It has already become a cliché to note that the sporting ‘mega-event’ is in crisis. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is struggling to attract bidders for the Olympic Games, while soccer’s Fifa World Cup will hold its next two editions in scandal-hit Russia and Qatar, with observers predictably speculating over the integrity of those decisions.
There is an argument, though, that the market for smaller-scale sporting events is as strong as it has ever been. Nowhere is it easier to present that argument than in the Nordic nation of Denmark, which has been successfully bidding for and hosting events at an impressive rate in recent years, turning itself into a noted sporting destination through the regular, and highly successful, staging of a range of smaller championships.
In 2017 the country is hosting the SportAccord Convention, the industry’s biggest gathering of federations and governing bodies, which will take place in Denmark’s second largest city, Aarhus. Referred to by its former president Marius Vizer as “sport’s parliament”, the SportAccord Convention may not have as much recognisability in the wider world as a European or world championship, but hosting it nevertheless represents a measure of validation for Denmark as a sporting destination. The forum provides the perfect opportunity for Sport Event Denmark, the governmental body set up to aid national federations in the bidding and organising of events, to reflect on its achievements so far, and look forward to what is to come.
2016 was an especially successful year for Sport Event Denmark – indeed, it is hard to imagine a more successful year for an organisation dedicated to hosting sport events. “It was a busy year where we secured new major sporting events to Denmark,” says Lars Lundov, chief executive of Sport Event Denmark. “In fact, all of our bids and negotiations have been successful, so actually our success rate in 2016 has been 100 percent.”
Those new events bid for and won include the European Triathlon Union’s (ETU) 2017 Middle Distance Triathlon European Championships, the European Cycling Union’s (UEC) 2017 European Road Cycling Championships, and the International Association of Athletics Federations’ (IAAF) 2019 World Cross Country Championships. These niche discipline events are indicative of the kinds for which Denmark has aimed in recent years.
The 100 per cent figure is up on an existing average strike-rate of 80 per cent across recent years, with Lundov stating that the focus is on “being in the top 15 in the global index for leading sports events nations worldwide”. The nation as a whole was placed in 15th position on Sportcal’s most recent Global Sports Nations Index, published in November 2016, but the picture for the country’s capital is even brighter: Copenhagen placed eighth on the equivalent cities index, ahead of the likes of Beijing and Los Angeles, having held eight major global events throughout the year.
Sport Event Denmark works with the country’s national federations throughout the entire process of bidding, campaigning, and hosting events. For Eline Andersen, senior communications manager for Sport Event Denmark, the work really starts after an event has been awarded to the country, when it becomes her job to sell the event to the Danish public and beyond.
We can invite people to Denmark, inside our house, to say, ‘This is who we are,’ and we can use it as a display window for what we do.
Sporting events do not simply stand on their own, and Andersen says that one of the most important parts of her job is to “make sure that everyone involved knows what the messages are, who the target groups are, and how we have decided to communicate”.
“We always start with every event with a story, that will be principal story of the event,” she says. “Then we discuss ways of communicating this story and unfolding the story into themes.” The story and the themes are dependent on the event in question, with Andersen and her team tailoring the message depending on what the targets for a particular event are. In the case of this year’s European Road Cycling Championships, for instance, the strong cycling culture in Denmark dictates that the message is focused on engaging existing cycling fans and trying to promote participation in the sport.
“We think that there is a very good link between the cycling culture in Denmark and staging a lot of cycling events here,” says Andersen. “People take an interest, they hear what it’s all about, they know the story of Denmark as a cycling nation, so we don’t have to do too much work to get people interested.” For other events, such as 2015’s World Archery Championships, the message may be more around raising awareness of the sport.
After public, the second line of communication is with the media. “When we address the media, especially foreign news media and cycling media, they will already know there is a strong cycling culture in Denmark,” says Andersen. “So then we can start to think about how to communicate that Denmark is interested in hosting further events, such as the Grand Départ of the Tour de France, and showing that we are capable of doing that.
“We know that images have their own language, so we’re talking about how to portray Denmark as a cycling destination through images and linking it to the strong cycling culture, and linking that to our desire to host the Grand Départ. Some of the social media that are coming up and getting stronger and stronger, that is the image-heavy social media like Instagram and Snapchat and also Facebook Live. So we need to understand how to convert the message of Denmark wanting to host the Grand Départ into images that tell the story about Denmark as a cycling nation.”
Those social media platforms have transformed the way communication is carried out, with Andersen estimating that her work is now done 50 per cent digitally and 50 per cent through traditional communication methods, where only five years ago it was “one per cent social media, 99 per cent something else!”
“We think that there is a very good link between the cycling culture in Denmark and staging a lot of cycling events here,” says Andersen.
Demand for news and coverage of events has increased so dramatically, she says, that often Sport Event Denmark will make an announcement initially via Twitter before following that up with a more formal, traditional press release, just to ensure that she and her team are the ones “setting the agenda”, as she puts it.
“And we don’t just make one tweet, we make sure that the tweet is linked to Instagram and Facebook and websites, and we also make sure that the relevant events and people involved are being tagged in the social media initiatives so whatever we post is being noticed by the people who take an interest,” Andersen explains.
“After we’ve done that we can follow up with press releases and updates of websites and so on, but we can’t do what we did just five years ago, because then it was someone else who would take the lead, so to say, in terms of the news and we want to set the agenda. That’s one of the purposes of working in communication – setting the agenda is often a matter of being the first one out there saying the right things.”
Lundov describes being named as the host of SportAccord Convention – with which Sport Event Denmark has been a partner since 2003 – as “unique”, and notes that it presents a perfect networking opportunity for national federations in Denmark to show off their country and their potential to their international colleagues. Copenhagen previously held the 121st IOC Session and Congress in 2009, and Lundov says he learned from that event “that having all the international federations visiting strengthened our network and has had an impact on our attempts in attracting events”.
Andersen concurs that for communicating more widely with key decision makers, events such as these are crucial, even if they don’t have a huge amount of resonance with the wider Danish public.
“In terms of communication, it’s very important,” she says. “We can invite people to Denmark, inside our house, to say, ‘This is who we are,’ and we can use it as a display window for what we do. It’s easier to bring people together if you are within your own country, so if we have a lot of national federations who would like to go and meet international federations it’s easier in Denmark. This time is the 15th edition and it’s the first time that we can actually communicate that it’s taking place in Denmark and there will be a lot of political discussions between the Danish federations and the international federations. That’s very important to us because everything starts with meetings before you go and bid for an international event.”
This article originally appeared in Issue 93 of SportsPro magazine.