november 2016 | Sports Events
Sport and the City
The global sports industry is booming. Sports can play a key role in attracting visitors to cities, but do escalating costs and legacy anxieties mean cities are no longer big fans of hosting mega sporting events? Which cities are the most successful sports hosts and why? What are the new growth sports that cities should be focusing on?
Barbara Martins-Nio, Sports Business Unit Director at the global event management company, MCI, spoke to Meetings International about current trends and challenges, and how to create a win-win situation for sport and the city.
MCI has been involved in a number of mega and major sports events in 2016 including the Tour de France, the Euro 2016 football tournament (France), the UEFA Champions League Final (Milan) and the Summer Olympic Games (Rio de Janeiro). The company was also involved in many small and middle-sized events during the year, such as the Longines Masters in show jumping (Paris), the World Archery Field Championships (Dublin) and the World Handball Championship (France).
Sport nowadays is more popular than ever before. The amount of sport competitions is increasing and they are grabbing the attention of audiences of all ages and backgrounds. In a world in economic, political, environmental and identity crisis, a lot of people strongly believe that sport has the unique ability to unite people, communities and nations. Sport is a great equalizer, and political leaders have embraced it.
Beyond social benefits, cities agree that hosting international sports events provides economic benefits and contributes to creating, shaping or reinforcing their branding strategy. But they are also aware of the pitfalls, such as infrastructure costs, short-term use of their facilities, the risk of negative publicity, security costs and higher taxes to cover debts.
For many decades the power relationship between bid cities and sports rights holders was not always balanced. With the global economy slowing down, and particularly with the pressure on European economies (local communities are carefully scrutinising the expenditure of public funds), the tables are turning and some cities are now withdrawing from bids or reluctant to host major international sports events.
“As with any business negotiation, sports rights holders and bid cities need to shake on a deal that will satisfy both parties,” says Barbara Martins-Nio, who points to the general positive trend stimulated by the International Olympic Committee’s 2020 Agenda, which was adopted in 2014.
The agenda, a strategic roadmap for the Olympic Movement to reform the bidding process for the Olympic Games, is laying the foundations for a better balance of power between cities and rights holders.
“Although the agenda wasn’t devised to prevent the problem, but rather as a reaction to it, it has opened the way for more sustainable expectations from sports rights holders.”
These expectations now need to fit the sporting, economic, social and environmental long-term planning needs of bidders, reduce bidding costs, exercise good governance and ethics, include sustainability in all aspects of the event, collaborate closely with bid/host cities and ensure a lasting legacy.
“While these changes are clearly a positive step in influencing rights holders from other major sports events around the world, cities still have a major role to play in building public support for bids,” emphasises Barbara Martins-Nio.
“Successful bidders rely on the support of their local/national government and sports institutions; they get public opinion mobilised; they create official entities dedicated to major sports events; they articulate a clear, robust but humble strategy (a strategy designed according to their own capabilities); and they demonstrate credible returns on investment from hosting an international sports event.”
“We are witnessing a progressive rebalancing, where cities no longer want ’White Elephants’ with post-event financial abysses, and sports rights holders need cities that plan, mobilise, finance and operate carefully all the way through, while leaving great legacy.”
Barbara Martins-Nio says there is a need to explore new cooperative models and cross-border collaboration if mega events such as the Olympic Games, and football’s World Cup and European Championship are to continue to prosper.
“Single host nations find themselves under tremendous pressure when wanting to host a mega event, as the requirements are becoming bigger and more difficult to meet. It comes as no surprise that some nations have been put off by the expenses and excessive demands of sports rights holders.”
“With an unsteady economic situation, sports rights holders cannot expect countries to invest in facilities in the way their events require them to. The fact that fewer and fewer countries are financially capable of hosting mega events has sent a strong message to sports rights holders, who in response have suggested hosting those mega events across different countries.”
Football’s European governing body, UEFA, has led the way with its bold decision to host its Euro 2020 tournament in 13 cities across the continent, and the International Olympic Committee has opened the door to future joint city or country bids for the Olympic Games.
“Only time will tell if this experimental multi-city/country format will have been a one-off initiative or if it will leave a long-term footprint. Changing the hosting model can relieve some of the burdens, but it cannot be the only answer brought to the table. I deeply believe that this is a symptom of the problem, rather than the solution.”
“After having worked 15 years for mega event organising committees and bid committees before joining the MCI Group, I would say that the solution could be in a better partnership model between host cities and sports rights holders, a collaboration where economic and social benefits are created together and spread more fairly between stakeholders, where the scale of the event is fit for purpose and therefore more cost-effective, where athletes and spectators are at the centre of our concerns.”
There is tough competition between cities to land sporting events. So who is winning most battles? According to Sport Business, the Ultimate Sports City of 2016 is New York City, which won the annual award ahead of former winners London and Melbourne.
The category winners based on their major event portfolios were:
But what makes a winning sports city?
“In my opinion, cities or countries that succeed are the ones that have a clear strategy, a strategy they have designed according to their own capabilities, and that they follow closely over the years. These cities don’t necessarily need to bid for mega sports events, have gigantic stadiums or even invest in huge infrastructures in order to excel as a sports destination. Many cities have found their niche hosting smaller-sized events.”
She says that Ireland offers an excellent example. “Over the past few years, it has become an international sports events destination, attracting and supporting small and mid-size international events.”
Hosted events in 2016 include the Cadets & Juniors World Kickboxing Championships (Dublin), the Laser Radial World Championships in sailing (Dun Laoghaire), the Youth A World Pentathlon Championships (Limerick) and the JKA European Karate Championships (Dublin). And events for 2017 such as the ITF World Championships in taekwondo and the Women’s Rugby World Cup have already been already announced.
“Sometimes, in order to be a successful sports city, what matters most isn’t the size of the event, but rather hosting the right event with the right partners and offering that little extra bit of soul to the destination.”
When it comes to emerging sports, Barbara Martins-Nio mentions two with great potential for cities, e-sports and Formula E – street racing for electric-powered cars.
“Whether or not e-sports is classified as a sport is clearly no longer the main debate. Huge online communities have sprung up worldwide, which are now being taken offline with a momentum that can no longer be ignored – with small-scale studio events, large festivals and capacity-filling stadium events springing up in every country.”
“E-sports has completely redefined the way people communicate, play with one another and engage with content around their chosen ’discipline’. E-sports fans create their own communities, their own tournaments, their own events: they have democratised their sport entirely.
“The ease of access via streaming has also allowed for an interactive, unregulated and unified audience. Instead of e-sports fighting to be accepted as a sport, the sports industry should in fact start looking at e-sport’s best-practices – the incredible power of its online communities, the democratic creation of content and events, driven by the fans, for the fans – to evolve to the next level. Over the next few years, I strongly believe that we’ll see e-sports completely redefining the way that real sports play the game.”
MCI has already moved into this area by partnering with German-based ESL, the world’s largest e-sports company, to create ESL Brazil an e-sports network focusing on the Brazilian market.
One fast-growing event that is of great interest to MCI is the FIA Formula E Championship, which ran its first season of races in 2014.
“We would like to be involved because Formula E is at the crossroads of the industries MCI serves, it’s a fantastic platform for social, economic and environmental innovations, and it provides an amazing opportunity to promote e-mobility worldwide.”
“Beyond being a sports event, the race is a platform where cities/countries can champion e-mobility and have a positive impact on their own territory and consumers. It would make a lot of sense for MCI to develop side-events attached to the Formula E Championship. For example, creating an e-mobility week with a mix of demonstration and advocacy events that would run prior to the race.”
“But honestly, do you know what I love the most about Formula E? Their strategy of holding the races in downtown areas, in the city streets, which provides much more compelling images for TV audiences and better access for spectators. What a powerful accelerator of promotion for a city!”
Barbara feels that the popularity of sports such as Formula E can be used to achieve a range of positive changes far beyond racing circuits and sports arenas.
“Sport presents broad opportunities to promote environmental awareness, capacity building and far-reaching actions for environmental, social and economic development across society.”
MCI was the first agency in the meeting and events industry to become a signatory of the United Nations Global Compact in 2007 and has developed its sustainability policies in accordance with the Compact. The company follows the ISO20121 Sustainability Event Standard and is externally certified.
“For sports rights holders, we optimise the event’s environmental footprint, innovate to improve the attendee experience, engage attendees to leave a strong social legacy and showcase to increase reputation and knowledge transfer. In order to achieve that, we offer to evaluate over 150 event criteria in 10 categories to ensure the overall sustainability performance of the event, to measure its performance and to transparently disclose results using the GRI G4 Standard.”
“It’s also relevant to sports cities that MCI was also involved in the creation of the Global Destination Sustainability Index, a bench-marking system that allows destinations to compare their environmental and social performance, and then share best practice and performance. The program aims to drive responsible business within the meeting and events industry, and to support the brand positioning of destinations in the hosting of meetings, incentives, conferences or expositions … and why not international sports events!”
“Major international sports events bring together millions of people, regardless of their colour, gender, sexual orientation, age, nationality or religion, and have thus the potential to play an important role in creating an inclusive society. They are an ideal platform to harness the power of a community by bringing people together working towards common goals.”
Globalisation is a relentless trend in the world of sport, and Barbara Martins-Nio considers that as a global company with a presence in 31 countries, MCI is well-placed to benefit from developments.
“Major international sports events are becoming increasingly global and complex. Different stakeholders with different interests from different countries, targeting different audiences and different objectives. All these differences have to be harmonised and consolidated for the success of events.”
“MCI is used to working and communicating in complex and international environments, with multi-stakeholders, multi-interests, multi-sites, multi-time zones and with a lot of flexibility. The rise in globalisation and complexity that could handicap any organisation is making us stronger and more agile than ever.”
With a number of agencies active in the major international sports event industry, MCI aims to stand out from the crowd in a number of ways, such as generating additional revenues for clients.
“This important differentiating factor drives and determines every event management strategy we devise for each of our clients. There are many ways to achieve this goal such as searching for sponsors and exhibitors in our existing portfolio, selling corporate hospitality, co-creating events, implementing new business models, growing on-line and off-line communities, measuring ROI/ROE and developing new solutions and services.”
Barbara Martins-Nio describes 2016 as “A very positive year for the MCI Sports Business Unit” that marks MCI’s “take-off phase” in the sports industry, and looks forward to future challenges in a fast-changing sector.
“Wherever the road will take us, the lifecycle of a major sports event is far from being a long, quiet cruise. That’s why we remain flexible in our thinking, hard workers in our actions, and able to adapt our strategy as we move along.”