How sports and entertainment are making in-person events happen in 2021.

Sports and entertainment events are happening, in-person, every day — and it almost feels like things are getting back to normal. Vaccines have obviously played a big part in this shift. But we still have to wonder how sports arenas, concert halls, and film festivals have been able to fill all their seats seemingly at the drop of a hat. We suspect there’s some good old-fashioned event planning to learn from here. For this article, we’ll look into a few recent and upcoming sports and entertainment events, and talk about how they are leading the way to bring back in-person audiences. We’ll also point out what organizers can do to emulate these events, and take their own event planning to the next level. Big goals today. Let’s get to it!

Toronto International Film Festival Advertisement with dates and caption: "Join the biggest names and the brightest minds"

Keep the messaging direct — and no surprises!

The Toronto International Film Festival, which will run from Sept 9-18, recently put out a press release with two very important goals — show the event will be safe and get people really excited about their films. For the first goal, safety, TIFF published Canada’s current vaccination rates, as well as quotes from medical professionals talking about how it will be safe to see movies in-person during the festival. We think this kind of direct messaging is exactly what attendees are looking for in 2021 — good data + good advice.

TIFF also used this press release to announce some of their big-name films (as opposed to keeping these films a secret like most festivals do). About this decision, Cameron Bailey, TIFF’s artistic director says.  “We’ve been in a pandemic for a year and a half, and people wanted to know what the landscape looked like. This is an indication, and there’s lots more to come.” Again, it’s all about keeping the messaging direct. Tell people what they can get excited for. No more surprises in 2021. That’s the goal.

Endeavor Games advertisement with photo of men competing in the games

Just make it happen (it will be worth it).

The Endeavor Games, a multi-sport competition that brings together athletes with physical disabilities from around the country, returned this year at full capacity, roughly 250 athletes total. To make this sporting event happen, all athletes, coaches, and spectators followed the Olympic and Paralympic covid guidelines, as well as any state and local restrictions.

About the games, competitor Annika Hutsler says, “I’ve already made new friends here that I didn’t know two days ago… So, it’s a great sense of community beyond everything else, but just being able to get out and play some sports and do a little bit of trash-talking, of course… It helps my mental health more than anything.” We’ll be the first to say that planning isn’t easy right now. There are lots of rules to follow (for good reason), but when it comes to the positive impact you can make, Endeavor proved it’s worth it to the attendees to just make it happen.

photo of the Boston Symphony Orchestra performing

When in doubt, change-up the schedule.

The Boston Symphony Orchestra will return in-person events on Sept 30, after an 18-month hiatus, but not without a few key changes to promote health and safety. Possibly the most interesting of these changes is that there will be no intermission for the first 7 weeks. The BSO wants everyone to sit tight during the whole show to limit random interaction between attendees. The intermission will probably be sorely missed, but we do think this is a simple and creative way to lower the number of people mingling indoors. For organizers that would like to emulate this, consider shortening sessions, and then running them back to back without breaks. This will both limit random interaction, and allow attendees to get more done all at once. It may also make speakers keep presentations short and to the point. Lots of pluses!

GIF montage off a music festival with stage and crowd

More performance and entertainment, please!

A recent Recode article pointed out that the hottest tickets right now are for big music festivals. Beyond festivals, people are buying tickets for expos, sporting events, concerts, and conferences, in that order. So this tells us that what attendees want most right now is live performances, preferably outside, where they can relax around a bunch of people and hear some music. Which makes sense, since this it’s all stuff we haven’t been able to do for a year. And while not every event can be a music festival, organizers should take note of the fact that live outdoor music is a huge draw. It’s literally what people are paying for in 2021. So if you ever wanted to book a band for your event, this is the time to do it.

Illenium performance advertisement with caption: "Live from allegiant stadium"

Live stream everything for sports and entertainment events.

Illieum’s show at the new Las Vegas Raiders’ Allegiant stadium is set to be both the biggest in-person EDM event since 2020, as well one of the biggest hybrid music events ever. For a fee, attendees from around the world will be able to stream the entire three set performance, or rewatch the show within a 24hr period, which we think is a cool feature. But more importantly, this event proves that the hybrid experience for music is still enticing even in 2021. We’ve known this about sports for a long time — just think about Super Bowl Sunday, it’s literally an entire day dedicated to a hybrid event. The difference is now there is a demand for all kinds of hybrid streaming experiences. We’re not sure how long this will last, but it’s definitely a way to bring in more event revenue at the moment.

GIF of LA Dodgers players celebrating in the dugout

Free stuff for jabs 

In early June, LA County offered residents a chance to win free season tickets to Dodgers, Kings, Galaxy, and LA Football Club games to fans who got the vaccine. “Thanks to the generosity of these teams and their deep commitment to getting us all safely to the end of the pandemic, one lucky pair will be able to watch all of one of these teams’ home games live and in person next season,” said Barbara Ferrer, LA’s director of public health. We think this is a great example of brands using their platform to help events go back to normal. Organizers can build on this concept by offering special deals to vaccinated attendees. Maybe a special concert, or mixer, or a discount of food, or maybe even free drinks. It’s simple, easy, and it might get more people vaccinated — which is one way to keep having in-person events.

Take the ball and run with it.

There’s no one way to get back to normal, but the sports and entertainment industry has certainly given us lots to go on. When it comes to messaging — keep things direct. Tell people what they can expect. No surprises in 2021. Also, don’t be afraid to mix things up. Move sessions together or cut breaks to limit mingling. Maybe even take it outside. Or bring in a band. People want events in 2021, sports and entertainment have proved that, so now’s the time to take the ball and run with it. For more tips on hosting an in-person event right now, check out this read.

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