Take It Viral! A Social Media Road Map For Sports Events

By Taylor Peyton Strunk

Although communication through social media is still, in the grand scheme of things, a relatively new phenomenon, it’s hard to imagine how we ever operated any other way—and sports event planning is no exception.

The sheer number of social media outlets can be a little overwhelming. To help point us all in the right direction, SportsEvents sought the advice of a few professionals who have incorporated social media for event promotion into their regular routine. The results? Liked and shared! Read on…

#wheredoistart?

No matter what type of event you’re holding, “The first step is creating a presence,” said John Souza, founder and chief strategist of Social Media Marketing University (SMMU) and Social Media Magic. “You have to have Twitter and you have to have Facebook and, depending on the type of event, you might add LinkedIn to the mix, too.”

Whichever routes you ultimately choose to utilize, Souza advised a handful of best first steps. At the top of the list? Don’t think an online push is a “once and done” checkmark item. “It’s social media suicide,” he said, adding that this is particularly true of recurring, annual events. “It’s one of the biggest mistakes I see [when working with events], where there will be a large blitz for the 30 days leading up to an event that then totally drops off and disappears as soon as the event is finished. The Facebook algorithm concludes that if no one visits your page for 11 months, you’re essentially an inactive account, so everyone who was following you, you’ve just lost all those people.”

One way to avoid such fallout, Souza advised, is to establish an editorial calendar on the front end. “Include what you’re posting with the event details for participants as well as sponsors and attendees. As the event approaches, you can add to it, but it won’t be so overwhelming.”

Additionally, to help build your initial following, “choose a hashtag you can use year after year,” Souza said, adding that another mistake to avoid is choosing something that is unique to a single year’s event. “A huge mistake is creating a Twitter handle or hashtag each year. If your followers don’t know about the change from a previous event, you’ve lost them. You’re starting from scratch.”

Souza also encouraged getting creative with social media options to draw interest and pick up followers, but to remember there is nothing new under the sun. “Learn to get the best results out of social media by using other successful campaigns as a road map. Do your research and find out what others are doing right and doing wrong and tweak what’s working for others to make it work for you. Develop your own set of best practices to keep people engaged.”

#whatismymessage?

Heavy social media coverage was a contributing factor in raising the profile of a five-day national volleyball event last December that included the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) Convention, the NCAA National Semifinals and Championship Match and the Under Armour High School All-America Match & Skills Competition in Seattle, said David Portney, manager of media relations and e-commerce for the AVCA.

“We ran ticket giveaways, sponsored campaigns and included many visuals to promote everything as a ‘can’t miss’ event for anyone in volleyball. We like to accomplish one key task to two different groups of people: attendees and non-attendees.” Using the same e-marketing campaign, Portney said he and his team addressed their followers as if they assumed all volleyball coaches were attending.

“We want attendees to feel proud about taking part of the festivities and showing off to their friends what an amazing experience they’re having. Attending our convention is an investment in their careers. We want those who are not attending to feel like they’re missing out on something special, so they need to join us the following year. I want a coach who couldn’t make it to Seattle this year to think, ‘Wow, that looks awesome. I better start planning now for Oklahoma City so I can be sure to make it in 2014.’”

To establish a following, Portney said he utilized several social media outlets, and took note of where the greatest feedback was generated. “We used many accounts including LinkedIn, Pinterest and YouTube, but the vast majority of our online promotions came via Facebook and Twitter. Facebook and Twitter are where our volleyball coaches are. With that being said, our LinkedIn presence has significantly increased over the last year, so we will spend more time on that in 2014 than we did a year ago.”

What else did Portney learn along the way? “My advice is to have fun with it. Too many times, organizations try to take too corporate of an approach and it certainly shows in the posts. I get really excited about our convention, so that rubs off when I’m posting about it on our sites. Be genuine, be excited, use visuals, give people an incentive to follow you with giveaways and behind-the-scenes looks.”

Additionally, Portney advised setting up a posting approval process before launching a social media campaign. “Usually the most successful posts happen in the moment, so by the time you get it approved to post the moment could pass. If there are sponsors involved with particular posts, it just takes open and honest communication with the sponsor about what your plan is and how you will go about executing it in advance of the event.”

Even after the last attendee has gone home, there is still work to do, Portney said. “It’s important to gather key social media metrics like interactions and brand impressions. These numbers can be taken to your supervisors and sponsors to show the effectiveness of the social media space. Our convention garnered 10,624,029 social media brand impressions, and I took that number directly to my sales director. Those numbers are tough to ignore if you’re a sponsor. Big numbers translate to big dollars.”

#ohwowthisisafulltimejob

So, who’s responsible for posting, tweeting and sharing once the event is under way? “I would suggest having someone dedicated to social media during the event without any other duties,” said Scott Powers, executive director of Columbia Regional Sports Council in South Carolina. “We have had great events that do a great job with social media prior to and post event, but it’s obvious that person has other duties during the event as their posts diminish to almost zero.”

Renee Williamson, also with Columbia Regional Sports Council, agreed. “Social media requires a lot of attention. If you have anything else on your plate, that time is going to be divided and isn’t the best for engaging your followers. Having at least one person focused solely on social media ensures you have someone to reward and appreciate your social media followers.”

Williamson added that a common misconception she’s witnessed is that social media is free or easy. “To really be effective, you have to work at it and devote time and sometimes other resources. With a 24/7conversation happening online, it requires someone’s full attention. Social media is about giving followers the opportunity to have a conversation with your brand. So, if you are talking to participants online one minute and leave the conversation the next, that’s going to affect their overall experience and perception of your event.”

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Shed Light On Your Event…Why You Should Tell Local Stores Your Group Is Coming To Town

By Paul Peavy

It happened again last Saturday! I was standing in a long line at a very popular grocery store that makes the most addictive chicken tender subs our adolescents have ever known.

It was in between sessions of a swim meet and finally I was about to be next in line when I heard one of the deli workers say, “I wish they would tell us when they have big swim meets because then at least we would know we were going to be swamped!”

I couldn’t agree with her more! If you are putting on an athletic event and making sure every detail on the field is lined up in such finite detail, why wouldn’t you see to it that those that supply your athletes’ and families’ needs are made aware that there are locust-like athletes that are likely to decimate your sports drink aisles or clog your drive through lanes?

My wife and I have seen this happen at big box stores and grocery stores located near triathlons, where one day you would walk down the sports drink aisle and have your pick and the next day there might as well have been tumbleweeds rolling down the shelves.
It is very frustrating to athletes and families to not have these basics available and can definitely affect performance to not have these items available.

If your athlete has to go an extra five miles or three extra stops, he or she might not check in to your meet or tournament in the best of moods and, without you even knowing it, they will share their frustration with other athletes.

So, how do you raise the warning flag? I would designate one person to visit grocery stores, big box stores, fast food chains, and restaurants within a five-mile radius and present the manager with a flyer. (BONUS: Maybe an opportunity to find a sponsorship?)

On this flyer I would have the dates and times of the event as well as the age and number of participants and family members expected.

If you know what the needs and habits of your particular athletes and families, put that at the bottom of the flier as well. Your flyer really needs to get into the hands of the manager and not someone who might not really care or understand what impact your event could have.

A couple of days before the event I would follow up with a phone call to each manager to make sure you have done your part to warn them. At that point, it’s up to them to manage their supplies accordingly.

By taking these simple steps, you could build a very positive relationship with business neighbors in your host city. Trust me, a manager loves to hear from his district manager that he has done a great job of bumping up the numbers and garnering positive feedback from his customers at the same time.

Paul Peavy, www.paulpeavy.com, is a licensed mental health therapist who uses humor to get folks to lighten up. He, and his wife Sherrie, participate in triathlons, are parents of a youth athlete and are also involved in planning sports events.

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You Gotta Know When—And How—To Fold ’Em!

By Paul Peavy

Sometimes ya’ just gotta know when to fold ‘em. I help run The Mac Crutchfield Foundation, which provides college swim scholarships and donates to Special Olympics.

The foundation was organizing a new and exciting fun run, but the crowd was not responding, and we were not getting the registration we needed. It was a fun run with inflatable obstacles. It was difficult to publicize and get across what we were doing because there were no other pictures of such an event out there.

We also had a problem because we had to pay for the inflatables, so there was a very real possibility of losing money for our foundation, which is not a very good way to run a successful foundation.

We decided to make one last push to friends of the foundation, but we knew that if we did not get the numbers we would have to cancel. Well, the numbers did not come up to being viable so we had to pull the plug.

So, this now becomes to me a very simple matter of pulling the plug with dignity and walking away with head held high. I called everyone that we had registered and apologized and told them we would be sending a check back to them. Those without phone numbers received a very personal email explaining what had happened. I encouraged them to continue to support The Mac Crutchfield Foundation. Most expressed disappointment but said they would look forward to our next event.

Let me skip over to another friend’s triathlon. She was successful with her events the previous two years and was expanding the triathlon. The numbers did not come through for her either. She made one last plea for more registrants and then, well, I’m not quite sure what happened. The website was shut down and no more was heard from her. This is a fine upstanding community member with personal integrity who had done all kinds of work in the community. But her reputation and this event’s reputation took a severe ding because of the way she folded the event.

The point is this: sometimes incredibly intelligent, imaginative, hard working people take risks in creating events that may not take hold. The question comes down to whether you could accept the financial risk and carry on or fold. Then, the bigger question is how to fold.

I can hold my head high and walk into any room and look anybody in the eye and talk about what happened with my event. I can also look people in the eye and talk about future events we have planned. At least they know I will be up front with them. If they hear me talking about an event they might want to come to, at least they won’t see signing up as too much of a gamble.

Paul Peavy, http://www.paulpeavy.com, is a licensed mental health therapist who, along with his wife, runs triathlons and participates in and plans sports events.

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The True Impact Of Our Events…Bringing People Together

By Hannah Zito, SportsEvents

In an industry that produces events that bring in millions of dollars, it’s easy for us to get caught up in the dollars and cents of what we do. This market is one that others in the tourism industry are envious of – as they well should be, based on the economic impact of our events that continues to grow year after year. However, when you take a step back and you look at the overall impact of the sports events tourism industry, it is so much more than the total room nights, tickets sold and total income generated.

These numbers pale in comparison to the true impact of our events that lies in the power to bring people together, despite the size of their group or whatever else they may or may not have in common. The ability to produce something that creates such a strong sense of fellowship and fraternity among individuals that are rooting for the same team or athlete is the real and unique impact of sports events.

I’ll be honest – coming into the sports events industry, I knew little more than SEC football. I watch horse racing once a year for three months (technically about 12 minutes total) and I watch the Olympics every two years. I don’t watch soccer on a regular basis and never have. But when the Olympics come on, I become an avid fan and follower of every American competing in the Games – it doesn’t matter if I have to look up the rules of Curling or if I don’t understand how they chose the Dream Team. I just want them to win! And when the World Cup comes on, I’m glued to a television, even at nine in the morning, even if I’m at work (nobody tell Kristen!).

I love the spirit and energy that a fan base can produce. When you’re in high school, pep rallies are easy to come by. Even going to a small school on the Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay, we packed all 200 of us in the gym to cheer on everything from our State Championship Volleyball team to our varsity football team determined to make a name for themselves despite our young program. And when the cannon fired after a touchdown – even if we had no shot at winning – the elation was palpable throughout the crowd.

However, this doesn’t begin in high school. It begins with a child’s first sporting event. Everything from your first Little League game to your first horse show is something people rarely forget: the crowd (however small) is going wild for you and you walk away with such a sense of pride and accomplishment that it’s hard not to be hooked on sports. And it’s the crowd that helps you realize that you’ve just done something wonderful and amazing, even if nobody is keeping score (c’mon, we all know somebody’s parent was) because of their spirit and belief in your team, no matter how small the event is.

On a larger scale, sports events provide that “rallying” factor for fans and athletes alike. For example, after the attacks on September 11th, New York was unsure of what to do, how to carry on. When was the right time to be happy again? Would there be another attack? But on September 21st, the Atlanta Braves played in Shea Stadium against the New York Mets. They were determined that the game would go on, out of solidarity for their city and to show the world that America was not afraid. And they did it with a single baseball game.

Sports events tourism is successful because of this camaraderie and “rallying” effect that people get from supporting their team or their athlete. The saying, “If you build it, they will come” could easy be altered to “If you host it, they will come.” Even in the recession, people were willing to spend precious dollars to attend these events.

Athletes and spectators alike will travel far and wide to stand next to a person feeling that same intense range of emotions, to experience the pride and, sometimes despair, in a win or a loss. It doesn’t matter if the person sitting next to you your best friend from kindergarten or your best friend from the start of the last quarter; what matters is that your both there watching the same game, with the same goosebumps as you silently pray for the same buzzer beater, Hail Mary, goal save.

How lucky are we, the sports events industry, that we can bring this feeling to people on a regular basis? That the cities that host these events can be proud to host these memories as well; that the planners that spend hundreds of hours working out even the smallest details get to see their events bring such pride to their athletes and their spectators. It’s when these two groups come together that people are given the chance to experience that ultimate feeling of camaraderie and pride. And that, above all else, is the real impact and power of sports events.

Hannah Zito is marketing coordinator for SportsEvents Media Group.

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The Importance Of The ‘Wow’ Factor

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In the photo above, SportsEvents’ Christy Raley is pictured at left with Disney Sports’ Darrell Fry and Raquel Giorgio.


By Christy Raley, SportsEvents Magazine, craley@coveypubs.com

Last week, I had the pleasure of visiting with Disney Sports’ Darrell Fry, sports media director, and Raquel Giorgio, sports media manager.

During our meeting, we toured the ESPN Wide World of Sports facility at Disney World. It was an experience I will not forget.

Right away, I felt the wow factor. The Wide World of Sports facility combines two of the world’s most recognized and respected brands into a complex that hosts more than 350 events and 350,000+ athletes from more than 70 countries each year.

What makes this complex so unique is the focus on providing outstanding hospitality and personal attention to participants and their families.

For example, from the moment teams arrive at the complex, coaches and players drop off their sports equipment at the front entrance to have it delivered promptly to their field or venue.

While I was there, an Amateur Athletics Union (AAU) gymnastics competition was in progress. I noticed professional photographers strategically positioned throughout the arena. Disney provides this service during competition so the parents can enjoy their child’s game or competition to the fullest. At the end of the day, parents could purchase their child’s photos. A really special touch!

There’s also an ESPN Production Center on site that houses an Innovation Lab where new on-air products are tested on some of the athletes playing at the complex. How cool would it be for a child athlete to say they were a part of a new product launched on ESPN TV?

Every part of this 230-acre complex is designed to give parents, coaches and athletes their “I’m going to Disney World” wow factor moment.

To me, every child deserves to have this feeling at some point in their life, and for those fortunate enough to play in this complex, I guarantee they will leave with a feeling they will never forget, regardless of whether they won or lost their games.

Thanks again to the Disney Sports Public Relations team for taking the time to visit with us and giving me a “behind-the-scenes” look at this incredible facility.

I can’t wait to come back and take in a game!

For more information on Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports complex, log on to www.disneysportsnews.com, ESPN Wide World of Sports on Facebook, or follow them on Twitter at @DisneySports.

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Kid Volunteers? Yes, No Or Maybe?

Peavy_Kid

By Paul Peavy

The more volunteers the merrier, right? The more enthusiastic the volunteers the better, right? Kids can be a big help for a sporting event. But the most important role of a volunteer is to do the assigned job—as assigned. And certainly, they should do no harm.

Well, at a recent state championship swim meet, the kids in the volunteer roles of timers indeed did some harm. They could not keep up with the hectic and crazy pace of a swim meet as timers, which meant assuring the correct swimmer was in their correct lane in the correct event and correct heat. Then settling in and hearing the starter’s call and pushing the stopwatch button in synchronization with the starting strobe light, keeping up with the correct number of laps of that race and then standing to watch for the swimmer’s touch of the wall and pushing both the stopwatch and an electronic plunger. Then, within a few seconds writing down the recorded times and starting the whole process over again. Oh, yeah, and do this for a few hours at a time without a break.

They insisted on telling a swimmer this was not her heat. The swimmer knew she was right and persisted in telling them she was up next. The young timers insisted they were correct and told the swimmer it was not her turn. When the swimmers were taking to the starting blocks and no one was in her lane, the timers realized their mistake. The swimmer tried to rush to the block but the officials would not allow her on the block. After much frustration and appealing the officials agreed to let the swimmer swim in a later heat. The swimmer was flustered and her timing for her warm up was all messed up.

When doing triathlons and other distance events the view of some really cute kids dressed up and dancing around is always a fun sight but I don’t think it’s fair to a child or an athlete to put a child in a position of sole responsibility. When kids are at aid stations in running and triathlon events there are always adults there to handle unusual situations and understand special needs.

I am sure those kids felt bad for messing up the swimmer’s six months of training, but they were put in an adult situation because it was easier to simply fill in roles that way. A fair enough compromise would have been for one adult and one child in to be positioned in each lane instead of two kids.

I love hearing kids take the microphone, hand out water and cheer, but in your events I think you strongly need to consider what could go wrong in having kids in positions of responsibilities without any supervision. Let kids be kids and bring their sense of joy to your events. Let the adults be the ones responsible for the boring, technical aspects that are crucial for your athletes’ results.

Paul Peavy is a licensed mental health therapist as well as an athlete and parent of an athlete. paul@paulpeavy.com, www.paulpeavy.com

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Planning A New Event? Do These 4 Things To Make It A Winner

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.”

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