In a past blog, we discussed how many very progressive brands are still not using their sports marketing platforms to share their environmental values, instead burying them in the annual sustainability report.
But maybe we should take a step back first, and look at sustainability messaging in general, before we dive into embedding it into any specific marketing medium.
Because frankly, sustainability messaging has typically sucked.
No, really. It has literally been about as enthralling as being asked to turn off the lights when you leave the room.
Many environmental ads in particular have worked from the premise that you simply need to educate folks and they’ll change their behavior. “If they only understood the consequences, they’d do the right thing!”. But to educate someone, you need their attention first.
And in the era of unlimited data packages and fidget-spinners, that’s a challenge.
So what needs to happen here?
In our overflowing-with-bad-news days, we could all use a little lift. So here are a few tips for making your environmental and social campaigns a little catchier.
You catch more flies with honey than vinegar (though according to a lot of amateurs on the web hasn’t proven to be true). What IS true is that people gravitate to positive people, vibrant colors and upbeat music. So if you want to capture their initial attention so you can share your message, be sure you’re getting off on the right foot. Fairy tales don’t open the story in the deep, dark forest.
An analog of the above. Has anyone ever said ‘I absolutely cannot use a laugh right now’? (Seriously? Try to spend less time with that friend – they’re bringing you down, man.) A laugh will always put you in the ‘W’ column. And when the Ws accumulate, you have a winning record.
We have all – sadly – lost our ability to process the written word (yes, even you. Admit it – your eyes went to the images in this post first and more than once since you started reading it). That’s okay. We were built to process visually in the first place. Visuals evoke feelings. Visuals stay with us. So work with that.
If I can see myself in your story, then I could potentially be the protagonist of the story. While I admire Jane Goodall, I can’t see myself becoming Jane Goodall. But I’m probably not as connected / affected as you’d like. But if I see some way to be a hero….well, who doesn’t want that? Which
brings me to my next point.
This is a corollary of Relatable.
Connect the dots for me as to how my individual action fuels a larger impact – and try to be as proximate as possible, i.e. show me where I am the link in the chain, show me how the chain lifts the ship’s anchor, then show me the ship sailing off into the world. Whew…that’s an awkward metaphor. You’ll do better, I’m sure.
But seriously, if you want me to conserve energy at my house, show me (visually) how my small action makes a difference in my community, my country and then the world (in that order). Once you’ve gotten my attention by being funny, that is.
Make a Clear, Reasonable Ask
To close the sale, finish with a solid ask. Preferably one within reach of your customer.
Have you noticed how foundations went from asking for donations to asking for more specific dollar amounts related those to actual items? (Buy someone a goat!) Voila, hella goats.
We have 37 media streams coming at us everyday. We’re getting plenty of asks (Buy me! Like Me! Share Me! And of course, Save the Whales!)
If your message has managed to do all of the above, then Holy Moses, close the sale with a clear, preferably immediate, action-oriented ask. By immediate, I suggest you leverage those unlimited data packages and ‘empower’ me through my cellphone. You know THAT’S within reach..
‘Wow. Great.’ You say. How am I supposed to do all that? Well, as it happens, I brought along a little example that totally fits the bill (not to mention the title of this post).
And since I’ve gotten your attention and made you laugh, here’s my ask: STOP SUCKING! (yes, click on it)
We’d love to hear your comments on this post. If you’ve got a great example(s) to share, please do.
And if you feel your messaging can use a kick in the pants, give me a call. I live for this stuff.
Please don’t keep me in the dark. And other hints to create a genuinely valuable experience.
It’s that time of year that many of us look out at the vast array of conferences (have these quadrupled in the last 5 years or is it just me?), and decide where to spend our time, energy and budget connecting with our peers.
While some people dread them, I love conferences – interesting conversations with great people doing cool things. Or sharing crazy client stories.
Connecting with people is the reason I go. But sometimes I feel the conference organizer loses sight of that. So, I thought I’d share some insights from the perspective of a veteran, and sometimes weary attendee.
I’ve roughly grouped them by time and space (the two things I have granted you in good faith for the next 3 days):
The most precious of commodities for all of us. Conferences cost big blocks of time away from the office and family. Make people glad they chose to spend it on your event:
Build it in. This is the primary reason for most people to physically go to a conference. Even for many speakers devoting their time. If we cannot interact, we may as well be watching a livestream of the event. 15-minute breaks typically allow for 1- 2 of these: a bathroom visit, grabbing a bite to maintain your energy, responding to something time-sensitive from the office or checking in at home. They typically don’t accommodate a conversation. Event organizers are ‘conveners’ – purposefully schedule generous time specifically aimed at fostering spontaneous conversations.
And protect it. You’ve created an agenda. Stick to it. Ensure your emcees, moderators and speakers stick to it. Put together a guide and reinforce with all of them that you will stay on schedule, if that involves cutting a microphone, you’ll do it.
I’ve observed drama among ‘stage-managers’ when timing runs over but the concern seems more for how their boss will bark at them than for the actual impact, namely disrupts dozens to hundreds of attendees’ schedules, steamrollering over much-need breaks and pushing the end of the day beyond human limits. Again, likely causing folks to bail out on end of day networking receptions because they are just spent.
Content is not always king. More is not always better.
Even with sufficient networking time & breaks scheduled, it’s still possible to over-do the content of your conference. Conferences that used to be 1.5 – 2 days have now stretched to 4 (“We just have SO much to cover!” one organizer recently exclaimed.) Yes, but how much do you think we can take in? Have you ever had a hard time figuring out the difference between Track 1 – session A and Track 4 – Session F? You’re not alone. They are the same topic. Different sponsors, though. Those extra 2 days are to cover promises made. Yet you seem to be the one paying for it.
I recently attended an event that had a 4-hour stretch with no scheduled break. 4 hours. Think about how you are stressing an audience with this kind of marathon programming block. Especially if they are sitting mid-row (see Breathing Room below). You’re also forcing me to walk out on a speaker to take a break – and once I’m up I don’t want to climb back in and make a ruckus, so I’ll just hang outside until they’re done. Were they a big sponsor of the event? Oops, I may have given the impression they weren’t that interesting. Really, I just had a leg cramp.
Programming sins create attendee burnout. If I’m spending 4 days with you now, I may only come every second or third year.
(feel free to take a break here….I understand)
This deserves its own post – but briefly: Coach…no, INSTRUCT, your moderators to take a journalist mentality. And I mean a real, old-school journalist who understands they are not the story. They should research, prepare questions and pre-interview each panelist. They should hold a group call to prepare the full panel for the flow of the conversation. Part 1 of the job is to bring out candid insights and relatable learnings from the panel for the audience. Part 2 is to facilitate the audience’s interaction with the panel. NOT to co-opt the audience’s opportunity to ask questions. The audience has their own questions. And they outnumber you. So statistically speaking, they’re probably more interesting than the moderator’s. They are also more likely to call attention to a point that wasn’t made clearly or a question that wasn’t satisfactorily answered earlier. Have a quiver of questions ready if the audience doesn’t bring them, and of course get the ball rolling with an opening Q for the Q & A, but don’t dominate the Q&A time with your own questions. That was part 1.
Also, give your moderators some tips and tools (possibly including a cattle prod) to reel in the wayward, rambling panelist. I certainly wish I’d had one recently for a guest who if I didn’t know better began to recite the company’s annual report from memory when asked to briefly introduce himself. I apologized profusely to the other panelists who suffered that graciously. Lesson learned. Passing it along.
Okay, that wasn’t all that brief. Feel free to take another break. I will not be offended at all.
Facilitate Pre- / Post-Conference Networking
The best conferences have a killer app. One was so killer, it’s still on my phone 2 years later. I even transferred it from an old phone to a new one. Talk about staying relevant. There are great support apps out there, they don’t cost that much and it’s an infinitely sponsorable asset with staying power (2 years! 2 phones!). What to look for/include?
- All attendees are pre-loaded, preferably with their LinkedIn profile and optimally with an in-app messaging option.
- Conference schedule is detailed (full conference description, speaker bios) and users can build their own schedule within it. (some allow attendees to rate the session right after they end)
- Embed the social media stream for the conference in the app and allow users to directly link their accounts to encourage interaction and user-generated content.
- Include links to local info and utilitarian apps (Yelp, Uber, etc.)
Other pre- and post-bonuses? If you’re a conference organizer, I know you have a killer email list. Use it. Find out why I’m coming – what do I hope to achieve, and then suggest how I can best accomplish that at your conference. Too many attendees you say? Well, there are probably about 4-5 key reasons, so you can group them. And really? I’m going to spend $1500-2000 and 3-4 days of my time on you and you can’t spend 5 – 10 minutes on me. Well, I know where we stand then, I guess.
Prompt attendees post-conference on ways to capitalize on conversations they had at the event. This can be a mass email (but with any skill it will not be addressed ‘Dear Attendee’ – that just hurts).
The best organizers make me feel that they are truly interested in my business success all year, not just my annual registration fee.
Heart of Darkness
Typically, the plenary room is pitch black. ‘All the better to see the slides, my dear’, you say. Yes…..well…. Two things I can’t see? My notebook to take notes on your session, and my fellow attendees. The plenaries are my only opportunity to see who else is in attendance. (Unless you created that killer app). Notice how often speakers also joke about not being able to see anyone in the audience? Yeah. Lighten up.
Conferences come in 2 forms – icebox and oven. And despite this being the number one topic in every on-site washroom, are almost never adjusted. I really don’t need to elaborate here. Just work on it. Preferably during the conference. Ideally on Day 1.
We all know sitting is the new smoking. I appreciate that space is at a premium (we’ve all seen hotels’ conference rates- harrowing), but you are in the interactive learning business, not the institutional torture business. People will hang at the back because they arrive late, need to leave early or simply can’t do long stretches of sitting. Try to set up the space to plan for that, rather than forcing dozens of folks to hug the wall and feel awkward doing it. This also helps avoid 3 days of tension between your AV people and attendees.
Avoid setting 60-seat wide rows in the plenary sessions (excuse me, pardon me, whoops, sorry!) with knee-space for the vertically-challenged. Especially if you plan to pin folks there for up to 4 hours in a row. Yikes. Set the seats up a few inches apart from one another – not linked together like business-clad chain gang. Since you’ve endowed us with attendee bags, we have our own stuff and we’ve got our winter coats on to survive (see Temperature above), we need a little elbow room.
If you want to get extra jiggy, curve the rows set-up so I might see the faces of others in my row. When I’m forced to sit face-front, rod-straight it takes me back to the days of awaiting my turn in the principal’s office.
OK, getting down to the nitty-gritty here, but remember you are holding me captive for several days. Snack breaks, like Temperature, also seem to come in 2 extreme forms: sugar-bombings and vegan, gluten-free, bunker-ready breakfast bars. (I go to a lot of environmental conferences). But just one or the other. <sigh>
Again, try to consider the attendee’s plight. Sleepy. Out of synch with their normal time zone. Sequestered.
Don’t skimp here (again, I revisit the $1500-2K price tag) and put some thoughtful choices out. May I suggest, a mix of fresh fruit and packaged snacks – both of which can be recovered and donated if not eaten, as well as a few more indulgent doses of sucrose. It is difficult to meet everyone’s expectations, but try and at least make the attempt. Sometimes I see that sad platter of cookies and can almost hear the words ‘What else can we cut from the budget?’. When that question comes up, I suggest you take another look at the Agenda, Day 4.
A SIDENOTE ON COST
Back in the day (circa 2006) only 1 conference I attended that had a price tag north of $1K. And it was in New York, had quite a high profile and no doubt much higher per-attendee costs. Back then there were only about a half-dozen conferences I’d consider each year. Budgeting time and money was much easier then and I typically managed to make 4-5 of them.
Now I’m lucky to see offerings where ‘early-bird’ registration is under $2K. Before airfare and hotel. And I’m bombarded with promos for at least 25-30 options per year. I haven’t yet increased my hours on the planet (or my budget) five-fold. So hard choices need to be made.
Cost is never my primary issue. If I feel it’s worth it, I’ll be there. But I’m not too keen to pay you the big bucks to torture me for 3-4 days.
Conclusion (Thank God, right? You’ve spent half a conference reading this now)
Think hard about your attendees needs.
I’m looking for equal parts personal conversations and learning. If your event isn’t interactive I can just catch a webinar. Much lower carbon footprint and my family will be happy I’m home.
Everyone’s Time is Valuable
Use the time attendees’ have granted you respectfully – from agenda to event management. ROI on their time investment should be top of mind in your planning and execution. It’s far more important than ROI on the registration fee.
Create a Special Place
Curate the conference space as carefully as the content, to allow the latter to truly shine, foster the best possible outcomes and realize many happy returns.
So, dear conference organizer, I look forward to seeing you this year. And maybe even the next year, too.
Fellow travelers, I’d love to hear what you love, hate and would change about the conferences you attend.
Organizers, if you know I’ve attended your conference and wonder what I thought about it, get in touch.
3 years ago, the Green Sports Alliance experienced a small revolution. That 4th Green Sports Summit in Santa Clara was the first time that ‘brands’ and corporate partners took a prominent place, ‘front of house’, among the assembled league and team representatives. For an organization with its roots firmly in stadium operations (‘back of house’ in entertainment speak) this was decidedly a crossover move.
That Santa Clara summit also marked the first time a more consumer-facing corporate sponsor presented the Summit, which was “Delivered by UPS” and whose marketing and sponsorship executives were present to deliver their message: “Sustainability is In Our Nature”. Their greetings to attendees cited the parallels of connections in sports and the connections they make for business, and called their partnership with the Green Sports Alliance ‘a natural fit’. The copywriters had arrived. And not a minute too soon, as the movement had grown substantially and word was getting out. From its modest beginnings of about 125 green keeners getting together in Portland in 2011, 2014 saw about 800 rubbing elbows in Silicon Valley.
In previous years, there had been an uneasy alliance between team ‘greening’ practitioners and sustainable solutions vendors. Corporate interests were held to roles as exhibitors on the often makeshift ‘trade show ’ area. They could not become members. One might manage an occasional (coveted) panelist role, as the ‘movement’ navigated its own journey from sharing energy numbers to more outwardly celebrating their achievements. The Summit was a place to learn and exchange ideas and needed to be kept ‘pure’ of commercial motives. I liken the feeling at times of a junior high school dance, with each side eyeing up the other across the gym – wary, but curious – how do we dance together?
Fortunately that same 2014 Summit also brought someone who began to show them how. One of the most memorable, and in hindsight, galvanizing moments, was the dramatic entry and keynote speech of Levi’s brand President, James Curleigh. He himself emerged from the dark, back of the house, with a solid a capella version of the Beatles ‘Revolution’. With all the charisma you’d expect of the leader of an iconic global brand, he did not rest until he had the entire room fully engaged singing, and dancing, with him.
The keynote followed suit, as he shared the philosophy behind the partnership with the 49ers on the shiny, new, ribbon-not-yet-cut Levi’s Stadium, and why the brand is heavily invested with the team.
There was an AHA moment. The Revolution belonged to all of us. Together. There were good stories to tell. Solid stories of real impact – waste diversion, energy savings, water stewardship. And there were trusted partners who were making those wins possible – Waste Management, BASF, National Grid, Skanska, alongside UPS and many others. It was time to take the message forward, with amplified voices. And so it came to pass that the Green Sports Alliance developed a long-awaited Corporate Partner category, unveiled at the 2015 Summit in Chicago. A sincere, but modest approach to beginning to work more closely together. Though no anthem was assigned, “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” seems to fit the bill.
And so it is time to Come Together. And complete the triangle. The three-legged stool. The triple-bottom-line.
We have the builders and engineers who make responsible resource management physically possible in the room. The stadium operations people, the materials, construction and systems people.
We have the (team) owners and regulators (commissioners) who make responsible resource management financially possible in the room.
Who’s missing from the room? The front of house people.
The Marketing, Media Relations, Partnerships and Community Relations people. The people who work with partners(sponsors), create amazing gameday experiences, choose cool merchandise, feed the media compelling stories and drive the fans passion on social channels. A few have been present but too few.
We want to make sure the people who can make sustainability fun, sexy and cool – not just, ‘Oh, isn’t that nice’ are in the room. The people who harness armies of fans behind rivalry series and crosstown classics and playoff runs should balance out their operational counterparts at the Summit in the same measure as they do in the front office.
So let’s invite them out – let’s have them join us in Houston. They’ll have some interesting folks to chat with – from Dow, from Constellation Energy, from nrg, from Skanska, from UPS. Help them be better at what they do. Help them discover new inventory to sell and new partner categories to open.
So let’s Come Together.
Not over me – but over beers, and numbers and stories and ideas. I’m pretty sure there will be some great music, too.
The Green Sports Summit in Houston is 2 months away. If you’re registered now, that’s fantastic. If you’re not, don’t delay – here’s your Ticket to Ride.
If you’re coming from a team or league, remember everything’s more fun with a friend.
Bring a colleague from the front of the house. Come Together. Yeah.
Sports Are Often A Social Bellweather.
Not an earthshattering statement. Sports are by their nature social, so not a major leap to assert they often mirror and amplify social issues, but some may not always notice they can provide the catalytic focal point for these issues to be addressed – that is, when the leadership in sports steps in to that space.
And I feel they do, more often than not.
If you haven’t been watching – and no one can forgive you given all that has happened this week – the State of North Carolina is currently considering legislative rollbacks that would among other things rescind certain civic protection of the LGBT community. As I have a number of friends in NC, I’ve been following this story via their Facebook posts. But today it landed front and center on my desktop, via SportsBusinessJournal, in this post on how the NBA and the NCAA have made public statements on how they are monitoring the situation, and both were very clear about their stances on the matter:
The NBA in a statement said it is “deeply concerned that this discriminatory law runs counter to our guiding principles of equality and mutual respect.” while the NCAA noted that it was “one of the first organizations to express concern about the religious freedom law last year in Indiana”.
One would think that the Indiana situation, which was resolved in favor of humanity, would be near enough history for the NC legislature to call to mind.
Naturally they follow several companies who have expressed similar positions, but my business is sports, so I note the happenings here more markedly.
And while individuals will speak out, it is hard for them to uproot their lives and speak with their feet, and they have no immediate way to revoke their tax dollars. And corporations, too, can threaten to leave the state, but that is also no mean or immediate undertaking – and in the end, harms like-minded people whom they employ.
But the NBA All-Star Game and NCAA tournaments can be pulled and moved without profoundly impacting the more civilly minded citizens of North Carolina’s livelihoods and families. And while it certainly is disruptive to the NBA and NCAA event organizers, it is more than offset through principled action that enables them to sustain, and perhaps elevate their business.
So, to the good people of North Carolina who are concerned about the turn their state is taking, I say have faith. In basketball. Your state’s universal foundation of faith. Because through basketball, all will be made right with the world.
There is beauty in simplicity. And a bit of magic in beauty.
And that’s the feeling I came away with from Monday’s ‘Cool 2016 Richmond’ (British Columbia) event. Largely because the City of Richmond has figured out how to make sustainable event and sport hosting simple. And accessible.
Which is beautiful. And a bit magical.
The former Olympic host city (speedskating and more importantly, Holland West in the guise of Heineken House during the Games) bestowed a legacy gift on local festival and smaller scale prospective sports hosts with a full evening designed to help local events – regardless of size – be as resource-conscious as possible.
COOL Richmond was put on in the atmosphere of a most festive event – inside the LEED-certified Oval with food trucks, craft beers, compostable serviceware, and green ambassadors – and circus performers.
And they did it in the language of the audience – in the form of a beautifully designed event:
– A Midway of sustainable service providers under the ever-awe-inducing ‘big top of the Oval’s stunning roof was a wonderful way to show key vendors in action and anable organizers to mingle in in a festival atmosphere. No stuffy trade show, info-expo set-up here.
– Storytellers shared wondrous tales of enchanting characters (volunteers) who whisked away the bad (garbage) while recognizing the hidden treasures (recyclables!) hidden amongst the villagers (event audiences). The various speakers sharing best practices kept their words light and messages practical, but positive. Event organizers told of how greening their events wove magical outcomes of cleaner streets during the events, binners providing valuable services while playing a key (and dignified) role in diverting recyclables from the landfill and the ever-present cheerfulness of Green Team volunteers adding to the happy, welcoming atmosphere of the party.
–Takeaway treasures for all in the form of Richmond’s new ‘7-Step Quick Guide to Sustainable Events‘ – shared widely as guests were invited from all over Greater Vancouver, and produced in conjunction with the International Academy of Sport Science and Technology (AISTS – Switzerland) . Vendors happily shared their wares, including event merchandise company STG sending us all home with a very cool T-shirt and Food Truck El Cartel feeding all with their wonderful Bulgogi Short Rib Tacos.
-And key to any fascinating tale, the Genie/Fairy Godmother/Wizard element who appears to give you just the bit the protagonist needs to power his/her own success:
in this case, the City of Richmond maintains the ‘Green Team’ volunteer base, fully trained, engaging the City’s youth and ready to be deployed in any configurations events may need. The City has two portable water stations that can be loaned out to events, enabling visitors to bring their own bottles and keep the waste down. The City has a ‘Wheel Watch’ bicycle valet service that can be booked for events. The City connects you to local Food Recovery programs to mitigate the food waste. The City will advise, support and reward you with it’s new ‘Sustainable Event Champion’ designation, which will certainly resonate with both participants and with sponsors.
Creating these solutions from a central source that provides consistency and solid expertise allows organizers to get on with what they do best. It makes the work of their many departments easier. And it assures that Richmond’s reputation for hosting is a notch above by creating zero waste, transit-friendly, procurement-sensitive grassroots events.
The best part of all – they are happy to share their best practices with you and your event wherever you are.
The City of Richmond has simplified creating responsibly managed, well run and enjoyable events and festivals. Which I find simply beautiful. And a little bit magical, too.
Cool Richmond indeed.
The evening was a collaboration of many, as all good things are: multiple departments of the City of Richmond, the absolutely stunning Richmond Olympic Oval, the AISTS, and the Ann Duffy Group and the many generous sponsors and partners of the evening, including compostable packaging company BSIBio who also provided a valuable pre-event workshop on the nitty gritty practicalities of incorporating compostables into food operations. Marc Stoiber provided an invigorating keynote, while organizers of Khatsilano Festival, Car Free Days and Richmond World Days candidly shared experiences and resources.
I feel a bit guilty about that headline — for one thing, I’m an unabashed supporter of women’s soccer. There are so many phenomenal things about it – the athleticism, the purity of the game (way less drama) and the metaphor it provides that escalates almost immediately every discussion of the game to a discussion on gender equality. In act, I’m not really referring to the women’s world cup missing the net, but rather the organizers – FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association’s Organizing Committee (and a few public entities as well). But that probably wouldn’t have caught your eye as quickly….so with apologies, here goes:
By so many measures, the 2015 Women’s World Cup was an incredible success. An expanded field of competitors (from 16 to 24). A bigger tournament (from 32 to 52 matches). And eye-popping television ratings in the U.S. (besting NBA playoff games, MLB world series, and, gasp, even the 2014 men’s world cup final).
It’s certainly a time to celebrate. But also time to begin the post-event performance analysis. Elite athletes share one trait – continually raising the bar for themselves; “What must I do to stay on top? Did I exhaust my potential or can I go even further?” are frequent refrains in their heads following even their most exceptional performances.
Given that that Canada currently ranks #2 for sport hosting in the world, and the CSA is musing on a Men’s World Cup bid for 2026*, I’d like to offer up a cursory analysis of where we can – and must – do better.
Sponsorship, Suite Sales and Merchandise Sales Fell Short
While no one has hard numbers yet, there are plenty of indicators that none of these areas of revenue generation were what they could have been.
The previous host, Germany in 2011, signed all 6 available National Sponsor slots at an estimated USD $5 million each, a full 15 months ahead of the tournament start. This meant the organizing committee had more capital to work with and more time to work with those partners to encourage their ‘activation’ or use/leverage of their sponsorships. When this is done in advance, it builds momentum, drives tournament awareness and supports healthy advance ticket sales.
By two months out from the opening ceremonies, the FIFA 2015 Organizing Committee had sold 2. And neither of those partners had begun to activate, leaving a void in the promotion build up. Several longtime Canadian Soccer Association partners declined to become sponsors of the tournament. As those decisions predated the recent FIFA debacle, it would appear that either the price or the sales effort didn’t resonate sufficiently.
At the 11th hour, a third was added. But that deal turned out to be more of an Official Supplier role than a Sponsor, meaning lower dollars. And as a B2B company, somewhat less compelling activities around the event, more corporate hospitality and less street-level fun. Interestingly some of that fun was provided by non-sponsors. Canadian Tire/SportChek’s Jumpstart, a CSA sponsor who declined a direct World Cup partnership, held a public pick-up tournament in Vancouver’s Gastown (and perhaps in the other host cities as well?) and ran an ad campaign during June featuring Canadian women’s and men’s national team players. And non-FIFA, non-CSA sponsor, Nike did a fantastic guerrilla marketing experiential program with the Nike Underground zone in the CBC parking garage in Vancouver. They were even so bold as to run a wrapped double-decker bus touting the venue. As sponsorship goes, it feel short on sales, leverage (except for non-sponsors) and on rights enforcement.
What can we learn? Sponsorship must be gauged in the bid phase and pursued/secured early on in operations. It is the revenue engine that drives every other aspect of the event operations. Granted Canada had no contenders for this host bid, but with a healthy stable of corporate partners for the national association, and for the popularity and appeal of the sport itself, not to mention the national and international exposure, I’d hope there is a good post-mortem on why those CSA sponsors didn’t step forward when the ultimate opportunity to capitalize on their years of investment in soccer presented itself. Given that women make 85% of household purchasing decisions, this was an occasion to align with the driving economic force that women have become in showing unfettered support for the Women’s World Cup.
Suite sales are tough – but it appears there was no dedicated strategy and the sales personnel infusion came too late; the effort too light. We couldn’t find definitive total numbers for Germany (though we did see they sold 28,000 packages over the 32 matches) to say whether Canada fared better or worse, but it was disappointing and a little disheartening to see those mothballed suites. Imagine if they’d gotten creative enough to sell a la carte suite tickets to all the US fans that streamed into Vancouver for the final? When it comes to premium and group sales for large events, it may require a Plan A, B and C to ensure that bums are in seats – and with a tourney like this, a contingency plan if the host country isn’t in the final.
My vantage point for much of the tournament was Vancouver, where I attended all 9 matches. I make it a habit to note the suite occupancy at every sports event I attend (much to the annoyance of my husband, who often asks if I can just watch the game without counting seats). Not only were roughly 60% of suites unsold, they were actually boarded/papered up – an odd move that only drew more attention to their vacancy. Roughly two months prior to the tournament opening I was contacted by an outside sales rep who had been brought on to bolster suite sales. As it happens, I told him, I work with several organizations who have a collective reach to roughly 150,000 women business owners. I’d be happy to distribute the information as I felt the tournament was a great backdrop for business hosting and corporate team-building for them. The rep never followed up.
The takeaway here may be for FIFA – while MATCH Hospitality manages this for them and Olympic Games and has done for some time, it seemed that a lack of local presence early on to develop and drive uptake of suites left some high-dollar returns unseen. I had the sense that the local host city organizing committees were focused on individual tickets sales and were leaving the suite sales to MATCH. In the 12 months leading up to the tournament, I saw no pursuit of these sales at business networking functions or via targeted emails to organizations prior to that one outreach call 8 weeks out.
A Plan B might have been outreach to local companies suggesting they sponsor a girls’ team or charity organization’s ability to see the event from the rarified view of a suite and gain the dual benefit of a tax receipt and the shiny glow of supporting girls’ soccer. Food for thought when the suites aren’t filling up as expected in our next round of hosting.
Merchandise was a complete headscratcher. PanAm Games have had items in the Toronto airport for at least a year. Grey Cups do the same at least 4 months out– with gear acting as a promotional tool for every inbound passenger. Even the Canada Games in Prince George had a selection of tees, fleeces and hats waiting for you at partner retailer Canadian Tire and SportChek and around town. Every impression was a reminder the games were coming. Locals are prompted to think, ‘I’d best to get my tickets’ (and maybe a logo travel mug, too.) The array, designs and abundance of 2010 Winter Games items had perhaps spoiled us. But the complete absence of merch at any of our usual retailers was confounding. Imagine if all those Alaska cruise visitors had stumbled on 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup caps as they strolled through Gastown. With a family of 5 coming in from the US for the tourney, I scoured Vancouver for something I could send ahead. Attending the Opening Game in Edmonton, I thought I’d come away with the first grab of goods direct from the stadium stand. Couldn’t get near it. Not a prayer. And I’d come to watch the game after all, not stand in a merch line. So when I finally found myself in front of the goods, and with a strong buying intention, an unfortunate, and I would argue unnecessary, obstacle stood in my way.
Germany 2011 booked roughly USD$4 million from their merchandise sales in 2011, a tournament that saw 845,711 tickets sold across 32 matches. In stadium and event operations-speak, that works out to a $4.73 merchandise per cap (spectator) ratio. I hope it turns out well, but among the 15 people I attended a combined 10 games with, we collectively bought one $25 ballcap. So while a hardly a scientific way to explore this, it works out to a $ .60 per cap on merch. And I think a big opportunity was missed to sell to those who weren’t attending games – whether they were tourists passing through or locals who wanted to pick up a memory.
The real surprise here? FIFA’s primary merchandise partner for global tournaments is a Markham, ON based company! So I have to feel we lost out on two fronts here – suppressed merchandise revenue in general, but the tax income and effect of a Canadian company reeling in those sales. This merits a full on look, but given that scrutiny of FIFA is a moving target on every front, we probably won’t be able to forensically break this one down. We CAN however plan well for the next opportunity – again, in the bid and planning stage, examine the models of past successful events and direct the appropriate resources and manage timelines to capture this revenue stream.
Again, we were fortunate to have the 2010 games and the strong BC Business Network put together by RBC and the Province to help local suppliers and service businesses understand the procurement needs and tourist traffic they could expect. And more importantly, running a number of events, workshops and online resources to help them assess and capitalize on the opportunities the Games presented. The Toronto 2015 PanAm Games went a step further, reaching out to diversity suppliers specifically (women-owned, minority-owned, aboriginal-owned and LGBT-owned companies) and reporting on their progress regularly – an impressive effort that can and should be emulated. Even the Canada Games held in Prince George ensured that the local area companies had the guidance to tap into contracts with a strong business engagement program through Initiatives Prince George and other local economic development agencies. Sadly, the 6-city Women’s World Cup did not.
Seeing this, Women’s Enterprise Centre (of BC) did its best to educate and advise potential suppliers, traveling coast to coast running workshops, online webinars and publishing several articles and resources via its Supplier Diversity Canada website and through partner organizations. There was also a year-long, targeted marketing campaign directed to the many inbound soccer federations, international broadcasters and FIFA sponsors and official suppliers, but without the direct involvement, support and specific procurement information provided by the organizing committee on what was needed, by whom and when, it was difficult to pinpoint opportunities.
It became clear that much of the information was either not forthcoming from FIFA itself, or that contracts were being handled either offshore or at the last moment, leaving little opportunity for Canadian companies to gain sufficient insight or have a realistic chance to bid for business. Finally, with few sponsors putting forward any significant ‘activation’ it appeared that contracts were quite limited in quantity and scope. This could have been an outstanding occasion to create a real economic opening for Canadian businesses, and to showcase the quality and strength of women-owned businesses in particular.
This could have been an outstanding occasion to create a real economic opening for Canadian businesses, and to showcase the quality and strength of women-owned businesses in particular. For many a contract might have represented a first international business deal, or a significant reference client propelling them onto larger clients, but the limited amount of communication (coupled with the limited activity of sponsors) meant that an important element of ROI for Canada was missed.
Guaranteeing Shots on Target
In short, we need to look hard, in the bid and even the bid consideration phase, at what events will provide beyond the tourism dollars (hotel nights, bar and restaurant uptick). If tourism is the only sector to benefit from hosting, then we may be best off just amping up tourism marketing budgets, rather than seeking out sport and event hosting occasions.
We need to include a business engagement and procurement facilitation program with every sport hosting bid going forward. Every host city must look after not just its tourism sector but its core businesses as well, and take advantage of the opportunity to showcase them when the world is watching and visiting. Canada has a rich array of service and good providers who can meet every need of a large-scale international event, whether it’s halal catering or multi-language mobile app development. And we have proven models and tools to support this. This is money left on the table. Let’s stop doing that.
Agree? Disagree? We’d love your comments on this post. And we’d love for this conversation to be amplified.