Running successful events in an unpredictable world


Image supplied by Elite Energy. Captured by Korupt Vision.

Despite the sports event industry being brought to a stand-still in 2020, there’s much to reflect and learn on. Sports events organisers were forced to implement new ways of managing events and engaging with participants – new ways that are likely to stick. We’ve learnt that we can’t predict what’s around the corner and that things can change overnight, which for the events industry, can be brutal.

Now, over 12 months on from the peak of COVID-19, the sports events industry is picking itself up and getting on with it. Here we talk about what we saw work well during the peak of the crisis for sports event organisers, including Elite Energy (the organisers of the Australia ‘Husky’ triathlon). And, what new elements are likely to be key in hosting successful events well into the future.

Stepping up

Inspired by a New Zealand race director with a heart-felt message responding to angry participants on not offering refunds, Elite Energy saw communications with clientele as their priority throughout the Australia’s COVID-19 crises, which has paid dividends. Participation rates are now at their highest, including their main event ‘Husky’ which is up 25% and a 15-20% uplift across many of their other events.

According to Seb Gallery, PR and Marketing Lead for Elite Energy, it was important to convey what they knew about the impact of COVID-19 on sports events, as it was becoming clear to them. Elite Energy stepped into the lights to give participants an understanding of what happens when a race gets postponed and why entry fees are often rolled-over versus being automatically refunded.

“Nothing is worse for a customer when you think you’re being cheated”, says Seb. Participants often underestimate what it takes to pull an event together, so Seb and the team prioritised transparency over polished communications.

“It was important to show a face and not be too concerned with producing perfect material.” And they used video as a main vehicle to do it. Something Elite Energy will continue with well beyond the pandemic.

Not surprisingly, the feedback they received was that their clientele was grateful for the transparency and honesty.

Groundswell of gratitude and community

As a business operating across Australia and New Zealand – us at Register Now can see the benefit of being ‘girt by sea’. And as a community, there’s a new layer of gratitude for shared moments. Opportunities and moments shared with people have risen in value. Simply having these opportunities to participate in are special. And how we choose to spend our time seems more of a significant decision.

Does this mean we expect to see more people on the course?

Going by early results of preliminary research we’re doing on post COVID-19 impacts, we expect existing participants to participate in more events.

But there is an opportunity to appeal to a different audience, that haven’t yet taken the step to sign up for an event. Educating this new audience on how to get involved, what to expect and where it will take them is needed to attract and get them signing up.

Getting to the heart of the matter

In a time when virtual events overtook in-person, regaining perspective on the heart and soul of what makes the event was more important than ever. Since the festivalisation of events could no longer happen, and we saw a renewed focus on defining and investing in the on-course experience (as soon as in-person could take place). Some of our clients are questioning whether the festival atmosphere still fits with their audience. “People are time poor and don’t always have the time to sit around and listen to the jazz quartet,” according to Ben Muldoon of Register Now. “You don’t want to lose that, but we are seeing a shift back to focussing on the event itself and making that experience the best it can be.”

Understanding the end-to-end experience for participants, including sign-up and post-event helps with nailing that experience. The value of clean, safe data comes into play, to enable timely communications, such as quick responses to participants via email or SMS, smooth transactions with E-tickets and QR codes and inputs into future planning by having the information on-hand to improve on your event year on year.

Fundraising options are more frequently being incorporated into events, so having the tools to easily facilitate it also adds to the experience that participants are looking for.

Event organisers are coming back to ‘hyper local’, running events within and for communities, such running for the local Fire Brigade. We’ve proven how connected we are globally, but we can longer rely on interstate or international participation. And there’s plenty of community sentiment that supports this.

Fluidity of events

Coming out of multiple lockdowns, and living with unpredictability, the challenge for event organisers is to rebuild confidence with participants and deal with the reality that the event may not go ahead.

Many event organisers are continuing to address the need to offer fluid registrations and enable, for example, the ability for a participant to make a change if they have cold or flu-like systems. And there is an expectation from participants that they will be able to do this.

A thoroughly developed ‘Plan B’ and ‘Plan C’ is now a necessity, when the cancellation of an event is more of an expectation than a wild possibility. For event organisers, this impacts the amount of planning and investment that’s required. It also means a communication plan is essential to have at-the-ready, so all involved is clear on what is to follow if the cancellation occurs.

Transparency and effective engagement with participants and event suppliers, not just at the time of crisis, but across the board, makes good practice for any event organiser to manage the fluidity of events we now face.

Better together

The sports events industry is largely made up of fragmented, small providers. There’s now the opportunity for greater collaboration with the establishment of AMPSEA (Australian Mass Participation Sporting Events Alliance).

Formed in May 2020 as an independent body, AMPSEA’s purpose is to find a way to return to the delivery of mass participation sporting events during the COVID-19 pandemic, with a united voice.

Register Now’s CEO, Matt Bisset is on the board and we are excited to be part of this positive and united movement.

So what now?

We are working with our clients to keep the momentum even during uncertain times. Regardless of what event you run, how big or small, our advice is to:

• Understand and get involved in community discussion

• Engage with your participants, not just transact

• Educate new audiences who are yet to sign up

• Make efficient use of touchpoints and reduce where you can

• Nailing the end-to-end experience

• Have a communications plan, A, B and C.

Get in touch to talk about how we can help you.

Over to you

Let us know how your event has changed as a result of COVID-19, and what’s likely to stick. Or, as a participant, what’s your experience been like and what have you seen change for the better?

Thank you to our industry friend Amy Annetts Marketing who kindly put this article together for us. And a big thanks to Seb Gallery of Elite Energy for sharing his perspective with us.


Amy Annetts | Marketing Strategist | 0408 574 519

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