The connection between International sports Federations (IFs) and host cities has traditionally been confined to collaboration during the bidding and hosting phases of sport events – it has been during these periods, and often these periods only, that such bodies combine forces to assess and optimise their mutual benefits.
In more recent years, the emphasis on IFs and host cities working together only during event periods has been increasingly challenged. Given such periods are relatively limited in duration, a cap is clearly placed on the advantages of collaboration, and especially the long-term benefits that this can bring.
Nowadays, IFs are increasingly recognizing the value of long-term partnerships with cities around the world, and vice-versa. So, what are the best strategies to create mutually beneficial relationships that transcend the traditional model of joining forces for a one-off sporting events?
Here are three strategies for IFs to consider to enhance their collaboration with host cities:
1. Promote – Utilise each other’s reach and channels
IFs should make extra efforts to understand cities’ needs and deliver concrete solutions that create value for all parties. A thorough and clear understanding of why cities are interested in hosting sports events is fundamental to this, and this often varies from city to city. Whatever the goal – be it local pride, stimulating local businesses or attracting tourists – IFs, and their international audiences, can play a pivotal role in amplifying city messages on a global scale. In return, cities can publicise the IF’s events, regardless of where they are taking place, and provide useful insight into fan data.
2. Partner - Focus on innovation and commercial opportunities
Instead of simply "selling" events as a take it or leave it offering, IFs should collaborate with cities to uncover innovative commercial opportunities that can benefit each other. Increasingly, cities can help IFs partner with local businesses and service providers – no matter where an event takes place - while IFs should also bring their own network of partners to the table to support cities’ wider objectives. Fundamentally, IF’s must remember that they represent not only an organization, but a sporting ecosystem, and it must look to bring that entire ecosystem to the table to work with cities.
3. Provide - Reimagine how bidding can benefit everyone
Cities that bid for events invest significant resources in such a process, often with the risk that the investment may not pay off. To tackle this challenge, IFs should ensure that the bidding process creates no losers. Offering alternative events or opportunities to unsuccessful bidding cities, like hosting a congress or another future event, can help ensuring that no city is left empty-handed. Another promising option is to encourage bidding cities to develop legacies that benefit their communities, irrespective of the outcome of the bidding process. Zurich's commitment to increasing funding for women's sports – regardless of whether the city would be chosen to host matches for the women's Euro 2025 – serves as an excellent example of such an approach and showcases the potential of long-term pledges that extend beyond the bidding process.
Shifting from transactional to collaborative partnerships, focusing on creating legacies, and fostering strong sustainable relationships are the keys to success. This paradigm shift will require a proactive, creative, and commercially driven mindset from IFs and, hopefully, will inspire all stakeholders to drive better synergies between rights holders and the public sector.