What it takes to host a major international sporting competition

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I’ve always been a fan of sports, so when we got the opportunity to support Birmingham City Council in the UK in bidding for the 2018 World Indoor Championships (WIC), which were held in March, it was not only a personal ambition of mine, but also presented itself as a very robust business case for the venue.

Purpose-built to host sports, Arena Birmingham has staged indoor athletics for over 25 years, so we knew a thing or two about hosting a sports event.

However, compared with other meets, the scale and complexity of this event was unrivaled, and presented us with many operational challenges.

One of the first was the advancements in sports presentation. Since we last hosted the WIC in 2003, far more AV equipment is needed to add atmosphere and create spectacle.

This gave us the challenge of complex rigging, not least installing a 15.5-ton video screen. Creating a more elaborate athlete entrance (with video and pyro backdrop) also presented challenges, but once installed, added considerably to the TV presentation.

March is traditionally one of the arena’s busiest times. To fit in such a lengthy build required extreme amounts of planning and a 24/7 schedule. We are lucky, however, to operate both arenas in Birmingham – Arena Birmingham and Genting Arena – both with fully flexible formats and facilities. This allowed us to maximize our programming and contract 10 additional events throughout the build and event period, with the likes of music acts Morrissey, Stereophonics and Elbow hosted in parallel at our sister venue, Genting Arena.

The load-in and build began on February 1, ahead of the Spar British Indoor Athletics Championships, which acted as a qualifier event for many of our home athletes. Each of the 1,200 pieces of track had to be meticulously assembled to adhere to the IAAF’s (International Association of Athletics Federations) comprehensive regulations.

In total, 190 international journalists attended, plus 62 British media across the four days, so the eyes of the world were firmly on us. Ensuring ease of access for journalists was paramount, so alongside construction of a purpose-built broadcast center, a press tribune was built across two of the seating blocks – fitted with tables and power points. This contributed considerably toward the equivalent of 100 miles (160km) of cable that were used around the venue.

Mother Nature also presented us with a challenge during the event; luckily, all 632 athletes and the 100 international officials were already in situ before heavy snow hit during the Friday evening sessions. They were all accommodated in hotels in neighboring Broad Street – with all the additional coaches and team members, this effectively booked out every hotel along the stretch for the duration of the event. In terms of spectators, our Thursday and Friday audience was only marginally down but numbers were back up to capacity on Sunday, despite the snow.

Hosting this event called on every aspect of the venue team, from the event services team and security right through to marketing and finance. We cannot forget the 750 volunteers who also gave up their time to support the event. Without them, we couldn’t have delivered such a seamless event.

The Championships used every aspect of the venue, plus the support services offered by the NEC Group support service brands. The Ticket Factory was named by the Local Organising Committee as the national ticket supplier for the event, producing a bespoke white label site for ticket sales, and delivering pre- and on-site box office support for the duration.

Amplify, our premium hospitality provider, sold its Gold medal hospitality packages to customers wishing to experience the event in style. In addition, the community hall underneath the venue was used as a warm-up area for the athletes.

Hosting this event was a challenge, but it was one the team met with vigor. The success of the WIC was the result of the close collaboration between Birmingham City Council, UK Athletics, the IAAF and a great venue. Coming at a time when Birmingham has been announced as the host city of the 2022 Commonwealth Games, it acted as a great showcase for not only the city, but also what we can achieve as a venue.

April 25, 2018

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