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TSC’s Angus Buchanan | How can the events industry coordinate the redrawn international calendar?

The Sports Consultancy's co-founder and managing director asks whether the sports industry is coordinating well enough at a 'supra sports' level as it maps the implications of event postponements on the calendar for this year and into 2021.

16 April 2020 Guest Contributor

Having spent the last few weeks busily working with clients to manage the implications of cancellation and postponement, we have now mapped the international and domestic calendars for over 40 sports, as well key entertainment and meetings, incentives, conferences, exhibitions (MICE) properties. 

We are using this to understand the implications for our clients and are making this information freely available to any rights holder or host city seeking a global overview of the emerging 2020 and 2021 calendars.   

Developments in recent weeks have struck blow after blow to the international and domestic sporting calendar in 2020 and beyond. A calendar that over decades of market driven refinement has found an equilibrium that deconflicts major event calendar windows from each other – a recognition that each needs a degree of clear air to fully realise its respective commercial and audience potential.

Just taking golf as a single sport example, the Open is the latest cancellation casualty of the Covid-19 maelstrom, with the rescheduled US PGA Championship, US Open and Masters now bookending a 14-week period clustering around the Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits.

Whilst some events have been forced to cancel outright through venue availability or weather restrictions – or had the option to thanks to comprehensive insurance provision – the large majority, faced with significant financial distress if their event obligations are not delivered in at least some shape or form, have chosen to try and “thread the scheduling needle” and postpone to a future date.  

The rescheduled Euro 2020 is one of a number of major soccer tournaments now taking place next year

Based only on what we know already, early 2020 postponements have resulted in the rescheduling of at least 15 major sporting events into September and October of this year, increasing the normal number in this period from 36 to 51 – an increase of over 40 per cent.

In addition to the challenges faced by the rescheduled events, this dramatically changes the landscape for existing events in this period, and that is before the full impact of the rescheduled soccer and US ball sports seasons are taken into account.

As an administrator, the task of reconfiguring a calendar within the context of just your own sport is a huge undertaking, be it mapping the implications for broadcast production partners, playing talent, league structures and qualifying competitions, venue owners, and commercial partners. 

We now need to overlay additional complexities. How will this extraordinary increase in the number of events in this congested calendar compete for more limited budgets from broadcasters, sponsors and the ticket buying public? Will the supply chain, from event production, catering and logistics to marketing and promotions, be able to serve this number of events in such a short period? What will the impact be of any potential decline in sectoral capacity as the fallout from event outages at the start of the year becomes clear in what will likely be a deeply affected sector? 

Other industries are coming together at ‘supra’ level to coordinate. At national level, you have the historic coordination in the UK's retail sector through the British Retail Consortium, regionally with various industry sector specific European Union groupings, and internationally with, for example, the World Travel and Tourism Council. But overlaying the global sporting calendar implications onto this sport specific landscape is a challenge that requires unprecedented inter-rights holders coordination which we are not, at this stage, seeing any signs of happening. 

Tokyo 2020’s postponement has caused clashes with other athletics events

No single individual body owns the global sporting calendar. It is something that has grown organically, driven by commercial pragmatism and logistical necessity. The 2020/21 sporting calendar will test that pragmatism to the limit, and one questions whether there is sufficient connectivity, coordination, visibility and leadership across our industry to facilitate such an interconnected and nuanced set of decisions.  

Conflicts have already begun to surface, even within sports. An apparent lack of coordination allowed tennis’ French Open to be rescheduled only a week after the conclusion of the US Open, clashing with a string of other Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) and Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) events. 

Similar implications are becoming apparent for the 2021 calendar. As currently planned, just within soccer, the months of June and July will now feature a potential glut of soccer. This includes Uefa’s Euro 2020, Women’s Euro 2021 (though set to be rescheduled for 2022) and Nations League tournaments, plus Conmebol’s Copa America, as well as Fifa’s Under-20 World Cup and relaunched Club World Cup.

One questions whether there is sufficient connectivity, coordination, visibility and leadership across our industry to facilitate such an interconnected and nuanced set of decisions.    

The postponement of Tokyo 2020, in turn, creates clashes with numerous events including the World Athletics Championships and the World University Games. The 2021 World Games have already circumnavigated this congestion by deferring to 2022.

It would be inaccurate to suggest that inter-rights holder coordination is not happening. The congestion caused by the likely rearrangement of Women’s Euro 2021 and the World Athletics Championships to the 2022 Commonwealth Games year has already triggered proactive negotiations between the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF), Uefa and World Athletics. These cross-federation consultations, and the panoramic view of the ever changing sports landscape they need to be informed by, are a necessary step towards a functioning sporting calendar in years to come.

This year’s French Open is now set to start just a week after the US Open

Coordinating three major event rights holders is an achievement in itself and a positive indication of future ongoing collaboration. But lacking visibility of all the shifting sands across the global and domestic event ecosystem, in the absence of a single coordinating body, will continue to be a significant headache for schedulers seeking white space. 

Even once the critical question of athlete welfare is addressed, understanding the capacity of broadcasters, commercial partners, production partners, and the ticket buying public to support an event, in the context of huge competition and congestion elsewhere, will ultimately dictate whether postponed and rescheduled events feasibly can be delivered.

Whilst disruption causes uncertainty, it also creates opportunity, with many host cities seeing new partnership opportunities with owners of displaced events. Whether navigating the congestion or identifying the opportunity, consolidated visibility and cross-partner collaboration will be essential.

Angus Buchanan

The Sports Consultancy's cofounder and managing director asks whether the sports industry is coordinating well enough at a 'supra sports' level as it maps the implications of event postponements on the calendar for this year and into 2021.

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