A Wake-Up Call for International Federations

4th March 2020

Ben Avison from Host City met with a number of International Federations at Major Events International’s IF Summit in Lausanne – and found out what keeps them awake at night

Featuring on the Olympic programme is still an incomparable way of capturing global attention, but sports will need more than this to hold attention and appeal in today’s crowded market.

“There is a need for a more entrepreneurial approach from international federations,” said Tom Dielen, Secretary General, World Archery, opening the IF Summit. “Our role is different to private companies. We need to develop sports, not just make money, and there we need to be creative.

“One highlight per year is not enough. You have to have event experiences for fans.”

One way of making sports more experiential is to make entertainment a stronger component of the programme. Dielen cites the example of the Superbowl: “After the half time show half the audience left – you wonder if the half time show is the real show!”

FIBA’s latest format places equal emphasis on entertainment. “3x3 Basketball has urban culture festivals with non-stop music,” said Ignacio Soriano, Head of Events and Partnerships at FIBA.

This event is open to cities and private promoters as well as national federations, who traditionally lead on hosting championships.

Sailing is another Olympic sport that is working more creatively with the private sector. World Sailing works with a number of “partner special events” – the Ocean Race, the Americas Cup, Sail GP, World Match Racing Tour, Star Sailors League and J Class.

“The special events have to sign a charter that links with our sustainability charter,” said Scott Over, commercial director at World Sailing.

“Sailing has a huge year this year – not just the Olympics, but also the first Offshore World Championships, a sport that may be included in Paris 2024, to be broadcast 24 hours a day for four days.”

Following the success of Beach Volleyball, which has been in the Games programme since 1996, FIVB launched Snow Volleyball as an opportunity to get into the winter sports market.

“Beach volleyball is influenced by the elements; we thought we could do that in winter,” said Nicolas Hyett, Technology and Innovation Manager at FIVB.

Hockey is another sport that has a relatively new format, Hockey5s, created for the Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing in 2014. “New small formats are complementary to traditional ones,” said Hilary Atkinson, Olympic Games Director at FIH.

Creative event owners also need to increase their reach in new regional markets. Alistair Gosling, CEO of Extreme International said, “Saudi Arabia is just starting to open up, and sports is a massive part of that transformation. Tourism and sport go hand in glove.”

However, host destinations are increasingly at the mercy of health and environmental issues. “Contingency is the word of the day,” said Dielen. “The Rugby World Cup in Japan last year was a major lesson for federations in what to do when a match is cancelled.”

Earlier this year, the Melbourne Open qualifying rounds were cancelled due to rain and air quality concerns amid the bushfires.

“More and more this is a factor. And now of course the coronavirus is causing events to be cancelled or postponed.”

Since the IF Summit, World Archery have announced that Shanghai will host the Hyundai Archery World Cup Final in the Autumn, instead of the Stage it was scheduled to host in May.

Dielen said sustainability is another big topic facing event owners, citing the 2020 Youth Olympic Games in Lausanne as a great example of widespread use of public transport. “Although on the second Friday, children from all over the world including Greta Thunberg gave a climate strike, which closed the train station and had a negative impact on carbon footprint.”

Financial sustainability is also a perennial and growing concern for event owners and organisers – and not just the IOC with its “New Norm” strategy.

“We took a decision in 2018 to have conversations with venues to see how they can be strategic partnerships – turning it into more of a conversation,” said Matt Evans, Events Manager at World Rowing.  

Alex Molina of Formula One said ,“We have the privilege of asking cities for a fee. Often this gets political – people say its’s better to spend the money on a hospital. But it attracts tourism, brings exposure to lesser known destinations – and brings economic impact.

“We have a responsibility to incentivise kids to get into engineering and motorsports. You need to adjust your product to kids – we need to think in terms of entertainment and bring in more music.”

Esports is competing massively for the attention of the next generation of fans. “We need to make participating actively as cool as esports”, said Atkinson.

So how can IFs make their events more entertaining, sustainable, global and safe? “Governance is the key to helping with all these things,” said Dielen.