Sport events can have a variety of impacts for hosting cities and counties. Whether it be increasing tourism, improving international brand image or enhancing local quality of life and pride through new facilities and initiatives, a sports event – if well-planned and well-executed, can do it all. Whatever the primary reason for the hosting body, one aspect is almost always required: a successful event has to engage with its local population. Without this, tourism will be short-lived and uninspired, international perception will remain unchanged or even worsen, and local initiatives will not gain traction.
Considering the important of local engagement, here are three tips that could help you on this task:
1. Think beyond the sport itself
While it is great to watch professional athletes smashing world records, we are not all sport connoisseurs. Going beyond the “elite sport event” itself is critical for cities looking to engage with their population.
Concerts, activations with museums, ‘try the sport’ activities, are some examples of activities that should be considered by hosting bodies as an integral part of the new format of sport events.
A good example of this is the Youth Olympic Games. While the Games are of course the pinnacle of youth sports competitions within the Olympic movement, they are also an event that includes a series of cultural and educational activities for the athletes and the local population alike! During the last Winter Youth Olympic Games, the City of Lausanne created a festival, ‘Lausanne en Jeux’, offering more than 250 workshops, exhibitions and activities to the local population, of all ages. The event combined the use of medal plaza each evening with a variety of cultural events and activities, ranging from food trucks to artistic stage performances.
Other events focus on specific targets of the population. The FIBA 3X3 events, for example, clearly aims to attract a new young urban audience by being even more fast-paced, spectacular, and dramatic. Besides the sport format itself – which is innovative, shorter and with fewer breaks - spectators also enjoy non-stop music with a live DJ, a stand-up comedian as the commentator, performers during entertainment breaks, and an interactive audience experience via live quizzes and dunk contests.
2. Bring the sport to the people
If people don’t come to sport, sport come to people!
Going to a sports venue can be a challenging process for people, especially for families and those who are unable to travel easily. Often, such venues are outside of city centres and require a full commitment to make the trip which, especially for first-time attendees or those less familiar with the sport, can be something of a daunting experience.
To best engage the local population, event organisers must seek to find new ways to bring the sport to where such a population will be – primarily city centres. Athletissima, an athletics meeting part of the Diamond League is a great example of this, organizing a city event competition where the people will anyway frequent. In 2022, for example, the Pole Vault Men’s competitions took place on the stunning shores of Lake Geneva – creating a show for passers-by to become enthusiastic about the event and further their interest without any strong commitment. On top of it the event offers a family relay called “relais des mini-stars” where kids compete with their families and can meet elite athletes competing in the Diamond league’s event one week after.
3. Use the time before your event
A lot has been said about legacy, what it means and what its limitations are. Too often legacy is seen as only being something that is delivered after the event, but by re-thinking this definition and planning ahead of time, sports events can engage local populations in a long-lasting manner.
Thought the event will only be held in two years’ time, the organizing committee of the Paris 2024 Olympic Games is a great example of a sports event using the time in its build-up to develop new initiatives, increase the visibility of such initiatives, and engage local populations in their delivery. The below two projects are examples of this.
- Active design initiative, through the “Terre de Jeux 2024” label (guide here), Paris 2024 is helping cities and territories across France design public spaces and buildings in order to encourage free physical activity and sport for all.
- 30 minutes of exercise every day at school: Paris 2024 is driving an initiative to introduce 30 minutes of daily physical activity into French schools. The program encourages schools, via toolkits and the provision of a sports kit that includes some basic sporting equipment, to offer short sessions of physical activity throughout the school day.
Both initiatives, focused on a coherent theme of avoiding sedentary lifestyles and develop lasting habits of physical activity, are helping to not only raise the profile of Paris 2024, but engage people in understanding the event’s value proposition.
And of course, don’t forget to communicate about all your programs! It is critical that your population is well informed. A sports event is above all a unique opportunity to tell the world a great story about the host, the place, the people, and the potential– and this story doesn’t need to wait until the event itself.