The Covid-19 crisis has caused a number of high-profile cancellations, but some of the more fleet-footed events have already moved to new dates. Stuart Wood finds out how
Postponing a major event is not easy, or fun. But it certainly beats cancelling outright, which is what a number of organisers have been forced to do as the Covid-19 crisis continues.
While major festivals such as Parklife, All Points East and Lovebox have been forced to call off their 2020 editions, independent events have proved a little more flexible. Some are moving into the later stages of summer, while others are extending the season into an increasingly busy September and October.
One of the first such events to announce new dates was Bournemouth 7s (B7s), a sport/music festival on the South coast which was scheduled to take place in May, but which has been moved to 28-30 August. Craig Mathie, Managing Director of B7s, describes the moment his team knew the original dates were no longer a possibility: “The Prime Minister, flanked by his medical and scientific advisors, suggested on a Thursday evening (12 March) that the anticipated peak of the virus would hit towards the end of May – the exact time of year when our event falls.”
Mathie and his team held a meeting with their business Directors the next day, at the end of which they decided to seek a postponement. He says: “It may transpire that we have acted too quickly, but we decided that we would much rather make the wrong call this way round than wait another few weeks and have to postpone once we had started building the event.”
“Three factors were key in the postponement: preparation, decisive action, and communication.”
Three factors were key in the postponement: preparation, decisive action, and communication. One of the reasons B7s was able to move so swiftly in reaction to the pandemic is because it has what Mathie calls a “detailed business continuity plan”, which sets out the team’s approach to festival-compromising incidents. While nobody at B7s could have predicted the speed and severity of the virus, the teams in-depth preparation for adverse weather, terrorism and other issues allowed it to be nimble in its reaction to Covid-19.
Jumping the gun
The London Marathon was similarly quick off the starting line, announcing a move from its original date of 26 April to 4 October. Hugh Brasher, Event Director, London Marathon Ltd says locking in the new dates was a collaborative effort between all involved parties. This included the event team, the Mayor of London, Transport for London, The Royal Parks, the BBC and the London Boroughs.
Brasher says: “[These stakeholders] all understand what the London Marathon – the world’s greatest marathon – means to London, to Britain, to thousands of charities and in inspiring activity. They did everything they could to help us find another date.”
Consideration was given to all kinds of factors which would not be an issue during the summer. For example – would the team have enough time to complete the build-up, get the runners away, then break down again before the sun set? Brasher adds: “We looked at other events going on in London and it very quickly came down to two possible dates and then one date, which was Sunday 4 October. This meant we went through the whole process from starting the discussions to announcing the change in just over two weeks – an amazing achievement.”
Brasher says that the London Marathon’s suppliers have been understanding of the move, too: “We are fortunate that a great many of our suppliers have worked with us for a number of years both on the Marathon and our other events, and we have built up strong relationships. They fully understood that we were in an unprecedented situation and supported our decision.”
Survival of the…nimblest
Mathie echoes the sentiment that strong relationships – whether with suppliers or with local stakeholders – are absolutely key in difficult situations such as these. The B7s team worked closely with Bournemouth University, which owns the land of the festival site, in order to arrive at the new dates. Mathie adds: “Probably my biggest takeaway from this process is that time invested in building strong relationships during good times comes back to you, in droves, when you really need it.”
“My biggest takeaway from this process has been that time invested in building strong relationships during good times comes back to you, in droves, when you really need it.”
Mathie does, however, warn of a potential supplier shortage if the event pipeline gets too jammed: “I envisage that the 30-week festival season could soon be 6-10 weeks long, and this means that suppliers who manage to survive a summer with no events could be overwhelmed by the number of events trying to happen in that period.”
Charles Darwin famously said that it is not the strongest but the most adaptable species that survive. Craig Mathie puts it slightly differently: “I think that medium-sized festivals which have small, nimble operations will be able to postpone, whereas the bigger players may struggle.”
London Marathon photos are credited to Virgin Money London Marathon