Taking an event into the community
This case study looks at how a one-off international event can be used to build lasting community participation in sport and recreation. The case is Rotorua District Council’s (RDC) role in bringing the World Mountain Bike Championships (WMBC) to Rotorua in 2006.
RDC co-ordinated the bid for the championships and used the event to increase participation in mountain biking and use of the city’s forest park at Whakarewarewa.
The key to the success has been:
- Bike NZ and RDC running a community Bike Festival in tandem with the world champs to broaden the appeal of the event and expose more people to mountain biking
- building momentum around mountain biking with other racing events prior to and after the world champs
- RDC focusing on expanding public use of an existing facility – Whakarewarewa’s forest trails.
Rotorua District Council supports the bid for the World Champs
Support for the bid for the 2006 World Champs was co-ordinated by RDC staff. To meet the requirements for venue selection, RDC was a financial partner in the event and committed $50,000 in funding.
Council's initial objective was to capitalise on the economic benefits for the city. Little attention was paid to the social impacts of the event and how they could be leveraged to increase physical activity and recreation in the district.
The events strategy – it’s what you do with the events that counts
Prior to the WMBC, Council had no major events strategy. But for the WMBC, RDC events staff developed a strategy on how to engage the wider community in the champs and increase the popularity of mountain biking.
Apart from bringing the event to town and attracting locals to the event, the strategy was also about getting the event ‘out of the box’. For RDC that meant how could they leverage off the WMBC to get people more active beyond the event.
Bringing the event out of the box
Steve Gibling, former Events Manager at RDC, explains, “If an event is only focused on the big feature, and the community is not participating in that, the event can exist inside a box. The trick is to get the event outside the box”.
In practice, this means having a wider events programme that incorporates or is designed around different sectors of the community – for example, local media, local community and the event visitors. A good integrated strategy for this will plan, deliver and be responsive to the needs of all of these groups.
The key is to get people involved in the events by getting them to participate. When the local community participate, they feel they are part of the event, and they have fun. So do visitors, and the media have a lot to work with, which should ensure that the event is well publicised. This is how to create a popular event.
The World Mountain Bike Champs and the Bike Festival
RDC saw the opportunity to bring the WMBC ‘out of its box’ by running a range of complementary events that were not just about mountain biking – a Bike Festival.
The Bike Festival
The Bike Festival was managed by the mountain biking community and supported by the Council. Other events, such as “undie races” (street races with people dressed in silly underwear) in the city, helped raise the profile and increase interest among locals in the WMBC.
The number and mix of people attending these other events was larger than those in the mountain bike community. In this way, the champs and the Bike Festival improved each other – both sides gained leverage.
What appeals about events like undie racing is that people will watch - it will grab their attention. It also broadens the potential audience from people who are interested in mountain biking to everyone in the city. Undie racing gave the WMBC a lot of free media coverage.
Equally important to the strategy was the choice of venue(s). Rotorua’s Whakarewarewa forest is a fantastic local resource that had been under-used. The strategy aimed to bring local people to this place throughout the year to experience mountain biking.
The world champs was a great way to introduce people to the sport, and to the opportunities for recreational riding in the forest.
Biking events before and after
Prior to the event there were other mountain bike competitions in Rotorua – the National Championships in 2005 and the Oceania Champs in 2006. These helped build momentum and were good preparation for the main international event.
Since the World Champs, RDC has set a deliberate policy to maintain the biking momentum. There continue to be more, similar events around Rotorua. Check out www.riderotorua.co.nz for more information.
Beyond the event – what has come out of it?
Impacts of the WMBC and the Council’s policy of continuing to support similar events and recreational activities have been:
- Increased activity and forest usage
More local people in the community out using the walking/mountain bike tracks. Forest usage survey shows increases in forest usage, and there is an increase in the number of tracks from 32 to 45 in response to demand.
- More clubs and comps
Revenue from the champs was donated to the mountain bike club, which has expanded from roughly 200 to 450 members. The donation to the club has become seed money for a scholarship fund to provide assistance to aspiring local mountain bikers. Rotorua Mountain Bike Club is hosting national cup races as well as assisting with Kids Jams bike ride and Sport NZ Get to Go Challenges. By hosting events and applying to charitable trusts, the club has been able to invest over $115,000 in trail construction and maintenance, consistently improving the quality of the mountain bike playground. There has also been an increase in private mountain bike events – for example The Odyssey, the three-day bike event during the Easter weekend of 2007, and in 2008 the WMBC. Events can now more easily be introduced on an international scale. Mountain bike events are now leveraged to help bring other cycle events to Rotorua such as spring road racing, mountain biking cross country and cycle cross.
- Better publicity and economic growth for Rotorua
A new website www.riderotorua.com has updates on trails and events. A specific mountain biking brochure for Rotorua has been developed, which advertises Ride Rotorua and is aimed at domestic tourism. More mountain bike shops have opened in the town – this has increased from two shops to five.
- RDC continued involvement
involvement from RDC in supporting sponsorship, publicity, and logistical management of events has expanded. Forest management involvement in events has also expanded through providing information or support to event organisers and management about what routes are safe etc.
- New partners
Stronger relationships have been developed with independent events organisations and with Bike NZ/Bike NZ Rotorua.
- Building event and people capability
RDC’s internal events process evolved during and after the WMBC. The big lessons were about the value of investing in community events.
The current Events Manager at RDC, Emily Pritchard, says the focus for Council is now to look 2-3 years ahead to build on Rotorua’s reputation as a world-class mountain biking venue. As part of this strategy, Council is working with local groups to help bring their bids up to international standard.
Good practice lessons
Good practice tips
- Ongoing events have encouraged continued interest in biking at recreational and sporting levels
- Council has supported private events organisers, and continues to find opportunities to invest in events
- Recreational events, not just competitive events, are crucial in engaging a wider audience (90% of registrations at recreational events in the Bike Festival were not competitive).
If a community or a council chooses to hone in on a particular sport, there is a danger of putting all the eggs in one basket. It is safer to have a multi-faceted events strategy.
Local people are key to success
- It’s important to have people who have a co-operative approach working on a project for a big event
- You need to be able to work with and capture the best from volunteers – people who have the time and energy to be involved in a long planning process, running into years
- Recognising the contributions people make to the organising group will help keep the team together and functioning well. Project documentation
- Continuity of staff is often a problem with projects that run over a long time frame. The basic strategies for managing this problem include strong project planning and documentation of planning and operations.
The community benefits from events on various levels, but especially in the matter of self-belief i.e. “we can do this”.
Preparation – do a test run
The Lions Tour example
The Lions Tour was an event that RDC had a strong vision for, and it functioned as a test run for the WMBC.
The plan was to bring the event ‘out of the box’ into the community. This was achieved by creating links between the visitors, the locals, and the media. Hence, there was a Lions Tour Festival.
Some of the best lessons were about what did not work. In retrospect, the team thought they needed to invest more into the Lions Festival to get the full benefits. They fell short of engaging non-rugby people, and lacked an arts focus.
A lot of what happened with the Lions Festival was fun, but it was not necessarily about participation i.e. the programme lacked the events that said “bring your running shoes, or get on your bike”.
In contrast, the WMBC and the accompanying Bike Festival really helped Rotorua to become a mountain biking city.
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