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Wan's Column - Organizing A Major Sporting Event

Note: This case study was submitted as part of the OCM Advance Sports Management Course in 2009

Foreword

I have to add this piece as I am a little different from the rest of the class since I do not hold any current position in my club. Therefore, I am unable to effectively execute my thoughts or ideas in the club after the completion of the course. I am a past president of the club, just retired from full time employment, attending this course for personal satisfaction and self development. It was agreed with our course directors that I could use my own experience in managing the club from 1998 to 2005 for the case study and add on whatever observation I may have about the progress of the club after I left the Committee.

It is hope that this practical cum academic exercise would benefit the current Committee since I have been endorsed by the club to attend this course. I would also share excerpts (in bite size) from my papers over the 6 chapters in the club's magazine the Footloose and my own website, www.runnersmalaysia.com.my as a reference point for better club management. As a new retiree, this course has given me the pleasure and commitment towards self development and also meeting a number of new friends.

History of Club
In early 1984, Kris Lee Siu Heng, a sales executive with Nike and Alex Moh Chean Seng, a keen distance runner mooted the idea of forming a distance running club, while preparing for the inaugural Kuala Lumpur International Marathon. Their dream gained momentum when they roped in Raymond Teoh, then general manager of the company promoting Nike products, Marina Chin our national sprint queen, Dr. Ronnie Yeo, a medical doctor with the National Sports Council and Dato' Professor Khairuddin Yusof . They had their first meeting on 23 January 1984 at Raymond's office and decided on the name of the club "Pacesetters" from a word in a runner magazine. The logo was adopted from running legend, Frank Shorter's product logo with some variation. The constitution was based on one from the Lights Athletic Club.

Kris Lee then approached Datuk Shahrir Abdul, the then Minister of Federal Territory Kuala Lumpur to be patron. Datuk Shahrir suggested that the club add the words Athletic Club to the name so that it can be affiliated with the Federal Territory Amateur Athletic Association (FTAAA), hence the name Pacesetters Athletic Club. He also consented to be the patron of the club.

The club was unofficially launched during the Kuala Lumpur Marathon with about 10 runners wearing the club's vest sponsored by Raymond's company, Roberston, Wilson, Jamil (M) Sdn Bhd. Later the Pro-tem Committee decided to organize a charity run on the launch date to create an impact. Dr Ronnie came out with the concept paper and the date of the run was fixed on 20 May 1984. The run would start at Lake Garden and end at Petaling Jaya Hilton car-park. The run attracted about 500 runners and the club was born.

However, when the founder batch of the committee left the club, we lost this event management skill. During the 1990s under Retired Colonel Mustapha, the club was more focused on philanthropic event like charity runs and not on competitive runs. Charity runs are quite a different from competitive runs as the focus is on fund raising. There is very little technicality in charity runs. The club came back as a co-organizer in 2001, partnering FTAAA in the New Balance FTAAA Pacesetters 4 x 2km. It was two years later in 2003 that the club own our first event, the Nike Pacesetters 15km. This assignment is written principally on our experience in the Pacesetters 15km from 2003 to 2009.


Vision Statement : We aspire to be the role model running club in the country.

I recall when I was first elected president in March 2000, the Star Reporter, Stuart Michael asked me what I want the club to be. I did not say we want to be the biggest club but instead as a role model club for others to follow. At that time the local running clubs were in a weak position, the few famous clubs like SWIFT, LIGHT and JETS had sort of closed down due to problems of their own. The national association, Malaysian Amateur Athletic Union (MAAU) was having problems of their own and the local athletic fraternity got into the news for all the wrong reasons. I wanted PACM to be a breath of fresh air in the athletic arena.

Mission Statement

1. We promote running as a sustainable recreational activity among the grass root, catering for individuals of all ages and capability
2. Act as an internal and external event organizer to support the above.

I was very clear in my mind that our club is not going to be an elitists' club, (unlike MR 25 in Singapore), it will cater for individuals of all ages and capability. It is a very inclusive club, so long you are keen run, you are welcomed. You can be as young as 4 years old or as old as 75, this is the club for you. In supporting our Vision Mission Statement, we will organize events for our members, families and the public who are interested to run. In this regards I always remember the 3 generation relay team formed up by our former treasurer, Chen Kok Siong during the Fathers' Day Breakfast Run when his father, his son and him formed the 3 generation relay team.


MR 25 is an exclusive club for elite runners in Singapore. To join as a member, each individual must be able to run the McRitchie Reservoir route within 25 minutes. (4.8km for ladies) www.mr25.org.sg

The objectives of the club as stated in the constitution drafted in 1984 and revised once before I took over also clearly state what we are to achieve.

Objectives

  1. to promote, develop and encourage the sport of running in the country
  2. to foster mutual goodwill, understanding and friendship between its members
  3. to promote and / or participate in sports and social activities related to running both locally and internationally
  4. to develop and promote running programs for the benefit of the community
  5. to develop and promote other form of outdoor sports activities amongst its members.

You can see that our objectives tie in nicely to our Vision Mission Statement. We also need to carry out a SWOT Analysis to determine what are the strength and weaknesses of the club in event management at a micro level and then also to examine the macro environment we are operating in and determine the opportunities / threats. Admittedly, this is something I did not do while I was the president and looking back now, it is an essential exercise that should be carried out each year by the Committee. This is my SWOT Analysis based on current situation I can see from outside the Committee;


The SWOT Analysis on Event Management

Strength

  1. è Strong support by sponsors on club's events
    è Has developed a strong following of our events from runners, many repeat customers
    è Has built up a tried and tested process in event management, including the use of timing chips
    è Has built up a strong team of volunteers in event management


Weakness

  1. è Event management has become too taxing on the Executive Committee
    è The registration process is still relatively manual, without on-line registration which is the standard for overseas events.

Opportunities

  1. è The weakness of other event organizers has allowed us to gain grounds as the most reliable event manager in road races
    è More potential event owners coming to the club for help on run event management and/or as sponsors
    è More emphasis on sports tourism, ties in well with road races.

Threats

  1. è Higher cost of operation, both products and services due to inflation
    è More competing events in the market place for sponsors
    è Economic crisis has adversely affect consumption behavior of runners and sponsors seeking value proposition

The New Balance Pacesetters 15km 2005

Introduction
I am writing this module 6 based on my experience with the Pacesetters 15km over a period of 7 years from 2003 to 2009. During the first 4 years from 2003 to 2006, I was the Race Director of the event and in the recent 3 years since I left the committee I have been a participant. Therefore, some of the observation on the event has been pieced together from hard facts from the event file I kept (both hard and soft copies) and some from my memory of the event. The Pacesetters 15km is an important event to the club and it has been a launching pad for the club to venture into other events such as the Pacesetters 30km in 2006.

Our desire to have our own event stemmed from the bad experience we have with the various road races organized locally. The more experienced members in the club have been participating in overseas road races and came back with stories of their pleasant experience. The nearest shinning example of good runners focused events are from our neighbour, Thailand "the land of smiles" Up to 2002, the local road races are dominated by the local amateur athletic associations and the municipals. These races while have low entry fees, usually RM10 (USD3) per entry, the quality is unsatisfactory to seasoned runners in our club who have participated in overseas road races. Among the running clubs, only Kelab Roadrunners Ipoh (http://www.ipohroadrunners.org ) were organizing their own event, an annual 10km run in Ipoh, 200km north of Kuala Lumpur.

We decided to change it and plunged into event management in late 2002. We want to be the standard setting club in the country. It is our vision that every major town in Malaysia should have a running club and each of these clubs organize an event each year. If our vision on this turnout right, we will have a circuit of runs organized by runners for runners.

In accordance to section 6.3 - Organizing the Sport Event, there are 4 phases; design, development, implementation and dissolution of the event. As this event does not involve any bidding process, it is our own decision to have this event as our own project for the members and the public. The crucial piece is getting sponsors to help us with part of the costs. Once the title sponsorship is determined, we proceed to move ahead with the execution of the event. All in all, a 6 months time frame is required from the decision to hold the event till event date. This would allow adequate time to execute all the required action, from ordering the vests, medals, selling and registering the participants.


Part A : Designing the Event

Objectives of the Event
Right from the start after having decided on our ambition to have an event in our name, we articulate on the key objectives in wanting an event. After some internal discussion and encouragement from some members, we set down our objectives as follows;

Key objectives;

1. Have an event in our name, in the process building up a franchise
2. Have a quality event for runners with a unique distance of 15km
3. Introduce the famous double hill route, our usual Sunday training route to runners who are not our club members
4. Build up organization skills within the club on event management
5. Inculcate volunteerism in the club
6. Build up a consistent pool of sponsors on a win-win basis
7. Set standards for other event organizers to follow
8. As an additional source of income for the club

Features of the event
We have been rather critical of the events offered in the country by the local AAAs and the municipals that are big players of road races in the country. The municipals have large budgets but they are more focus on the frills and trying to please the VIPs in their respective constituency and do not place adequate importance of the runners. Many a times we feel we are there to make up the numbers. We decided we want to change this and the mindset that comes with it. We started to preach that runners are the customers of road races and the organizers are to walk the extra mile to provide good customer service. We do not want marshals or officials who are rude and shout at runners. We want helpful service with a smile at all points of contact between the runners and the organizers. We feel only the runners know what is important to the runners and therefore we will take on the challenge to fulfil this.

We listed down the following key features of event;
1. Finisher medals for all runners
2. Quality event vest for all runners
3. Breakfast after event for all runners
4. Individualized certificate with time, position and photograph
5. No prize monies, only product vouchers
6. Challenging route, our famous double hill route
7. Traffic safety and adequate water stations
8. Punctuality at the start
9. Friendly services at each contact point; end to end.
10. Volunteerism at its best


Part B : Developing the Event

Sponsorship
Our initial approach to sponsorship is to seek a sports brand to come in as the title sponsor by providing the apparels (the event vests for the participants) and the prizes for the winners. We believe that once this is resolved, we could take care of the rest of the expenditure from our entry fees. The focus on seeking the other co-sponsors is more to provide or pay for those other items we need such as medal, isotonic drinks, water and breakfast. In seeking sponsorship we prepare a concept paper and back up with a VCD on the event the previous year. The title sponsor for 2003 and 2004 was Nike and New Balance took over from 2005 to 2009. A more detailed discussion on the event sponsorship is discussed in Module 5 assignment.

Entry Form & Route Charting
Once the designing phase is over we have to do two things quite simultaneously, we need to talk to the potential sponsors and we also need to design the entry forms. In the first year the entry form can be a challenge as it is full of information. We need to draft the rules of the event, putting in the all important registration information. We need to chart the route. I remember during our first year in 2003, we charted and measure the route on the second day of Chinese New Year. We used a car and a racing bike fitted with a distance meter. The distance of our intended route was 15.1km and that fits in to our intended distance of 15km. The Pacesetters 15km takes its shape with the route map decided.

When all the information needed are in, the designer incorporate the event logo and the registration form is ready.

Organization Chart & Event Checklist
We do not have a separate organizing committee for the event as it was felt that the same committee should undertake the event. I as the president of the club will be the de facto Race Director of the event. Our treasurer of the club will also look after the finance of the event.

We do not need a very formal execution plan but I drafted a checklist literally listing down the A to Z that the event needs. This checklist is updated each week and email out to the whole committee such that each member is well aware the status of the event. As Race Director, I personally track and update the checklist.

Stakeholders of event
We identify 3 key stakeholders of the event; the runners, the club and the sponsors. The runners want a good event and good experience in a sport they love. The club have our own objectives as highlighted above. The sponsors want exposure to their brands. We endeavour to satisfy all three parties to ensure our event is continuing and grow.

Budget & War Chest
When we drafted out budget, we knew that we only need a title sponsor to pay for the event vests and we are not out of pocket. Any other sponsors coming in will add richness to the event, defray other expenditure and we could make a profit. We were the first organizer to charge RM40 per entry for the event which was unheard of back in 2003. The usual rate for event then was RM10 per entry. We feel the higher rate is justified as we are giving much more to the runners and they appreciate the difference. The high rate of repeat customers year after year is a clear sign that our rates are reasonable, despite higher than market rates.

After the first two years, the club has made some profit from the events as well as enjoying a surplus arising from a larger members' base. The club has a healthy balance sheet and set aside a sum of money we loosely call it "the war chest" This sum of money gave us confidence to commit into starting an event before sponsorship is confirmed. It also allows us to pay off vendors and service providers as and when we incur the expenditure to earn ourselves as a good paymaster. Sponsors tend to be notorious in confirming late on their sponsorship

We prepare a simple budget based on what we need to satisfy the features of the event. The budget would guide us on our level of expenditure and the breakeven level for us to attain. Usually, once the breakeven level is attained, the club would make a marginal profit on each extra entry. We found that once we can get beyond 1,000 entries, it would be a profitable event.


Part C : Implementing the Event

Media Bliz & Brand Exposure
As the sponsors as stakeholders who contribute to the event, we are mindful of their brand exposure requirement. The exposure of the brand comes in the form of the entry form, website, media launch, media exposure after the event and logo of title and main sponsor on the event vest and event bib. More discussion on this is written in chapter 5 on sponsorship and marketing.

Registration Process
While the club has a website, we have not built in an on-line registration process, admittedly we are behind in this area. Our friendly rival in Ipoh, Kelab Roadrunners Ipoh has an online registration process but payment has to be made separately by banking into their account. The main reason for the delay is that micro payments in Malaysia attract high commission charges. It will be a standard moving forward but this has not been a feature between 2003 and 2009. Standard Chartered KL Marathon 2009 is the first road race in Malaysia with online registration with payment via credit card. The current president, Mr. Rustam Affandi Zaihan has announced that the on-line registration will come on in 2010. The online registration at our website will add on to our existing delivery channels.

We compensate this weakness with diligent ground work by having a mobile registration team operating each Sunday at the site of various run events. In addition, we also carried out onsite registration at Bukit Aman Car-park, the main base of the club during Sundays. The response has been tremendous as we distribute entry forms and also register runners. It may sounds primitive but this onsite registration is extremely successful as we are able to get a good portion of our entries via onsite registration at road races. Our biggest block of participants is from our club itself, the entries came in via the Area Groups when the entries came in batches. Member entries make up almost 50% of our total entries. We have also been very successful in recruiting members during the registration exercise as club members get a discount on event organized by us.

Role of Federal Territory Amateur Athletic Association (FTAAA)
In the first 3 years of the event from 2003 to 2005, we hired FTAAA to provide us the technical support. Their role is to start the event and record the time of every runner. When we first hired FTAAA for the 2003 event, we have two reasons for doing so;
1. We have not organize a road race since 1984 and therefore do not have the experience within the club
2. We want a neutral party to provide the technical support as about 50% of the participants are our own members with the balance from the public.

FTAAA used a manual system to record the time, a stack of position cards and jot down the time as each runner finished the run. In 2003, we only have 600 entries, it was pretty manageable but as the event grew, the manual system would not be able to cope.

Special Challenges - Timing & Photographic Certificates
We have set the standard that each runner will get a certificate that indicates the time, the category position, the gender position and the overall position; we are not comfortable to leave the timing entirely to FTAAA. In 2004, we started a back-up system using a lap top to record the runners coming in. It is backed up with two still cameras and a video camera at the finish line. This system requires tremendous back room work after the event to match the finishers with their time and photographs. The runners were notified in the runners' information memorandum not to cover their bib numbers when they cross the line. This system has its little success as we were able to issue certificates with photograph of the runner finishing the event by the 2004 event. It went through a few improvement and we have almost perfected it by 2006 (PhotoCert.pdf)

By 2006, we were confident enough to execute the whole event on our own without FTAAA and we have arrived as an event organizer. We were able to execute the whole event on our own with our own members as volunteers!

Acquisition of assets for event; A-Boards & Timing Chips System
We reinvested our profit from the event into equipment we need, we bought lap tops, A Boards & signage and eventually in 2008 we acquired a timing chips system. Our timing chips system use disposable chips but being frugal we try to recycle them by imposing a deposit to encourage the return of the chips. We are now considered one of the most equipped race event organizers in the country. During the Borneo International Marathon in 2008, our chip system was used by the organizer.

Operational Summary & Volunteers
Volunteers are mostly required during the eve and the day of the event. Prior to this, the functions such as onsite registration are carried out mainly by the 11 elected committee members and the area group leaders.

The key functions and the number of volunteers required are as follows;


Our strategy has always been having at least one member of the committee taking charge of each critical function. The rest of the team can come from ad hoc volunteers. All in all, we could use up to 100 volunteers for an event with 2,000 participants.

Survey & Feedback on Event
We place great emphasis on getting feedback of runners such that we could improve on our event the following year. We have a questionnaire and a sample of 100 is taken from the runners on a random basis immediately after the run. This is carried out by the survey team and the results of the survey is compiled and discussed at the next committee meeting. (SurveyForm.doc & SurveyResults.doc )

Site Layout & Runners Information Memorandum
The layout of the site is drafted and sent to the service providers to ensure they know where to load the tents, equipment such as PA System etc. It is also important piece of information for runners to know where to get their service and where to gather. Of adequate site signage are there to complement this site layout plan. The memorandum is informative with the program and information runners need to know. This is distributed along with the bibs and event vest when runners collect their race pack.

Some Safety Best Practices
While the route safety is the primary responsibility of the traffic police, we complement the effort with our team of route marshal. Our marshal use motor bikes to patrol the route to ensure runners run on the correct side of the road and all junctions are guarded. We hire Saint John's Ambulance to be on duty during the event day. We have also followed a best practice from the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon, whereby the reverse side of the bibs would have the medical information of the runners. Runners are encouraged to write their medical allergies, contact number and next of kin in case of an emergency.

Press liaison, pre and post event
While it is normal practice to have a press launch to inform the public of our event, not much media coverage is generated in between. In the 2005 event, we held a trial run 2 weeks before the event to allow the public to get familiar with the route and after that trial run, we conducted a talk on running shoes. An expert on shoes was invited from New Balance Singapore Regional Office to talk. This little promotional event gave some media coverage to the event and the sponsors.

As a local event, we do not normally get into the back sports pages as those pages are exclusively reserved for international sports coverage, usually dominated by football. Therefore, our event will not attract all the sports writers, we are happy with the attendance of a few writers from metro edition covering local news. However, we believe in sending out the stories to all the media. We pre-prepare the press release on the event, giving all the facts on the event, leaving the results page empty. Once the event is concluded, we fill in the results and along with a few pictures taken, we emailed the stories to the media by 3pm. Occasionally, we do get some bonus coverage via this method.

Statistics of Finishers from 2003 to 2009

The average turnout rate is between 81 to 88% and we have probably the highest turnout rate in local road races. The turnout rate of the women categories has been encouraging as 15km is considered a long event for Malaysian women. In the past, women usually compete in events up to 10km while the 21km and 42km attract very low participation. Perhaps the 15km will spur them to attempt the 21km in due course.

Part D : Dissolution after the Event

Post Mortem on Event
This exercise is necessary if we wish to improve on our performance the next year or not to repeat the same mistake. We do not hold separate meetings for post mortem but would discuss it at the monthly committee meeting. Immediately the week after the event, while the memory is still fresh, one of us would write down what we observed, if any shortcomings. It would be circulated via email for other members of the committee to add on their views. By the time of the next meeting we have a rough working document for the next year. (Postmortem.doc)

Closing the Event Account
As an NGO we do not pay out volunteers from 2003 to 2008. However, in 2009, we decided to pay our volunteers a small token to cover mileage for those who are on duty on event day and eve of event. Due to this frugal approach, the club has been profitable in our event management. We have been ploughing back our profits to invest in equipment to better manage the event.

The club practice the discipline of closing the event accounts within one to two months after each event, large or small. This discipline is to avoid mixing up the income and expenditure with other events. We make prompt payments to all our vendors and service providers as have the working capital to pay. All our collections are in cash or cheques, except for sponsorship sum that could come after the conclusion of the event. The committee would review the event accounts in their monthly meeting when the event accounts are presented. Some decision could arise to guide next year's event, both in the revenue and expenditure side. As the club has more than 6 events a year, such discipline is very critical. We also practice showing the breakdown of each event's financial performance in our annual accounts. Therefore, having an event accounts closed promptly would make such disclosure to members easy at year end. We are not obliged to present the event accounts to the sponsors.

Judging the financial performance of the event over the years, we have succeeded in developing an additional source of income for the club. We must be thankful to the individuals who have contributed their time selflessly for the love of the club and passion for the sport.

Maintaining Relationship with Sponsors
Where possible we do compile a video on the event, a recording of about 50 minutes or at least a CD of pictures. We send the video or CD to our sponsors with our acknowledgement letters to thank the sponsors. This would provide accountability to the sponsors who supported us. The video and CDs are very useful when we need to source new or additional sponsors the following year. Moreover, the video and CDs will be a permanent record and a piece of history of the club.


Part E : Proposed Action Plans

Policy / Objectives Strategic Measures Time Frame Implementer Expected Outcome
Event Management Build on-line registration module in website July 2010 VP Communication
An online portal residing in club's website that would enable runners to register online.
Event Management Draft manual to guide event management Feb 2010 President and one appointed committee member
A official guide to event management for reference of the Executive Committee and Individuals involved in assisting events
Event Management Explore sport tourism potential with Tourism Malaysia April 2010 President and one appointed committee member Some funding from Tourism Malaysia for our event and some joint promotion on our event abroad.

(Note - This action plan will not include areas that will be covered or discussed in Module 1 to 5.)


Sport Tourism
Analysing our own data, we notice our event is quite well received by the foreigners; especially those from Singapore. We have been having slightly over 10% of our entries coming from foreigners. We did not really promote the event in Singapore but there is a selected group of expatriates and the SAFRA Running Club from Singapore (www.safra.sg ) that has been supporting our event. Looking at the development in overseas event, it was reported that more than 20,000 of the 38,000 finishers at the 2008 New York City Marathon (www.nyrr.org) came from outside United States. Similar success was noted in the Honolulu Marathon in Hawaii as plane loads of Japanese runners come to Honolulu each year.

I feel it is time the club should start working with Tourism Malaysia to do some joint promotion on this event, working out some tour packages with tour operators and market the event and tour overseas. There is a huge potential out there!

Conclusion
It was a great leap forward by the club and with this experience of the Pacesetters 15km, we added on the Great Eastern Pacesetter 30km in 2006. We have build up a team of individuals able to execute events and have the back office support to generate certificates with photographs. We have since been hired by other event owners to manage their events; namely the Mizuno Wave Run series from 2005 to 2009 and the Malakoff Power Run from 2008. On an ad hoc basis, the club also manage the Orange Run for a petroleum company and the UOB Family Day Fun Run.

All these successes have impacted the club in some ways. While the club has earned decent revenue from these events owned by others, we have overtaxed the committee. I am doubtful we could sustain going forward depending on volunteers to manage the many events. At some point in time, a more professional approach is needed. The event management piece cannot carry on in its present form and it become far too taxing for the elected members and one way to move forward is to introduce a self employed semi-professional set up by a few individuals to move it to the next level. It would be pre-matured to talk about incorporating a company to undertake the event management but the form and substance of profit sharing with the semi-professional group should be tried out to allow refinement of the plan such that it could achieve a win-win situation for both parties; the club and the semi-professional group (as discussed in Module 1 & 2).

Our events have also influenced other running groups to undertake their own events, notably Der Pacemakers, Klang Pacers and Bidor Road Running Club to have their own events. Klang Pacers have been very successful in recent years and more or less have reached the standard of PACM. This year in their 21km event, finisher certificates with photographs were issued. Bidor has been very encouraging and managed to host an event of 1,600 entries for a very small town in April each year.

We can conclude that we have achieved our objectives since embarking on this journey 7 years ago. The Pacesetters 15km has developed into a valuable franchise, a source of prime of the club. It is hope that this event would go on, each third Sunday of May in the many years ahead. I strongly believe the club will move this event up the next plateau with good leadership and management.

Wan Yew Leong
1 November 2009
wanyewleong@gmail.com

 
 

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