Creating a major event that captures the world’s imagination is a team effort, but understanding organisers’ intense pressure is crucial for meaningful collaborations

As well as being a visually and technically awesome spectacle, the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia will be equally remembered for its contribution to the global conversation: Pub debates over whether VAR is undermining referees’ authority; Reddit memes of Bolshoi ballet dancers watching Russia’s penalty shootout; Your grandma commenting on what a nice young man Harry Kane is.

This sort of cultural minutiae can only be spawned by the sense of occasion heralded by a genuinely captivating major event. This is why brands and governmental organisations fall over themselves to get involved. However, the credibility of such events is underpinned by the mammoth efforts of its suppliers and organisers.

Oftentimes, the benefits of a major event are miss sold, according to Steven Gruning, SOS Global vice president global sales & marketing. “It’s perhaps time to reframe the offering. The last 30 years of major events have been disappointing in the short term, in regards to bed nights etcetera, and there’s often been a displacement of tourism. But on the good side, the marketing ROI has hailed spectacular returns.

“The gross added value of London 2012 seemed controversial at the time, with promises that we’d receive £45bn back from the investment. However, now in 2018 that claim finally makes sense.

“If you look even further back to the Olympic Games in Barcelona (1992), tourism then accounted for 1% of the city’s GDP, but now it’s at 10%. That’s hugely significant. And in terms of Catalan identity and other metrics, these events can have a huge impact. Destinations should look beyond just room nights.”

This sentiment is echoed elsewhere. The Invictus Games, a celebration of the human spirit in the face of adversity, sells itself internationally on the rallying effect of its positive message, backed by a globally recognised figurehead. The international adaptive multi-sport event, created by Prince Harry, sees wounded, injured or sick armed services personnel and their associated veterans take part in sports.

Patrick Kidd, CEO of Invictus Games says: “There are the most incredible stories of people who’ve had their lives changed due to our event. There’s a broader message about what our event brings to a community. It puts sport at the centre of people’s lives and gives people a chance to become relevant in their own community.”

With the USA reporting a shocking 22 veteran suicides per day, it’s a poignant message.

Meanwhile, in Birmingham, Neil Carney, project director, Birmingham 2022 is navigating the murky period after the bid win, where the knowledge transfer process gets underway, with regular briefings to the Organising Committee.

The event is about to launch its brand identity, and is keen to make its objectives positive and strong. “Our intent is, by the Autumn, to have a vibrant brand and a clear ambition. We’re setting our objectives, which won’t be ‘wishy washy’. We want to tell the world the right thing.”

He adds: “Training initiatives are being put in place aimed at ensuring participants gain some real skills to take home afterwards. We are also honing-in on the experience for consumers, and what that will means ten years on. The ‘Instagram moment’ is vital in creating a legacy, and we’re looking at how people will know what took place in Birmingham, years later.”

One busy organiser already gazing in the rear view mirror at their major event is Linda Apelt, agent-general for Queensland in the United Kingdom, who says the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, which took place in April, delivered on a lot of levels.

“It was the first time the Games was held in regional Australian city, and we took the opportunity to show where we are, who we are and the passion we have. The aim is to unite the Commonwealth via sports and the core values of humanity, equality and destiny. The Games was also the first to have a reconciliation action plan for indigenous Australians.

Apelt can now report that the event created a AUS$2bn boost to Queensland’s gross state product including A $1.7bn boost to Gold Coast. “16,000 full time jobs were created, and 15,000 games shapers got involved,” she adds.

The Rugby League World Cup 2021, meanwhile, will be hosted in England, and is hoping to up the ante for the tournament. Jon Dutton, its chief executive, says: “Everything bigger, better, more ambitious. Our values are to be bold and brave, world class, authentic and inclusive. We’ve recently secured significant funding from government, which we have to be very careful in spending. Patron Prince Harry is already making a magnificent contribution to the cause by his involvement.”

“It will be negligible in its economic impact compared to the Rugby World Cup, but what’s really important is the civic pride it creates. Our international development programme includes 16 workshops across the world.”

Steve Elworthy, managing director of 2019 Cricket World Cup, which will take place in England & Wales at stadia in cities including Manchester, London and Cardiff, also talked up the importance of event legacy. “Our ambitious targets include a schools programme, gaining new fans and an ambition to reach one million kids under 16 via the tournament.”

Pitching in

Of course, getting involved in the afore mentioned events is the holy grail for many event suppliers and organisers. However, taking stock of the major event organiser’s challenges is crucial.

Kidd says ‘integration’ is a key idea for Invictus Games. “It’s a struggle getting the right people to develop the right plans on the right timeline. The schedule is the thing that kills you as an event planner. The challenge is also getting the right people at the right level of the event’s maturity. People are bought on to do what is asked, not what they want to do. It’s an on-going tension you have to manage.”

“Event people all come with experience from different events, but their templates are not necessarily appropriate. What works for the Commonwealth Games or the Olympics might not work for Invictus. The challenge is making your model appropriate for the budget and scale.”

A major event supplier, Rapiscan Systems adds that interaction can be key. Dan Venter, sales director, says: “Sometimes you get customers who think they don’t need to get the supplier involved with the operational side. This leads to significant problems. The organisers that want to know your experience, and the potential pitfalls, will mitigate risks and additional costs.”

Caroline Sheppard, business development manager at GLevents, UK adds: “Be open and transparent from the beginning, and be reactive when the need arises. Communication is vital as something will always go wrong and you need to work together to find a solution.”

Thinking in advance is also critical. Mike Wragg, executive vice president Nielsen Sport says: “When working with, for example, The World Cup or the IOC, you need to work at least two years in advance and think about what the action standards are. Look at what might happen if you get outcomes different to the ones you expected. How will you react? Get the right KPIs involved early on.

On the subject of the Toyko 2020 Olympic Games, he adds: “We’ve spent a lot of time in Tokyo and have been working there for 30 years. However, we have learnt as much again in the last two years. Things are changing very fast, so it’s hard to make any assumptions on how it will play out.”

A tender dilemma

The all important part of getting involved in a major event comes down to some often frustrating documentation.

The 2019 Pan American Games are scheduled to be held from July 26 to August 11, 2019, in Lima, Peru. The tender documents won praise from Major Events International Summit attendees.

“The most important aspect is the technical part, we want to encourage those aspects. The tender response time will be two months, and then there’s a clarification process that’s very open,” says Carlos Manuel Lazarte Labarthe, director of operations, Lima 2019 Pan American and Para Pan American Games.

Meanwhile, João Saravia, founding partner at Circular Solutions, gives his tips on successful tendering. “In the case of Rio 2016, we had a Portal that communicated tenders years in advance, so we made suppliers’ life much easier. Then focus on the entities that may contract your services, and begin to develop a closer relationship with them, to understand what they will need, when, and how can you participate on their tenders.

“Once you’ve discovered which organisation will contract the services you provide, find out who will be the key users to your services inside that organisation. The procurement or purchasing areas do not usually define what needs to be contracted.”

“Procurement will contract IT Services that are asked for by the IT area, infrastructure items such as cabins, tents, stands that are needed by the infrastructure area, marketing material for the marketing area, and so on.”

Simple then, right?

Well, we’ll see. But with some blockbuster major events on the horizon, many of which are occurring in the UK, now might be the time to get in front of the people that matter.