Here’s your cheat sheet for planning a sports event:
1. Start by determining purpose above all else.
How you organize almost every piece of your event has to do with the purpose for hosting it. Are you organizing a little league tournament? Or maybe a celebrity charity golf event? Both have unique considerations that don’t overlap. For instance, the latter will include sourcing celebrity participants, landing sponsors, and working closely with a charity to pull it all off. Whereas, with a little league tournament, you may not have to worry about any of these things.
Once you’ve determined the purpose, try to isolate the pieces that are unique to your objective and put them at the top of your priority list. Chances are, these are the very things that are going to dictate the success of your sports event. Simply put, you can’t have a successful celebrity charity golf tournament without celebrities or a big check for charity.
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2. List out all of the moving parts.
Refs, porta-potties, event t-shirts… there’s no shortage of little things that are unique to sports event management. Listing all of this out can help you start to wrap your head around everything your team needs to procure and handle. Plus, it will come in handy as you work everything into your event budget. To get you started, here’s a short list of some of the elements you’ll need to consider when planning a sports event:
- Shirts or uniforms
- Sporting equipment
- Sports complex fees
- Temporary employees
- Event insurance
- Sound system
3. Prioritization is the key to staying under budget.
That fixed budget is going to have to streeeeeetch to make things work. The first step of putting those dollars to work responsibly is figuring out where they truly need to go and taking inventory of what takes precedence. Use the list you created of all the elements that will go into your event, create a spreadsheet, and assign a number of priority to each. (This should be one through however many elements there are total).
Next, with priorities in hand, assign a portion of your budget that you’re willing to allocate to each. This should be based on its priority number and place in the bigger picture of your event.
4. Book your venue or complex ASAP.
Hosting an outdoor event? Other event planners are trying to avoid the same seasonal weather shifts you are — which means your summer softball tournament is going to have some competition when it comes to landing your preferred dates.
Sure, you could work with the city to find an outdoor venue that isn’t already set up for your sport. But that means you’ll need to bring in lots of extra equipment to recreate the arena in lieu of an actual field.
You’re not off the hook if you’re hosting your event indoors. The limited number of indoor sports complexes or spaces large enough to accommodate a large-scale sports event mean you need to be on the ball with your booking. Remember: If you can’t land that sports complex, you’re going to have to pour money into transforming another space into a viable court setup for your needs.
5. Food trucks can save you some trouble.
If you need to free up some space in your budget, skip the in-house concession stand for food trucks. Many local trucks will jump at the chance to cater to such a large audience, saving you the time, manpower, and up-front costs of bringing in your own concessions. This is also an opportunity to make a little money by charging vendors an up-front fee (or suggesting a revenue sharing model). After all, the opportunity to serve fans at your event is a big business opportunity.
6. Adjust your marketing mix.
You could be selling tickets or a spot in the race. Either way, you’re not going to have success if you can’t get the word out. Here are a few tips for the three main areas you should be focusing on in your event marketing efforts:
Getting the word out to both fans and participants means meeting them where they already are. Think: gyms, golf courses, sports bars, and beyond. Partner with these sorts of local establishments to put yourself on everyone’s radar. Some of these businesses may even be willing to share promotions with participants or sponsor the event.
Hyper-specific targeting makes social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram a great way to narrow your marketing to a more qualified audience that will be interested in your event. Use a custom audience to target users in a specific location by their interests (using sport, charitable cause, etc.). It’s a quick ticket to a pool of potential participants!
While email is crucial for communicating logistics, you’re probably only interacting with this channel if you hold an annual event. After all, if it’s your first year, you likely don’t have an email list to market to yet. For annual events, reaching out to participants and ticket purchasers from previous years is step number one in your event marketing playbook.
7. Work closely with the community.
For races especially, this one is HUGE. Reach out to the Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) if your host city has one and ask them to connect you with the proper contacts for discussing potential disruptions such as traffic and noise. Not only will this ensure a good relationship with the community, it also ensures that the event will unfold smoothly. After all, running a race through the middle of the city is an orchestrated effort that requires a helping hand from several departments in the municipality.
8. Get crafty to find sponsors.
Whether you’re planning a tournament, a charity game, or something else altogether, sponsorship is a quintessential piece of the sports event management puzzle (and it’s almost always a possibility!). Here are a few keys to landing sponsors and getting the most out of the partnership:
- Cast a wide net – The more you reach out, the more likely you are to find a viable sponsor.
- Get creative – Sponsors can supply prizes, charitable contributions, equipment, uniforms, in-race refreshment, and beyond. The more open you are to creative sponsorship ideas, the more likely you’ll be to land sponsors.
- Look to similar events – Reach out to sponsors from similar events to see if they’d be interested in sponsoring your event as well. They’ll be easier to work with and more likely to participate since they know the ropes.
9. Consult with a legal expert.
There’s always a chance that a participant might get hurt during your event, and that could spell trouble if they try to hold you liable. As such, consulting with a legal expert to lock down the right language in any waivers of liability is a must for sporting events open to public participation. And while you could always download a waiver template from the internet, consulting a legal expert is the most dependable way to make sure that your waivers will hold up in a court of law.
Oh, and while we’re on the subject of injury: Make sure to have a first aid kit (or a medic for larger events) on hand.
10. Source as much volunteer help as possible.
Nothing eats up a budget quite as quickly as having to pay for every single helping hand. Luckily, depending on the type of sporting event you’re planning, finding volunteers can be easy — especially for charity events, fundraisers, and youth events (hello parent volunteers!). Volunteers can even be one of the many ways that businesses help sponsor your event, as it saves both parties money while still supplying your event with much needed manpower.
11. Don’t forget about prize insurance.
While it may be on your radar to insure your event, it might not be quite as evident to insure prizes and potential giveaways. So before you let someone try their luck at a $15,000 putt, it’s in your best interest to make sure that it won’t be coming out of your pocket. Sure, the chances of your average Joe making a 50-yard putt are slim — but a small fee up front is all it takes to make sure that a single stroke of luck doesn’t break the bank.
12. Make a play for media coverage.
Coverage During the Event
Word of mouth is your best bet for growing an event year over year, and there’s perhaps no better exposure than getting the media involved. With that being said, it’s not likely to happen all on its own. It’s up to your marketing team to track down contacts and connect with local media. For major outlets, this should be pretty easy — but don’t stop there. Small-town publications and even college papers and radio stations can bring much-needed coverage and help boost event PR.
Local event announcements are a little different, as they’re normally handled outside of the newsroom. Get in touch with event editors to find out their guidelines for submitting your event details for an announcement.
13. Not everyone is a referee.
Whether it’s parents butting heads at a little league game or company teams clashing at an unsuspecting soccer event, sometimes competition gets the best of fans and participants alike. Why? Oftentimes, it’s because of a bad call. So while volunteer referees might sound like a great idea when you’re crunching the numbers, they might not seem quite as appealing when you’re in the middle of a startup melee. Save yourself a sports event management headache by turning to a solution like a referee rental service.
14. Map it all out.
The easiest way to keep everyone on the same page on the big day is showing them exactly what’s expected. By diagramming the venue, event space, and all the moving parts, you paint a picture that ensures everything unfolds smoothly. Event diagramming software makes this easy, in a collaborative, drag-and-drop way that spreadsheets simply can’t duplicate.
Time to kickoff your planning…
Pulling it together can be a little tricky. But as long as you keep these tips for sports event management in the back of your mind, you’ll be in good shape no matter your event purpose. Now go forth and knock your event out of the park.
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Have more questions about sports event management?
A sports event manager is in charge of coordinating a variety of events related to a sports team or organization. This can be anything from managing game day in a professional sport, to organizing the Olympic village, to planning an awards gala for a little league team.
Sports event managers average between $55,000 to $65,000 annually, depending on location, experience, and organization.