Major events: Business gold?

As Birmingham is confirmed as the host city for the 2022 Commonwealth Games, how can businesses strike gold at international tournaments?
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MAJOR events like the Olympics, rugby or football world cups have long since ceased to be solely about sporting pride.

Competition to host international tournaments is almost as fierce as on the field of play, as politicians tap into the power of sports to provide a fillip to national or civic pride. This has been seen most recently in the race between Birmingham and Liverpool to stage the 2022 Commonwealth Games.

The Midlands city – confirmed today as host – will hope to emulate the feelgood factor brought about by London’s Olympics. But the legacy of the 2012 Games is as evidenced in the growth of the industry serving global events as it is in the creation of infrastructure or inspiration of youngsters. Keen to capitalise on its bank of expertise, the UK government commissioned research to map the opportunities in international tournaments.

“They realised how big the market was and also build trust and confidence in UK exports in the area of major event delivery,” says Egemen Onen, global sports adviser to the Department for International Trade (DIT).

“They decided to treat it as another industry, just like defence or creative services.”

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A quick browse around the DIT’s web material and it’s easy to understand why.

“Global operational and infrastructure budgets for one-off sports events will be worth over £220 billion up to 2022,” it reported in 2015. “Each event offers UK businesses opportunities throughout its lifecycle, from the awarding of hosting rights to the event delivery.”

It identified potential across multiple industries, notably:

  • architecture and construction services
  • project management
  • professional services
  • creativity and design
  • strategic communication
  • branding and marketing
  • security
  • catering and corporate hospitality

Hertfordshire design consultancy A Touch of Ginger was a ‘tiny’ organisation of half a dozen people when its management made a speculative bid for a licence to the 2012 Games organising body Locog in 2009.

It went from designing glovebox and handbag ‘emergency’ gift kits to working on a host of special projects, from organising events to working with sponsors. The company has since done the same for the Glasgow’s 2014 Commonwealth Games, and designed medals for the 2015 Rugby World Cup, in England, and 2016 UCI Track Cycling World Championships in Scotland.

This year, in working on souvenirs in support of the Queen’s Baton Relay, it is the only British merchandise supplier to the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in Australia.

“Major events have totally transformed our business,” says director Gary Moore. “We were in the right place at the right time for London and we haven’t looked back. We’ve gained a lot of exposure. We do a lot of work for the automotive industry [making bespoke key rings and souvenirs] and they wouldn’t have thought twice about us prior to our events activities.”

Major events: the Queen's Baton Relay design for the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games
A Touch of Ginger is working on merchandise for the Queen's Baton Relay

The company remains relatively small, turning over about £1m but is about to expand its staff of eight and recently invested in laser-marking and printing technology, a clean room and build room to enhance its ability to create bespoke products.

“We can hang every year on one or two big events. We know the Commonwealth Games and European Athletics Championships will generate business in ’18 and can fit everything else in between.”

The transformation has allowed A Touch of Ginger to licence out the retail part of the business that Moore says was made “extremely difficult” by the need for storage and assembly facilities, coupled with retailers’ requirements to preserve margins.

Now he and partner Adam Cash focus on the really interesting stuff, “creating things from scratch and solving problems on a tight timescale… exactly what we are good at”.

Moore remembers a steep learning curve for the Olympics but says the legacy for his company was the enhanced credibility brought by meeting strict social audit standards for accreditation.

“It really tightened and strengthened our supply chain, and we were able to tell our clients that their reputation was safe,” says Moore, adding that many of the company’s UK suppliers have felt the knock-on benefits.

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For businesses wanting to emulate the design consultancy’s success, it pays to get involved in bids early, according to Tupo Mwaijumba of Major Events International (MEI).

“During the bid stages is when you first engage. Games committees like to see you’re loyal to the cause and not just there to make money,” she says.

The company was set up to link businesses to major events organisers, providing market intelligence, overseas missions and in-country support. Founder Dennis Mills, an ex-army officer, set out to alert businesses to opportunities such as providing security-cleared people to sell ice cream or clean toilets.

A membership organization, MEI works with everyone from sole traders to corporates and Mwaijumba says small companies can benefit via overseas partnerships.

“We tell members to visit the country first because then you get to understand whether what you want to do is feasible,” she says.

“The Japanese, for example, [who host the 2019 Rugby World Cup, 2022 Olympics and Paralympics and 2021 Kansai World Masters Games] like to build relationships first, before business. Are you willing to commit yourself to visit several times a year before any business relationship starts?”

After the UK government signed a deal to become a ‘delivery partner’ to the 2019 Pan American Games in Peru – providing an advisory team to help with the project’s delivery – it claimed contracts worth hundreds of millions of pounds would be open to UK companies.

And Mwaijumba says businesses bidding for them can use market visits not just to meet officials and see project requirements but to work out whether they can adapt to the culture.

One area of British expertise lies in ‘overlay’ – the design, planning, installation and removal of all the temporary infrastructure and services needed for an event – having built on experience of events like Wimbledon and the Grand National at recent major tournaments.

Major events: computer-generated image depicting how Birmingham's 2022 Commonwealth Games might look
Birmingham fought off competition from Liverpool for the right to host the 2022 Commonwealth Games

According to the export-focused GREAT campaign: “UK overlay companies lead the world in the development of many kinds of event-supply equipment, are increasingly investing in innovative and high-quality products and services… Crucially, UK companies also excel at collaboration – something which is essential to the successful delivery of overlay.”

A much-trumpeted success in this area was the Rio 2016 handball arena. London-based And Architects worked with local studio Lopes, Santos & Ferreira Gomes to create a 12,000-seat building that could be dismantled after the Olympics to form the basic structural elements of four 500-pupil state schools.

To break in to the major events field, Onen – who leads the major event consultancy at London-based 4 Global – says it’s vital to be present at industry events. Sport Accord, being held in Bangkok in 2018, is the biggest annual global convention. MEI stages its 2018 Summit on June 27 and 28 at the International Business Festival in Liverpool.

“Companies need to establish their credentials, to be visible, to seek help from the DIT and get involved in events to build the knowledge base,” says Onen. “Not all the opportunities come via public tenders; sometimes you have to go [to a host city] and bid for the opportunity, and you need access to intelligence.”

Specialist knowledge can be eye-opening, he says, pointing out the potential in opening and closing events. Not all have Olympics-sized £200m budgets but Onen points to the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games hosted by Turkmenistan in 2017. It spent £150m on the ceremony, he says. The overall games budget was reported to be in excess of US$5bn.

So, while Birmingham’s civic leaders look forward to welcoming visitors from around the world in 2022, businesses across the UK should be eyeing up how they can share in the success.

The Major Events Summit, hosted by Major Events International, takes place in Liverpool on June 27 and 28 as part of the 2018 International Business Festival.

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Produced by the 2018 International Business Festival, in partnership with Wordscapes.