The legendary grounds of the Emirates Old Trafford, where the fourth UK Events Summit will take place Dec. 15. Photo by Ashley Allen/Getty Images
Andy Rice, COO of Major Events International, is a veteran in media and events, holding various management roles in both fields since graduating from Loughborough University with a Sport and English degree. Highlights, in no particular order, include helping to take Market Link Publishing public, transform SportBusiness International into a market-leading brand, and joining the executive board of the Press Association in 2011, where he headed up the sports division, managing the partnerships with LOCOG and The Premier League.
After stints on the executive board of Future Media, retraining as an English teacher, and working for an educational charity, he returned to the business of sport as COO of Major Events International in the beginning of 2019.
VenuesNow caught up with Rice to discuss the upcoming UK Events Summit, among other topics, which returns as an in-person event after a mostly virtual 2020 edition. Now in its fourth year, the Summit will take place at the Emirates Old Trafford Cricket Ground in Manchester, Dec. 15.
VenuesNow: Describe your state of mind approaching the end of 2021.
Andy Rice: Great question. The truth is, I am incredibly upbeat. We have grown our membership numbers, despite a global pandemic that had the potential to undermine the real value of the business, helping suppliers to win contracts with major global events and in venues.
We have a UK event planned and coming together nicely with a great partner, the Emirates Old Trafford. And our ambition of helping the worlds of sport and entertainment converge with a view to greater collaboration is looking like it will come to fruition on Dec. 14 – with over 250 delegates now registered and 13 sponsors on board. So, things are a whole lot brighter than I thought they would be at the beginning of this year!
MEI has been consulting the major events industry for more than a decade, the Summit is relatively young, going into its fourth year: what has the Summit done for MEI in particular, and the wider industry in general?
MEI has a global footprint. The UK event was an opportunity to upweight our profile in our domestic market. We have been moving steadily north. We started at the Olympic Stadium, moved to Villa Park, went hybrid by necessity, and now we are in Manchester – fully live, with not a virtual feed to be seen!
By becoming more geographically focused, it allows us to broaden the definition of an event; from simply sport, where we specialize outside of the UK, to the whole events industry including festivals, gigs, air shows, boat shows etc. Our members and potential members specialize in helping event organizers mitigate risk, minimize costs and maximize revenues and fan engagement.
All these things are common to the broader events industry, and so the UK Summit has allowed us to fulfil our sector reach and, I think, fulfil a valuable service in helping to bring these rather dissonant and, if I may say so, suspicious worlds just a little closer together for the benefit of all.
Which industry development in the past decade has had the biggest impact on how major events are run?
The past decade? Wow, lots has happened in that time. But the growth of the “direct to consumer” experience via OTT streaming would probably be the most seismic change as it has the potential to change the whole sports rights commercial model.
The rise and rise of eSports has been phenomenal – who saw that coming? – and, aligned to that, I’m intrigued by the growth of the “hybrid” concept, even for major sporting events. The best example of this is the Drone Racing League. This begins with thousands of players, competing online in a virtual simulation of a real-world experience for a team placed at an actual live event, racing real drones. The funnel starts wide and narrows to filter through the most talented players, who then compete in spectacular locations. It is a wonderful meritocracy. There are so many benefits to this approach, aligned to engagement, sponsorship activation and viewer numbers. Every entertainment event should have a digital strategy and be working out how to leverage the power of virtual. This was becoming a trend, but Covid has accelerated it.
Another powerful trend, aligned to social media, is how technology is allowing events to transform from “an appointment” to view to provide a 24/7 immersive experience.
There’s a clear convergence of sports and music. What makes both forms of entertainment so compatible? Do you see the potential for new and lucrative revenue streams for artists?
Yes, this was partly the driving force behind the UK Events Summit. The term “Sportainment” was coined well over a decade ago, but there seems to have been some resistance to the merger, perhaps because both worlds are so cocooned. Increasingly, however, we are seeing the combination of sport and music adding greater fan engagement and therefore extracting a greater share of wallet.
The Jockey Club’s Newmarket Nights is a fantastic example of this: where top class racing is complemented by top class musical talent, encouraging racegoers to stay longer and spend more. The Hundred [cricket tournament] also used music very effectively.
Both sport and the other forms of entertainment rely on a heightening of emotions; a shared, common experience and memory making. Sport can do this; music can do this – it’s just a case of finding out a way, where combined they can be stronger than their individual parts and it’s a case of finding the right commercial model.
A very quick win would be marketing cross-fertilization. What’s to stop the younger demographic of Lancashire CCC fans being offered a special deal for the Manchester International Festival; and attendees of the festival, being offered deals to come to The Hundred? Nothing, as far as I can see, except people getting into a room together and making it happen.
The events business has always been incredibly resilient, and some of the moments it had to prove this are session topics at this year’s Event Summit, like the Manchester Bombings and of course COVID. Would you agree that the latter is a different challenge altogether, as things can change overnight with sudden far-reaching restrictions imposed by governments?
No, I would not agree that they are “different challenges altogether” although clearly, there are differences. Both involve the safety and security of fans in crowded places and, as such, they fall under the remit of people within an events organization with similar skill sets. Both require an adaptation to a new normal. We are all used to the screen and search process involved getting on a flight. The changes that fall out of the Manchester Bombing enquiry will inform Protect Duty [consultation by the UK government] and will, for the first time, make it the legal requirement for venues to be responsible for the safety of their customers. This is long overdue. We all know that we will have to live with COVID-19. However, I envisage that the long-term effects will be less visible and disruptive than the long-term effects of counter-terror measures.
Two more buzzwords, first, sustainability: The phrase has taken on more meaning than just environmental consciousness. It now also relates to the mental and physical health of the professionals working in this industry. Will that expanded scope be reflected at the Event Summit session?
Yes, totally, thanks mainly to G4S. Originally their panel was going to focus on how events should provide more confidence to fans to come back into stadia, arena and green field sites. However, G4S requested that we change the focus to think about how staff should be reassured and supported. So, the panel will now discuss this.
We are only too aware of the pressures on human resources. For us to get back to the levels that will be required to service the industry, in what we hope will be a bumper year of entertainment and events next year, we need to do all we can to promote the industry as being sympathetic and supportive to the people that serve to deliver those events.
The second buzzword is diversity: where does the major events industry stand in that regard, and what can improve the situation?
I was surprised when speaking to Park Life Founder, Sacha Lord, recently, how far he felt the events industry still has to go in terms of gender equality. The supply chain continues to be very male oriented, and he even highlighted the [Security Industry Authority] SIA for not doing enough to promote gender diversity. He even quoted examples of events, where female talent was discriminated against.
At MEI we feel very strongly about the importance of diversity in all its guises, but especially gender diversity. This is why we have teamed up with the Women’s Sports Alliance who will be running a full day content stream on empowering those that fight for and promote female equality. In addition, when it comes to racial equality, we have a dedicated panel on ‘Increasing Diversity: what it means for you’ featuring pioneers: Proud Events, The Brighton 7’s and The FA, who, because football is the national sport and so much in the media, and because they have done such a poor job in the past, are really setting the standards in this area.
Speaking to concert promoters, they feel unfairly treated, when looking at sports events, particularly football, which has been able to welcome fans back in stadiums while concerts are still banned in many European countries. I know it’s different in the UK, which you’re focused on, and where major concert events have been taking place since the summer.
I think, certainly in the UK, that it has come down to having the strength of a single voice representing sport, combined with the size and profile of sport as an events sector. Since the Hillsborough Tragedy, the Sports Ground Safety Authority (SGSA) have been the single advisory/ lobbying point into the DCMS. This has made it far easier to coordinate standards and testing.
The festival industry is by its very nature more fragmented and anarchic. This is why the role of the Event Industry Forum is so valuable, pulling together those dissonant chords; and the work of Plasa and #wemakeevents. I am not sure of the situation on the continent, but would be very surprised if these issues were not reflected there. What I would say is, if you are in the live music industry: do not sulk; do not let jealousy get the better of you. Get out and meet sports event organizers and see how you can piggy-back on their more privileged status. What can you learn from them? What can you do together? This is what the Summit is all about.
Was there a moment you fell in love with live events? A particular experience, maybe, a concert or sports match? And when did you know that you wanted to work in this business?
Like so many people, I fell into this industry. It was not so much ‘live events’ that I fell in love with, although I still think back fondly to my first concert, The Undertones at the Cambridge Corn Exchange and experiencing a mosh pit for the first time! It was more ‘sport’ that I wanted to work in.
My big epiphany came during a lecture at Loughborough University when I was introduced to this American visionary called Mark McCormack who, on the strength of a handshake with Arnold Palmer began the business of sport as we know it. I figured ‘sport and money’ that’s an intersection I want to be at! Ironically, however, I started life working at IPC Magazines and, of all the magazines I could have been allocated to, I began work on the NME when Manchester was at the heart of the Brit Pop scene and Sigue Sigue Sputnik, for a very, very short time, were redefining what it took to be successful in the music industry!
Can you recall an anecdote from an event you attended that captures the magic of this business?
We are lucky enough to be close to a relative of Chris Martin. We were invited to one of Coldplay’s pre-tour warm up gigs at Wembley Arena. The intimacy of that event and the uplifting nature of the music and the whole experience, after a cancer-blighted year, will stay with me forever. Thank you, Lucy and Chris!
Anything else about the UK Event Summit you want to add?
The UK Events Summit is a unique event bringing together event delivery experts from sport, festivals, and entertainment. Rights holding event organizers can register to come for free at www.meisummits.com. Already we have over 250 delegates. It is time we rose up from behind our screens and came together to share best practice, new ambitions, and tangible business cards!
If you are in the music industry, and you want to find out more about how you can work with sport, come and join us on Dec. 15 at Emirates Old Trafford. If you supply the music industry and you would like to increase your business development pipeline by meeting some new potential event organizers, you’re very welcome to come too.