Designing Event Experiences Using the Sports Playbook

designing event experiencesWhat if I told you to treat your guests like sports fans? What if you used some of the same elements sports teams use when designing event experiences?

While one group lathers itself in body paint and the other thirsts for personal and professional knowledge, event guests and sports fans have several things in common. Whether it’s a convention or game, the cost of attendance is high, and it needs to be worth people’s time, energy and hard-earned money.

Most importantly—guests and fans alike—want to experience something amazing.

Sports franchises have tried and tested a slew of ideas to keep fans engaged before, during and after the game. 

As a self-proclaimed sports fanatic who has attended his fair share of games, I’ve found some intriguing ideas that meeting and event planners can use to create their own “die-hard” fanbases.

designing event experiences

Connection is Key

Several years ago, I went to a Cleveland Browns game with a group of coworkers. With a final score of 6-3, it’s no surprise that we were wanting to look at our phones for some other entertainment.

However, with 80,000 people gathered together, the cellular networks were jammed and there was no way to open Facebook and gripe about what we were witnessing. Simply making a phone call was a game of roulette. 

Fast forward a few years, I’m back at a Browns game. And while the product on the field may have been the same (when will it finally be “next year”), the franchise had installed an incredible wifi network that flooded everyone in the stadium with connectivity and the ability to surf, post and gripe without fail.

I guarantee not a single fan goes to a game because of the stadium’s internet connection. But, during TV timeouts, halftime or can’t-miss selfie opportunities with the mascot, the unhindered ability to connect to the internet is amazing.

I get it. Wifi is probably one of the biggest thorns in the side of event planners. It’s hard to plan for the fluctuating cost. It can be too dependent on the venue and its provider. Promising your guests reliable WiFi is oftentimes a nightmare.

However, in an environment where people need to be connected for work, want to be connected to home and are willing to help you showcase your event via social media, having the bandwidth to meet these needs can drastically improve the morale of your guests. 

Fired Up

When LeBron James was with the Cleveland Cavaliers, there was a lot to be excited about. But the Cavs didn’t settle for the name alone, they wanted each game to start with the fans electrified and bursting with adrenaline. (See above).

So, as many teams do, they played a “hype video” before each game. 

Thundering music. Sensational highlights. Exciting play-by-play calls. The production value of this video alone was enough to get your heart racing and ready to take the court yourself.

Then, at the crescendo of the reel, the jumbotron would open up and flames would shoot out, lighting up the darkened arena like a massive torch. No matter how many times you experienced it, the flood of excitement never failed and you couldn’t wait for tip-off.

Why can’t your event do something similar?

Sure, there’s probably not a venue in the world that would clear the use of a giant flamethrower just to get people excited, however, there’s no reason you can’t put together a reel that will set the mood for the event to come.

Designing event experiences is all about understanding your audience and doing something that will get their attention in their special way.

It might be easier to hype a crowd of basketball fans than a room full of accountants, but the core principle is the same: they want to be entertained and motivated.

Ending With a Bang

While I’m pretty sure every baseball team in America from the pros to your local little league does this, setting up a fireworks display to music is a can’t-miss way to send everyone away smiling.

One of the best times to catch a ballgame is on a night where they have themed fireworks. Not only do most teams have amazing displays that are in your face, but they also pair them with music to add an extra element to the experience.

A perfect example of how an event can use this is by taking a page from the PCMA playbook (see above). Even though it was a chilly January night in Pittsburgh, PCMA treated guests to a special fireworks display at Heinz Field.

That night and the next morning, social media was buzzing with photos and videos of the evening’s entertainment.

Ohh… Shiny

If you follow sports at all, you’ll realize that at any given point, teams are trying to build a new stadium, bigger and better than anyone else’s.

When the plans for AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas—home of the Dallas Cowboys—came out, it was jaw-dropping. The attention to detail and design of the facility was state of the art and breathtaking. Everyone wanted to catch a game there.

It’s the same with any new stadium that’s opening: they’re debuting the latest-and-greatest technology and entertainment for fans to enjoy, amplifying the in-game experience.

So how can your event do that?

With so many convention centers and meeting venues updating and renovating constantly, there’s always something new and exciting to discover and promote.

Using this as part of your marketing can help build excitement and anticipation for an event.

Did your venue get a facelift? Share the photos on your social channels and promote the exciting new features they can enjoy.

Even if your event is at the same place every year, highlighting the updates and renovations can add a new wrinkle to your next event.

Halftime Show

Your event doesn’t need Justin Timberlake or Jennifer Lopez to put on an incredible “halftime” show.

Most events try to “wow” during the opening and closing events, but are we neglecting the middle?

Doing something fun and interactive halfway through would be an exciting way to inject novelty and surprise into your event. 

Did someone say sponsorship opportunity?

Credit: Maryland GovPics/Flikr

The Welcome Wagon

While many sports franchises do this well, the Baltimore Ravens are terrific at designing event experiences, specifically, making their guests feel welcome. 

On game day, the team stations dozens of people for blocks around the stadium greeting the crowds, thanking them for coming and encouraging them to enjoy the game. 

Here’s how our resident Ravens fanatic, Siobhan Connellan, Director of Exhibitor Services Operations describes it:

“I took a friend to his first game yesterday and after we passed the third person, he said ‘Do they all say that to EVERYBODY?!’ Yes, yes they do. And that fabulous employee attitude continues inside the stadium. The staff is just priceless.”

Do your guests describe your event staff in the same glowing manner?

Credit: Sam Horowitz/Flikr

Two-Minute Drill

This is by no means a comprehensive list; there are so many other ideas you can glean from the sports world, such as:

  • Taking part in a historic moment with other like-minded individuals
  • Never knowing the outcome and the anticipation of what will happen next
  • The sense of community, family and the atmosphere of supporting your “team”

Listing all the brilliant strategies and tactics is nearly impossible, and there are more and more all the time. 

But let’s think about it like this: what would it look like if sporting events tried to take a page out of your playbook for designing event experiences?

About Mitch

Mitch Cooper is the Content Marketing Manager for Experient. A former journalist, he is passionate about crafting stories that enlighten and engage audiences.

When he’s not writing and editing, he enjoys spending time with his wife and one-year-old son, playing and watching sports and making people laugh.

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