In Focus: Host City Activation - Pitfalls & Opportunities

When you read about the “football” news your mind ordinarily jumps to matters such as players, use of technology, broadcast and/or venues, core business for this community.



What we seek to bring into focus is what we refer to as the wider footprint of the “business of football” which gets less attention but is central to the Return on Investment which cities must deal with from hosting prestigious international competitions.


What do I mean?

Another term is “City Activation”. Country or city motivations to host are broadly to enhance their international profile and therefore render them more likely to attract future sport events, loosely termed Return on Investment.


This term alone is subject to a myriad of different interpretations and for many sports properties is one of the primary disconnects in the major sports events market on which Major Events International (MEI) is leading the debate. This is an important debate driven by two imperatives. Firstly, government money which is used to underpin hosting is increasingly challenging to access other than the obvious two or maybe three nations which are bankrolling current events. Secondly, and arguably rightly, there should be auditable evidence of the benefits of hosting which have longevity far beyond a great 90-minute game or series of games.


How is this achieved?

This starts with a great visitor experience. The “field of play,” start time and delivery of the match “happens”. Many things can go wrong but rarely (if ever?) does a key match fail to be broadcast on time. Looking into what an international audience claims as failure does at first sound mundane. Transport issues, long queues, obtrusive security, hostile policing, crowd management issues and sadly hooliganism; a protest occurring across a spectrum of a growing number of causes where the widespread publicity of sports event disruption surpasses that of the event itself.


Rule 1: It could be argued that attention to detail about the focus on the “visitor” and not just the fan is the make or break reputationally for cities. Not all members of the family will go to the match. In situations when there are multiple matches clearly not all fans go to all of those. Recognising the downtime around all of this and putting a plan in place to entertain these guests will create the buzz which makes memories. One of the most established manifestations of this for many years now is the Fan Zone/Live Sites. When situated in a great location and with the right support services this can dramatically change the perception of the host city when augmented, as an example, with live music and the like.


Rule 2: The need for a Master Plan: an integrated campaign of cultural and leisure events, tourism programmes all underpinned by a great transportation plan, in a safe and secure environment (challenging these days) and the list goes on. This “Master Plan” for hosting important international competitions therefore must start with the notion that this is not “just another routine match” for reasons worth summarising. Central to getting this right starts with the basic matters and everybody will tell you, please – no queues! This starts at the airport, across the transport system, arriving at the hotel, back out on the road to matchday venues, food and beverage, a fast exit post the match and so it goes on. A good way to test the plan is to run a “day in the life” for all the key communities: players, officials, VIPs, visiting fans, friends and family and the all-important media.


Rule 3: Prepare for the unexpected. What can go wrong will go wrong – potentially – and within multiagency coordination is assumed as the “norm”. Our experience is this is not the case. Again, it is the mundane which plays an important role. Radio frequencies, terminology, decision and escalation processes and basic human interaction from known and trusted relationships are either often not there, or if there, not rehearsed. Avoid complacency, apply humility and enjoy the satisfaction of knowing “you have done the best you can.”


Rule 4: Life goes on! Take the public with you. Businesses need to function and surges of short-term staff requirements, road closures or congestion and other “event impacting” matters need a communication plan. This seeks to ensure concerns are listened to and opportunities maximised to avoid negative media coverage or at worst resistance to future hosting opportunities.


Rule 5: Look after the media! They are the public facing view of the host destination. Without enabling logistics, communications infrastructure, access to the right people or venues it is hard for them to be positive. Balance is important for sure.


Rule 6: Keep the DNA of the sports event. Despite the points above, a football championship should be a celebration of the sport. But this does not negate the need for preparation or the wider perspective – if all goes well that is what will be remembered. Our contribution to this subject is knowledge transfer from multiple concurrent events, Olympics, multi-sport regional competitions and world championships.


Broadly the lessons are the same, hence the summary of the main points above. For the world of football, we are running a Football Hosts Summit on 20th June to include sector leads from FIFA and UEFA outlining the depth and range of their activities which are often not as well understood. It is great to see the work being done on Women in Football, inclusion in every sense of the word, grassroots programmes and the whole issue of what delivers a meaningful legacy.


I welcome your challenges to the rules or more likely the additions, amendments, or wider perspectives to above. If you would like your voice to be heard please get in touch and come and join us at the Summit in Lausanne!





* indicates required field
General Football Industry Newsletters





Newsletters from fcbusiness






Baltic Publications Limited will use the information you provide on this form to send you the content you have selected above to your email address. Please tick the box below to grant your permission for this:



You are in control. You can unsubscribe or change your preferences at any time by clicking on the relevant links in the footer of any email you receive from us, or by contacting us at We will treat your information with respect. Your information will not be shared, rented or sold to any third party. For more information about our privacy policy please visit By clicking below, you agree that we may process your information in accordance with these terms.


We use Mailchimp as our marketing platform. By clicking below to subscribe, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to Mailchimp for processing. Learn more about Mailchimp’s privacy practices here.