16/04/2020 Article written by Angus Buchanan, co-Founder and Managing Director and Matt Wilson, Director, Consulting

How can the events industry coordinate the redrawn international calendar?

The Sports Consultancy and TSC Legal asks whether the sports industry is coordinating well enough at a ‘supra sports’ level as we map the implications of the postponement of events on the calendar for Q3/4 2020 and into 2021. 

We have spent the last few weeks busily working with clients to manage the implications of cancellation and postponement. As part of this work, we have now mapped the international and domestic calendars for over 40 sports, as well  key entertainment and 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 calendar and invite you to contact us.   

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 de-conflicts 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 re-scheduled 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, through venue availability or weather restrictions, or had the option to, thanks to comprehensive insurance provision, cancel outright – 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.   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%.  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 football and American ball sports seasons are taken into account.

As an administrator, the task of re-configuring a calendar within the context of just your own sport is a huge undertaking, 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 and what will the impact be of any potential decline in sectoral capacity as the fall out from event outages at the start of the year becomes clear in what will likely be a deeply affected sector?

Whilst other industries are coming together at “supra” level to coordinate either at national level like the historic coordination in the UK’s retail sector through the British Retail Consortium, regionally with various industry sector specific European Union groupings or internationally with, for example, the World Travel and Tourism Council, 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.

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 the French Open to be rescheduled to begin only a week after the conclusion of the US Open, clashing with a string of other ATP and WTA events.

Similar implications are becoming apparent for the 2021 calendar. As currently planned, just within football, the months of June and July will now feature a potential glut of soccer with the Euro 2020, Women’s Euro 2021 (though likely to be rescheduled), UEFA Nations League, Copa America, Under-20 World Cup, and the re-launched FIFA Club World Cup. 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 co-ordination 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, 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.

Co-ordinating 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 co-ordinating 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.