Lessons for Meeting Planners From Professional Sports

Your conventions and events may not have the big budgets or superstar athletes of the professional sports world, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn a thing or two from them.

It’s about to get busy for diehard sports fans: The college football season kicks off in about a week, the first NFL game takes place on September 10, and Major League Baseball is in the pennant race.

In a way, they’re a funnier version of a political campaign’s chief of staff.

And while these professional sports teams have more money than most associations could ever dream of and superstar athletes known around the world, it doesn’t mean associations can’t learn from them. In fact, here are four things I think associations can take away from sports organizations when it comes to executing, staffing, and generating excitement about their conferences and events.

Value (and trust) your social media team. In an article posted on a few months back, writer Maurice Peebles examined how the NBA is succeeding at social media and offered an inside look at the Brooklyn Nets’ strategy. The team’s social media staff are pretty much treated like rock stars: They get better than front-row seats to every game, press and locker room access before and after games, personal interaction with players, etc. This ensures that they maintain a consistent voice while also pushing ticket sales, promotions, and sponsors. “They are their organization’s virtual ambassador to the fans, taking every opportunity to sell the team’s positives while also trying not to look like a sellout,” Peebles wrote. “In a way, they’re a funnier version of a political campaign’s chief of staff.” Consider a similar strategy with your conference’s social media team. The result will likely be a much deeper attendee experience. (For an additional event-inspired perspective on this, check out Traci Browne’s post last week on the Cvent blog.)

Think outside the box when it comes to job roles. Late last week, we told you about the National Basketball Players Association’s latest hire: Joe Rogowski, NBPA’s director of physiology and research. His new role as sports scientist will charge him with creating new union standards for player conditioning, with the goal of keeping players healthy. Sports teams know that player injuries can have a significant impact, so by being proactive, NBPA hopes to keep its athletes healthier and fans happier. Think about how your meetings team could introduce a new job role that could benefit its conferences. Could you keep your attendees happier by bringing a “convention scientist” on board?

Give away memorable giveaways. Who doesn’t like a good freebie? And, no, I’m not talking logoed pens, coffee mugs, or a notepads. I’m talking one-of-a-kind items that fans (or in the case of meetings, attendees) will be excited about. Consider some ideas from a few MLB teams this season. (All are usually limited to the first 10,000 to 25,000 fans.) I’ll start with the Associations Now hometown team, the Washington Nationals. On the list of this season’s promotions: player bobbleheads, player pet calendar, and the most-hyped Jayson Werth Chia Pet. My personal favorite is coming up next week, however: Nats player nesting dolls. Other team giveaways worth noting are the Colorado Rockies’ mullet hat, the Tampa Bay Rays’ Evan Longoria rubber duck, and the Minnesota Twins’ BBQ branding iron. Andy Johnston offered up a similar limited-supply idea on the Event Manager blog last year. He suggested using conference bags to encourage early registration. “Create a special swag-bag version that includes high-end items like gift cards, tickets to shows or sporting events,” he wrote. “Then offer these exclusive conference bags to the first 100-500 people who register.”

Rethink how you use data. Statcast, state-of-the-art tracking technology, has been introduced in Major League Baseball, and many experts say it is changing the way front offices and fans are watching the game. Using high-resolution optical cameras and radar equipment that has been installed in all 30 Major League ballparks, the technology precisely tracks the location and movements of the ball and every player on the field at any given time and delivers hundreds of pieces of data. Among them: speed to base, spin rates on curveballs, and strongest throws. While this is much more elaborate than associations need (not to mention pricey), it provides some food for thought. For example, what data could you be collecting from attendees, exhibitors, or even staff members onsite that could inform your decision-making process in the future? For example, if you were able to track how your attendees walk the exhibit hall, would it change your layout in the future?

These are just four ideas I came across that I thought were something for associations to consider, but I’m sure there are a lot more lessons from professional sports teams for meeting professionals. Share yours in the comments.


Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editor-in-chief of Associations Now. MORE

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