Opportunities and Challenges of Mass Participation in Asia

Mass participation has seen tremendous growth in Asia in recent years, with many newcomers, both local and overseas attracted to the industry without fully understanding the business models or challenges it brings. While on one level, this presents risk to the industry from a reputation perspective, it also presents fantastic opportunities for good concepts that are well executed.

From an opportunity perspective, there is clearly an emerging middle class across the region that has more disposable income, is becoming more health and wellness aware and interested to enjoy experiences and concepts that have been successful overseas. My sense is that, in general, the level of authentic ongoing engagement with participants is limited which presents a huge opportunity for brands, events and agencies that are prepared to invest in making their participants feel valued. So often I see virtually the same communication being cut and pasted from year to year – “Dear Chris, we are excited to announce that entries for XXX event are now open, followed by some generic event information and ending with please click here to sign up” Every past participant on the database gets the same message no matter what distance they entered in or when they participated previously. Generic communication then happens at regular intervals until event day and post-event there may be one or two messages followed by months of silence until the next year launches with similar communication.

A step in the right direction can be as simple as “Dear Chris, congratulations again on running the 10k in 65 minutes last year. We are delighted to launch this year’s event and were wondering if you may be interested in taking on a bigger challenge in the half marathon – if so here is a 10% discount code as a valued repeat participant. If you would prefer to run the 10k again, here is a link to a free training program to help you improve your time and perhaps get under the magic one hour mark”. With the software and CMS systems available these days, it is relatively easy to create such customised engagement and much more is possible.

There is no doubt that calendars in many countries are becoming cluttered by, in the most part, “me too” events with little differentiation and basic levels of organisation and engagement. I was recently talking with Andrew Messick, CEO of Ironman, and we both agreed that there is still plenty of opportunity in the market for top quality events that deliver value and a great participant experience.

I believe that one of the biggest challenges that the industry in the region faces is its business model. In general, entry fees are still relatively low compared to other parts of the world, partly because of the still emerging middle class and partly because of the point above relating to perceived value. This makes most events highly dependent on sponsors and government grants which creates significant risk should a sponsor not materialise or renew. Other challenges include the approval process and permits which varies hugely across the region both in terms of time taken and costs, also, the limited pool of experienced staff and volunteers in most countries and the significant operational challenges of delivering complex events.

In my experience working in Asia, where requirements can vary massively from country to country, a vital component to hosting a successful event is working with a reliable local partner who understands the cultural nuances and has a reliable network which includes key government agencies and reliable suppliers. I believe creating this partnership is of significant importance and overlooking it is the biggest misstep an organiser could make.

For example, a number of years ago, I was approached by a massively successful overseas concept offering me a licence for Asia and assuring me that they would be in ten markets in their first year. I cautioned them that was extremely optimistic and, in my opinion, highly unlikely but they were not prepared to listen. Years later they have delivered one average event and one terrible event.

I will be exploring this topic in depth when I deliver the closing keynote at the next edition of America’s largest running convention, Running USA in February 2018. Read more about my thoughts here: http://www.runningusa.org/speaker-series-chris-robb and if you’re interested to attend, tickets are available through their website: http://www.runningusa.org/running-usa-annual-conference. As a speaker, I have access to a limited number of discounted delegate passes. Please email me at chris@chrisrobb.asia if you are interested.

149.7 Metres – The Difference Between Good and Bad Publicity

Last week, a friend in London sent me a recent BBC article “Great Scottish Run half-marathon course found to be short”.

It highlighted the complexities of delivering successful mass participation events, especially in the heart of major cities, as well as the power of social media and wearables to keep organisers accountable.

The organiser of the event, The Great Run Company, is one of the most experienced in the business, having been around for over 30 years and delivered events for over 4 million participants. So if such an industry veteran can experience an issue, there are clearly potential lessons for others.

The event, held back in October, was won in what at first appeared to be a course and Scottish record time by Olympian, Callum Hawkins, and no doubt hundreds of runners also thought they had set personal and season’s bests.

Questions were posed soon after the race by participants who indicated that their Garmins and other devices showed the course to be about 200m short. Chatter soon started on the likes of Facebook and Strava and the organisers committed to re-measure the course –something that would have had to happen anyway due to a record being broken. The re-measure was only able to be done in late January.

The miscalculation of the distance was down to human error, with two problems identified. A small section of the prescribed route was not followed correctly on race day and in addition, when the course measure was conducted, the roads were unclosed due to essential utilities works. It is easier for measurers to take the exact line athletes will run when the roads are closed.

Measurement of road courses for running events is a complex process that has evolved significantly over the past 30 years. With such huge bonuses at stake these days for breaking of records, it is an even more critical component.

I was lucky enough to be involved in the route measure for the 2000 Sydney Olympic Marathon. A police escort helped close roads, often ridden in the wrong direction. One of the highlights was cycling diagonally across Sydney Harbour Bridge devoid of vehicles apart from a long line of stationary traffic on the lane closest to the Opera House. We were greeted with a mixture of cheers and jeers and no doubt a good few people were left bewildered. The measure could clearly have not been accomplished without the support of a number of city agencies.

So what are some of the lessons that we can take from the events in Scotland:

  • Collaboration is key: for the safety of the measurers and to ensure accuracy, the support of city agencies to close roads or provide police escorts makes a challenging task far easier
  • Identify every possible way to eradicate the risk of human error: participants going the wrong way is almost always the result of human error. Look at ways to reduce this both during course set-up and whilst the race is on
  • Monitor your social media channels
  • Have a clear crisis communication plan that outlines how you will communicate clearly and in a timely manner with your stakeholders. This is likely to include sponsors, host city and of course participants
  • Try to resolve and clarify the issue/s as fast as possible
  • Accept responsibility and apologise, as happened with the Great Scottish Run
  • Appoint a certified course measurer and provide them with the appropriate information and environment to conduct the measure
  • Do a thorough debrief and identify how processes and procedures can be improved

Ultimately in this day and age, there is nowhere to hide as problems are aired and scrutinised in real time on social media. Robust and detailed event planning delivers many benefits including the opportunity to minimise the risk of negative publicity.

I believe that there are huge opportunities for our industry to collaborate and share best practices globally. It is one of the reasons why I started the Mass Participation Asia conference – to bring the industry together and learn from each other. If the operational aspects of such events is relevant to your line of work, perhaps you would be interested to attend our next edition: http://massparticipationasia.com/.

Opportunities for Mass Participation to Look over the Fence

There is no doubt that the pace of consolidation in the mass participation industry is gathering momentum as large global players from both within and outside the sector make investments and acquisitions.

In August 2015 the world’s largest private property developer, Wanda Group from China, paid a massive $650m for Ironman. Late last year, ASO, the owners of the Tour de France, bought UK based Human Race and media company, DC Thomson, invested in another large UK based agency, Limelight Sports.

In the past year Ironman has made several acquisitions including the Cape Epic mountain bike race in South Africa, Lagardère’s portfolio of mass participation events which included the Velothon cycling series and a number of marathons as well as Spectrum Worldwide which gave it the rights to the Singapore Marathon. A clear indication that it is moving beyond triathlon into the parallel verticals of running and cycling.

Perhaps the most closely watched play has been that of the Virgin Group. Back in May 2015 Sir Richard Branson announced that he had recruited Mary Wittenberg, CEO of the New York Road Runners and New York Marathon, to head up Virgin Sports. Virgin is in fact no stranger to mass participation with their sponsorship of the Virgin Money London Marathon and Virgin Active London Triathlon and Sir Richard is an active participant in mass events such as the Cape Argus.

The industry has waited in anticipation to see what the move would entail and two weeks ago Wittenberg announced that the program for 2017 would feature four “sports festivals” in Greater London and San Francisco with growth in future years to include cycling events and possibly more marathons and even ultra-marathons. The core focus appears to be events that provide platforms for strong engagement and interaction with not only hard-core runners but also their families and friends.

THE MASS PARTICIPATION LANDSCAPE

The fact that mass participation has captured the attention of such large global organisations seems to be an exciting endorsement of the potential of an industry that in many parts of the world is still fragmented and does not have a united voice with a common goal of lifting standards and adopting best practice.

When it comes to benchmarking and best practice my sense is that generally comparisons are made against other events in similar categories and geographical proximity. It seems that international standards from top tier events as well as other sports and industries are not often aspired to.

There are also significant challenges facing many sectors of the industry including tenuous business models, availability of venues, cluttered calendars, erosion of traditional events by novelty and short formats, increased compliance and regulatory hurdles and the ever present increased costs of risk management and security.

Working in mass participation events is challenging with staff generally working exceptionally long hours often in stressful situations. As more millennials enter the workforce looking for higher wages and more flexibility, staff turnover may become an issue in an industry where on-the-ground experience is just as important as classroom learning. It also seems that volunteers are getting harder to recruit and retain.

LOOKING AHEAD

There are clearly also many exciting opportunities. The increasing power and reach of social and digital media, the insights provided by big data, the recognition by global and local brands of the power of mass participation events to engage with consumers as well as that of governments to drive community and tourism outcomes to name a few.

It is likely that some events and organisers may see the arrival of these new global organisations as a threat but at the same time others will see it as filled with upside.

I believe there is a massive opportunity to learn not only from the fresh initiatives that the likes of Virgin and Wanda bring to mass participation but also from other sports and indeed other industries that will help take the industry to a new level.

UNITING AN ENTIRE INDUSTRY

It is one of the reasons that I chose the theme of “Inspiration from Beyond Mass Participation” for the second edition of the Mass Participation Asia conference that took place in Bangkok in April 2017.

The conference featured an exciting line-up of speakers from other sports and industries together with many mass participation experts from the region as well as the United States, Europe and Australia including Victor Cui, Founder and CEO of ONE Championship as a keynote speaker.

In the space of just five years the Singapore-based sports media property has gone from start-up to a position where its shareholders include Temasek Holdings (Heliconia), one of Asia’s largest and most prestigious sovereign wealth investment funds, boxing legend Manny Pacquiao, plus several other prominent global businessmen and is on track for a US$1 billion valuation by 2018.

What many don’t realize is how fragmented the MMA scene in Asia was just five years ago. I see many parallels with the current state of the mass participation sports industry and am confident that the industry can take some key lessons from the success of ONE.

Over a brief conversation with Victor, he was kind enough to share some of his key insights.

“The biggest challenge ONE faced when starting off was to create a world-class level of sport entertainment in Asia that had not previously existed. Figuring out how to take the sport to a whole new level, breaking stadium attendance records and going into countries that had never hosted an event of this scale including a live global broadcast to 118 countries made it such an incredible operational challenge to be doing business in Asia”, Victor shared.

To overcome that obstacle, another presented itself – staffing. To hire the very best, Victor indicates that they sometimes go through at least 200 CVs to fill a role.

Through his collaborative vision, Victor has “united gym owners, event property owners, martial arts federations and athletes who were initially constantly pitting against one another, often cannibalizing and stunting their own growth. When ONE provided a global platform to showcase their talent, things quickly turned around. Competitors were united by their aspirations to be a part of the Championship and spectators were clamouring for more action”.

Perhaps the time has arrived for the mass participation industry in Asia and other parts of the world to “look over the fence” to learn from others and adopt a more collaborative and unified approach.

8 Keys to Wowing Your Clients and Staff with Events

Events present a wonderful opportunity to engage with your clients and staff as long as they are well planned and executed. On the flip-side they can create huge headaches if not properly thought through. Have you had experiences of events that were a ‘disaster’ or are you perhaps nervous about putting one on for the first time?

I think that the biggest problem is that some organisers don’t take the time to create a detailed plan. The reality is that even the smallest event has multiple moving parts which can be managed with an appropriate plan that will minimise the risk of failure.

In my 30 years of organising events ranging from massive marathons with 65,000 participants to small cocktail parties or conferences I have identified eight key areas that should be addressed.

1.  What does success look like?

Assume you are sitting in the debrief the day after the event. What are the key boxes that you will want to tick to confirm that the event was a huge success? Be sure that the objectives meet the needs of all stakeholders and are well documented and shared.

2.  Do you have the right budget and resources?

Whilst having an appropriate budget is critical it is equally essential to have the right resources to plan and deliver the event. I have seen many big budget events fail because they did not have the right staff resources. Even for a small event there will probably be a period where some dedicated staffing is required.

It is also important to ensure that internal staff not only have the bandwidth but also the appropriate skills and experience. Depending on the size of the event I would strongly recommend considering outsourcing to a specialist agency.

Do not overlook the key element of cash flow, especially if it is a public event where ticket revenue may only come in close to the event.

3.  Selecting the appropriate date

This should involve an appropriate amount of research to identify possible conflicts with other similar events as well as school and public holidays. Be sure to also consider global and national events that may impact aspects such as media exposure. For example, if the Olympics is on, whilst it may not directly impact your event, it will certainly take up huge media bandwidth and reduce your chances of exposure.

4.  Venue and suppliers

Be sure to consider a number of venue options and be very clear on the requirements that you need. Also, ensure that availability includes sufficient time for set up and tear down and that you have a clear understanding of all elements of the venue contract.

Do a thorough evaluation of the suppliers you need and try to get recommendations and multiple quotes. Be conscious that some venues may insist that you only use their authorised suppliers.

5.  Project plan and timeline

It is critical to develop a detailed plan, even for small and simple events, that identifies all tasks, a time by when they need to be completed and an allocation of responsibility.

6.  Create a marketing plan

Marketing is critical to the success of any event. It may range from as basic as designing an event invitation and sending it to a database to a far more complex integrated plan with multiple elements and a significant budget depending on the size and objectives. Don’t forget that one of the key opportunities that an event creates is multiple touch points over a period of days, weeks or months to engage and build a relationship with clients.

7.  Conduct a risk assessment

As with most aspects of business, there is an element of risk with any event, even a small one. Be sure to take time to identify the potential risks and document a plan to deal with them. This may be as simple as the CEO being called away and not being able to address a staff function to a guest injuring themselves or dealing with extreme weather if your event is outdoors.

A thorough risk assessment plan will help you to reduce possible issues and will also be invaluable in the unlikely event of a major incident. The fact that you have a detailed plan goes a significant way towards helping you in the event of an inquiry.

8.  Carry out a post event review

There are always lessons that can be learned to help improve your next event even if it is totally different one. Be sure to document them.

The devil is in the detail. By following the above eight guidelines to create a detailed plan you will give yourself a head start in delivering an event that will wow.

Ending Strong to Start Even Better – 6 Tips for a Powerful Evening Routine

Do you toss and turn at night with your mind buzzing over the things that you need to do tomorrow? Do you wake up each morning with a clear plan for the day? Do you get to lunchtime and feel that you have not achieved much having spent the morning jumping from task to task?

In the hyper-connected business environment that we operate in it may not be unusual to get to the end of the day feeling frazzled. Perhaps you feel that you are on a treadmill that never lets up and you race out of the office with a multitude of unfinished tasks at the end of the day. It may be to get to that last appointment or a work dinner or maybe a distracted evening with your family.

My life used to be something like that until I invested in creating an end of day routine which soon became a ritual. It had a massive impact on my productivity and most importantly my well-being. The key is that each morning I’m absolutely clear on what I am committed to working on first up at the most productive time of the day. Almost without fail, I find that if I get off to a great start the rest of the day follows suit. Below I have shared some of the tips that work for me.

6 Tips for Creating an Evening Routine and Turning it Into a Ritual

1.  Set a clear cut-off time

Identify the time that you will leave the office or step out of the home office or stop working in a cafe. It may vary from day to day and indeed from week to week but the key is to make a commitment to yourself each day with regard to the time that that you will stop working. It’s non-negotiable except in extreme circumstances. Rest assured there will ALWAYS be something left on your to-do list.

2.  Review the day

This may be last thing before you leave the office or after dinner. I prefer to do it after dinner and putting my son to bed. I spend some time writing in a journal where, amongst others, I address two key questions. Firstly, what three things made today great and secondly, what would have made it better? There are usually a mix of personal and business items. The first question is designed to practice gratitude as much as highlighting wins.

I also spend time writing a list of tasks that didn’t get done and key priorities for the next day.

3.  Create a plan for the next day

I take my key priorities and tasks and turn them into a plan for the next day – usually just timings and items jotted on an A4 sheet of paper that I leave in the middle of my desk or maybe entered into outlook.

The key is that the minute I walk into my home office, usually at 5am each morning, I’m absolutely clear what I’m going to start working on and can get straight into it at is what the most productive part of the day.

4.  Get outdoors and connect with loved ones

For me spending some time with my family, usually outdoors or doing some exercise is the best way to unwind. Pick what works best for you and ensure that you allocate some time to do it. Try your best to be fully present and not distracted by work thoughts or devices.

5.  Disconnect from devices

I believe this is crucial. Leaving my phone behind whilst I’m enjoying point 4 above and not using my phone or other device for an hour before I go to bed. I’m certain that it has had a huge impact on calming my mind and improving my quality of sleep.

6.  Prepare to sleep

Aside from disconnecting, try to work out what works best for you in that hour before bed that will help you to fall asleep quickly. For me its reading a book, turning down the lights and maybe having a warm drink (no caffeine). Be conscious of your sleeping environment. Cool temperature, comfortable bed and pillow and as dark as possible, ideally pitch black.

I have no doubt that having a clear and structured evening ritual combined with an equally strong morning ritual has had a massive positive impact on both my business and personal life. It requires commitment and ongoing refinement but the rewards are huge and I would encourage anyone to give it a try.

7 Simple Steps to Improve Your Work Output with Activity

Are you feeling overwhelmed with stress, lacking in energy and struggling to focus and be productive? Are you finding it hard to get quality sleep?

Perhaps you think “I’m not athletic, exercise is not for me” or “I’ve tried it before and couldn’t do it”. Maybe you feel self-conscious and uncomfortable or don’t know where to start.

There is a huge amount of evidence suggesting that incorporating activity into your lifestyle can help address all of the above issues and deliver numerous other benefits. I have purposely used the term activity rather than exercise. You don’t need to be an athlete and it can be as simple as going for a walk or taking the stairs to the office instead of the elevator.

Below I have outlined 7 easy steps that I am confident can help anyone incorporate regular activity into their lifestyle.

7 Steps to a Healthier and More Productive Life

1.  Keep it simple

Make it as easy as possible. Choose an activity that doesn’t require investment in expensive equipment and lessons, e.g. you may think that cycling is your thing so be sure that you have the budget for a bike, helmet, gear and accessories as well as the time to go and buy it, get it fitted and serviced.

Likewise give some thought to where you will do your activity. Close to home or the office is perfect. As soon as you start having to travel to get there you can be sure things will get in the way and it will slide.

2.  Get a check-up and advice

Before you start, especially if you have been inactive for a while, it makes great sense to get a check-up from your doctor.

Then ask for advice to help you get started. That may be paid for support such as a personal trainer or coach but it doesn’t have to be. Check in with your friends and work mates who do similar exercise and of course use the internet.

3.  Find a partner or accountability buddy

Research has shown that most people like to do activities and exercise with others. It adds to the enjoyment but also helps keep you committed. When I was at university I used to race on the track and I had a training partner. Each day we would alternate the start of our morning run between his place and mine. Needless to say, we hardly ever missed a run and we helped each other through the inevitable hard days.

So, find yourself a partner or partners and commit to doing activity together. It is a great way to spend time with your life partner and family or perhaps you prefer to do it with a friend or work mate. Be sure to consider ease of meeting with them.

4.  Set a realistic goal

It can be as simple as “for the next three months, I’m going to walk for half an hour three times a week”. I always find that setting a target to participate in an event is a great motivator. If that’s your plan be sure to sign up as soon as you set the goal. I’m currently training for a cycling event in September.

5.  Schedule it

Block the time that you have committed to in your diary as non-negotiable. Make the commitment that only an emergency can over-ride it. Be sure to set a realistic time, e.g. if you are not a morning person perhaps it’s better to schedule it at night. I personally find that mornings are the best. It’s a great way to start the day and there is far less chance of it being bumped by the events of the day.

6.  Share it

Your training partner should help keep you accountable but there is nothing better than sharing your commitment with your friends and colleagues to help keep you going. Not only will they help keep you honest but you may be surprised at the huge amount of support and encouragement that you will receive.

7.  Reward yourself

Reward yourself along the way and also once you have achieved your goal. Part of my routine is cycling three or four mornings a week. I’m extremely fortunate to live in Bali where I have stunning rides through the rice fields and villages. I love the reward of finishing at my favourite cafe for coffee and sometimes breakfast.

As you can see the steps are simple and it can cost very little. The key is recognising the benefits and making the decision.

Are you prepared to step up and make the commitment to improve your personal wellbeing and work productivity? Start small and simple and build momentum over time. I’m certain you will not regret it.

Managing a Postponed or Cancelled Event: A Seven-Step Framework

During my 32 years in the mass participation industry, I have been involved with numerous event postponements and cancellations with many more close calls.

It is often challenging and each time there are key learnings that can be applied to future events. As with success in all aspects of a mass participation event, it essentially boils down to good planning.

My recommendation is that every time you plan an event, your contingency plan should address potential cancellation or postponement. The mistake that people often make is to focus their plan on event day cancellation but the reality is that you may be forced to postpone or cancel an event weeks or even months before it takes place.

Over the years, I have had to deal with actual and near cancellations or postponements for a myriad of reasons including the death of a participant, huge storms, haze, collapse of a major highway and even political demonstrations to name a few.

More recently in October, out of respect for the passing of Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej, I made the decision to postpone the Mass Participation Asia conference originally scheduled for Bangkok in late November.
The conference has now been rescheduled for 3 and 4 of April 2017 at the Centara Grand in Bangkok. Managing the postponement helped reinforce a seven-step framework that I have successfully used many times in similar situations

1. Pause
In my opinion, the power of pausing cannot be overstated. Under pressure, it can be easy to rush into action and make decisions without all the facts. Ensure that you take a few minutes, hours or even days before making an informed and considered decision.

2. Evaluate
Together with your core or crisis team, gather as much information as possible and evaluate it, ideally against your existing contingency and crisis plan if you have one, before making a provisional decision and action plan.

3. Engage
Engage with key stakeholders, share your proposed course of action with them and seek their feedback. For example, in the case of MPA in Bangkok, this included Thai government officials, our event partner in Bangkok, sponsors, key speakers, staff and the venue.

Confidentiality is crucial at this stage if you are to manage the communication process effectively. Sometimes, you may be in the awkward position of deciding not to consult with a particular partner if you have concerns that they may leak the decision before you officially announce it. On occasion, the process may be more on a basis of ‘for your information rather than in consultation.

For example, “I wanted to let you know before making the public announcement that as a result of the impending cyclone we have decided, as per the contingency plan, to postpone the event”.

4. Re-Evaluate
Revisit your plan and be prepared to reconsider or tweak your initial decision based on feedback and impact on your key stakeholders or participants that you may not have initially considered.

Be confident in your decision and be conscious of the potential impact of politics from the usually multiple stakeholders.

5. Communicate
Once the final decision has been made, develop a very clear communication plan to be used across multiple channels including social, digital and mainstream media. Ensure that staff and stakeholders are fully briefed and that there are written answers to likely frequently asked questions. It is important to be clear on who will be the key spokesperson in the event of media enquiries.

6. Monitor
Once the decision has been announced, be sure to monitor the reaction from participants and public across all channels and be prepared to respond appropriately where necessary in a timely manner.

7. Review
At an appropriate time, conduct a formal review of the process and document any key learnings and recommended changes. Even though the cause of the next cancellation or postponement may be completely different, you can be certain that the learnings will be invaluable.

The seven-step framework is also covered in detail in my book Mass Participation Sports Events available HERE.


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