Creating a high level of local engagement in an event is a priority for almost any sport event rights-holder and local organising committee. High local engagement has the obvious tangible benefits of developing new fans of the sport, creating full arenas and offering more lucrative commercial opportunities for the organisers, all of which can be capitalised on to grow the sport in the long-term.
But how best to do it?
One of the most important ways for events to encourage more active local engagement is through the schools in the hosting region. Not only will a focus on schools help to engage the participating children, through different design projects or event volunteering, for example, but it also creates an opportunity for the event organiser to grow a new generation of fans and participants, well beyond the time limits of the event itself.
Moreover, partnering with local schools can enable event organisers to tap into the market that is so frequently talked about: the youth. Not only does working alongside local children give event organisers a unique insight into the perception of young people towards their sport, but hosting a special event in the local vicinity also allows a sport to rise above the everyday competition for attention on TV and social media, and bring fandom to life. And it doesn’t need to just be the ‘sporty’ kids. Sports are for everyone, and the organisation of an event can show how sport relies on good designers, writers, musicians, public speakers and project managers, as well as good athletes.
Furthermore, school engagement does not need to stop with the youth. Rather, working closely alongside schools allows sports events a unique opportunity for upward engagement. What better way to get a parent’s interest in your sports event than to tap into the interest of their children? By allowing a school child to feel part of a sports event, in whatever capacity, event organisers can also have the attention of their parents and grandparents – establishing cross-generational appeal that is very complex to achieve otherwise.
A supplementary benefit of working closely with local schools is also a significant PR benefit. Many events struggle to establish good PR and get tangled in a somewhat distorted cost v. benefit argument. Partnering with schools should not be for show, but developing an awareness that the event organisers are making a (genuine!) effort to engage and inspire young local people can help to portray the event in a positive light, and improve understanding in some of the tangible, long-lasting benefits that a sports event can bring to a community – even for those with no direct connection with the schools themselves.