmental stage, “We did a lot of exploring to see what people were attending,” Pozo said. “We discovered that women are really participating in a lot of half marathon events and that destinations are a huge draw.”
With the notion of a destination half marathon in place, Pozo and his team began brainstorming a theme. “We came up with the ‘Divas’ name because it has such an allure to it. We developed a feel good-, girl power-type image that we found participants are really drawn to. There’s an added attraction when you do these fun types of events.”
The fact that the race is held in locales with destination draw gives the event bonus inherent appeal, Pozo said. When host city exploration began, however, “We found that you can’t choose the city you go to; the city has to choose you. Ideally, you partner with a city that wants to make you its crown jewel of sporting events.”
Additionally, “You must—for every event—under-promise and over-deliver,” Pozo said. “Cities are getting smarter, so you have to bring in your said room nights and participants. If you fall short, that’s an immediate black eye. Try to find a city willing to grow with you.”
3. Do Your Research
When planning a new event, there is always a little extra legwork involved, including finding out everything you possibly can on the front end about your host city and venue, said Rebecca Davis, executive director of the Youth Amateur Travel Sports Association (YATSA).
Next spring, YATSA will launch the All-American Wood Bat Classic in multiple locations across the nation. A spin-off of the annual event traditionally held over a weekend in Atlanta, the event showcases competitive youth baseball played with a wooden bat.
“One of our biggest challenges has been finding venues that are suitable for the event and are the appropriate size,” Davis said. “Baseball is a regulated sport, so this isn’t an instance in which we can get creative with venues.”
Taking these parameters into consideration, YATSA has had to dig deep and look hard for ideal event locales. Additionally, because of the very nature of the organization, “We have our own set of challenges, because we are dealing with youth, and we are dealing with traveling teams,” Davis said, adding that, with an event like travel baseball, the city has to be accessible.
“We ran into a situation where the city was not accessible and we could not find flights under $700. When you are trying to get 15 kids there, along with their parents and coaches, this poses quite a challenge.”
Effective communication, therefore, is key, Davis said. “We have had much success through a partnership program in which we try to identify key markets for youth travel sports,” she said, adding that the organization has discovered hidden gems through their research. “We tell cities, ‘Even if you don’t have a baseball diamond, let us know what you do have.’ Finding cities with key attractions are just as important as the critical venue itself. When we can identify a city as a destination, we can establish that relationship, and no one’s time and energy are wasted.”
4. Lean On Those In The Know
The host organizations of both the Indoor (Winston-Salem, N.C.) and Outdoor (Allendale, Mich.) NCAA DII Track and Field Nationals this spring will be conducting these national events for the first time. While the championships themselves are not new to the track and field world, both host cities are facing first-time hosting challenges and relying on those “in the know” to prepare for success.
“Whenever you bid on an event like this one, you have to do a great job, and my goal is to want people to come back and return to city and love it as much as I do,” said Katy Tigchelaar, sports manager for the West Michigan Sports Commission, host of the outdoor event. The championship is being held at Grand Valley State University, and Tiglechaar said she has relied heavily on the university’s athletic department and coaches to ensure their bases are covered. “I don’t know a lot about track and field, but having coaches at Grand Valley has been huge in helping us.”
Specifically, Tiglechar said the knowledge from the university’s athletic officials has helped them prepare the facility appropriately. “We found out that NCAA changed the distances for the javelin, so we have to re-grade and move the fences for that field area,” she said. “We also realized that one of the coaches’ areas is not easy to get to if you have multiple athletes in different events at the same time, so the school is looking into adding a secondary gate to make it more convenient for the coaches. Although these things cost money, the school realizes it’s an investment to make the facility better, too.”
The indoor championship will be hosted in Winston-Salem, N.C., utilizing the city’s brand new indoor track and field facility. “JDL Fast Track just came online and it has been great for the state, because this is the only indoor facility designed specifically for track and field,” said Dennis Schroeder, director of sales and services for Visit Winston-Salem.
Prior to the opening of the facility, “We were not a track and field destination,” said Bonny Benat, sports events and sales manager at Visit Winston-Salem. “We had to educate ourselves.”
Bernat said they have relied heavily on the expertise of people in the community who have participated in similar events to appropriately prepare for the championship. “We have facilities in communities close by that have hosted similar events, and we have found individuals who have competed and coached, and both [of these resources] have provided a wealth of knowledge for us.”
“It is key to be a continuous learner,” Schroeder said. “With a new event, you’re not going to be an expert right away, but you should be familiar with the terminology and needs, and you should surround yourself with experts. You have incredible resources in your volunteers and officials. Foster those relationships and, when you have questions, don’t be afraid to ask.”