Sports event management: a step-by-step guide

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Every sporting event comes with a set of logistical demands and considerations – from small community sports days right through to big-budget productions like the Olympics.

In this blog, we explore the ‘sports event management lifecycle’, offering a step-by-step guide to hosting an event and touching on key areas covered in the Sports Event Management unit of our online Sport Business, Management and Policy masters course.

If you’re interested in a career in this challenging yet rewarding field of sport management, read on for important insights into the responsibilities of sports events managers and the systematic approach required to succeed in the role.

Four steps to sports event management success

1. Consider feasibility

Before any planning begins, sports event managers must first identify whether the necessary resources are available – or can be acquired – to host the event successfully.

To make accurate projections, organisers must establish:

  • The scope of the event – ie: what type of venue is required, what capacity should it hold, what facilities are needed, how many participants will there be, how many staff are required, what security measures should be in place?
  • The costs involved – given the scope of the event and its requirements, a budget should be drawn up accounting for all associated costs, any projected income and whether funding or sponsorships would be required to cover costs or make a profit
  • The duration of the event and planning time – in addition to agreeing the length of the event, organisers must also identify how much time is needed for both planning and giving the various stakeholders (sponsors, venue owners, participants and attendees) adequate notice.

2. Bid for the event

This step applies to sports mega events such as the Olympics, Football World Cup or the Commonwealth Games and involves a city or state bidding to host the specific tournament or games.

The relevant international governing body, for example the International Olympic Committee (IOC) or the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), will invite bids from the various national governing bodies of each eligible country through a tender process.

Countries or states must show that they can feasibly hold the event (as established in step one) and will agree to minimum standard terms relating to payment, stadiums, accommodation for athletes, transport etc.

At this stage, the following must also be considered to inform the bid:

  • Objective of hosting the event – for example, urban regeneration, encouraging further investment and funding for sporting initiatives/facilities, or inspiring greater participation in sport and exercise across the population.
  • Benefits of hosting the event – for example, the social, cultural, political, environmental and financial impact it will have on the place and its people both during the event and afterwards. This is also referred to as the event’s legacy.
  • Accountability – is the state, city or organisation ready for the media exposure that global sporting events bring, and will it have the necessary infrastructure in place for it to run smoothly?
  • Political support – does the government back the bid, have they signed off on the legacy pledges and/or invested in the project
  • Population support – do the people in the proposed host city or state support the bid? The national governing body eg: the country/city’s Olympic committee often run awareness campaigns and poll the public to gauge and demonstrate support.

3. Finalise and implement the event plan

Once you’ve established the event requirements, crystallised your objectives, drawn up a budget – and if it’s a sports mega event, successfully won the rights to host it– it’s time to implement the plan.

The success of this third step in sports event management really hinges on event professionals having oversight of the various functions involved, and their ability to communicate clearly with all stakeholders.

The to-do list will vary depending on the scale and scope of the sporting event, but generally, event managers will be responsible for:

  • Creating a detailed schedule, mapping out the timings and staffing requirements for every activity across the event’s duration
  • Determining the location of each activity and the relevant contacts across venues
  • Delegating responsibilities to individuals in their team and suppliers if necessary
  • Briefing employees on crisis and risk management protocols
  • Training staff on their roles and duties
  • Defining a clear chain of communication

Learn more about the responsibilities of an event manager, as well as their average UK salary in our sports management careers guide.

4. Evaluate

This final step is designed to identify what did and did not work during the event.

Of course, analysis and evaluation of sporting events is necessary in the creation of reports for management and sponsors, but this step is also critical to career success in sports management generally.

As a data-driven industry, sports event organisers must be comfortable mining qualitative and quantitative data to find insights that can help them to optimise planning and implementation strategies in the future.

In keeping with the systematic sports event management process, the evaluation stage should also follow a structured approach.

In his 1998 guide to Events Management in Leisure and Tourism, author and events practitioner David C. Watt proposes ‘the seven Cs of evaluation’ as a potential approach:

  • Compulsory: evaluation should be completed for every event
  • Constant: starts at planning stage and continues post event
  • Customised: refers to specific event objectives
  • Concurrent: should occur during event itself
  • Consultation: involve all public stakeholders
  • Circulate: produce reports of findings
  • Copy: repeat successful methods in future

How to measure success

This will depend on the specific event objectives you’ve set. Setting targets for the following is typical for events:

  • Participation
  • Attendees
  • Viewership/listenership (if broadcast)
  • Revenue eg: from tickets sold
  • Reception
  • Media coverage
  • Social media engagement

For sports mega events, performance against legacy goals should also be measured and evaluated – an important step in justifying the huge financial investment these events require from the host city and/or country.

Historically, many global sporting committees have fallen short on their legacy promises – a point outlined in Portas’ 2017 report which analysed the legacy performance of the Summer Olympic Games from 1992 to 2016.

Measuring impact across four dimensions – economic, social, sporting and infrastructural – the report found that none of the seven games had fulfilled their potential on legacy, with tangible evidence on social improvement and sporting impact particularly difficult to find.

In our online MSc Sport Business, Management and Policy course, students explore this complex area in greater depth, reviewing real-world legacy case studies from mega events, examining where these events went wrong and how organisations might avoid the same missteps in the future.

Frequently asked questions about sports event management

What are the top qualities of a sports event manager?

As the process above illustrates, sports event managers have a complex and challenging job, with several plates to spin at once.

This dynamic role requires ‘soft’ sports management skills in communication, organisation and time management, as well as hard skills in data analysis and financial planning.

Of course, a key remit of sports event management involves designing a truly engaging and memorable experience that sparks or sustains a passion for sport.

Therefore, although event managers are often characterised as pragmatic problem-solvers, they must also bring lots of creativity and ‘blue-sky thinking’ to their role to surprise and delight fans.

How is management important in sports events?

Event management is as much about people as it is about planning.

Event professionals work with a huge range of people in many different capacities – from liaising with high level executives and government officials to training volunteer staff and briefing work to suppliers and partners.

This requires impeccable people management skills and the ability to negotiate with, influence and motivate others to get things done on time and within budget.

How can I build a career in sports event management?

If you work in sports event management and want to reach the next rung of the career ladder, gaining a postgraduate qualification could help you get there.

Developed by leading academics in consultation with sports bodies including Sport England and the Football Foundation, our online MSc Sport Business, Management and Policy offers a dedicated unit on Sports Event Management, exploring the methodologies and contemporary debates  – such as the controversial FIFA World Cup in Qatar – and others  covered in this blog in much greater depth.

The comprehensive course also includes units on sport politics and policy, data analysis, marketing, law and more, ensuring you graduate as a multi-skilled specialist with relevant and complimentary experience in all key areas of the industry.

Designed with professionals in mind, the online and part-time nature of the course offers the chance to earn a masters degree alongside existing work commitments, and to meet and network with sports professionals around the world.

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