Ode to the 300

October 16, 2015 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Event Management 

LOS ANGELES, Oct. 16, 2015 – History has honored the stand of Spartan king Leonidas and 300 Spartans – plus their allies – who defended against the invasion of a much larger force of Persians at the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C.E.

Through the centuries, the battle has become a rallying cry for what a small group can achieve, even against long odds, thanks to good circumstances, training and, above all, will.

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So it is appropriate to honor approximately the same number of people who overcame significant obstacles this last summer to stage the 2015 Special Olympics World Games in Los Angeles. Consider:

  • When the Games were awarded to Los Angeles in 2011, the bid documents foresaw an organization of 823 full-time staff and up to 40,000 volunteers.
  • The World Games would use existing facilities to keep costs down to a modest $104.6 million (in 2011 dollars) for the entire project.

When the Games came in 2015, the reality was that the full-time staff numbered 428, with 143 of those (33.4%) added within the last 50 days before the Games. The volunteer corps numbered 8,560, from a total of 29,616 applications received online.

Moreover, the cost of the Games was continuously lowered to meet available resources. The final Games budget was $66 million, with $50 million in cash and $16 of budget-relieving in-kind services.

Regardless of these realities, the World Games were a resounding, even transformative success. The profile of Special Olympics and its cause, to raise awareness and promote inclusion of individuals with intellectual disabilities, was aided immeasurably by the worldwide audience which saw, read or was otherwise touched by the Games.

How did this happen?

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First and foremost, it was the people involved. The LA2015 organizing committee team, just 285 people at the end of May, believed it would be successful and is was. There were breakdowns in multiple areas, but none of these doomed the Games. Instead, there were noteworthy achievements in multiple areas that became the foundation of its success:

  • The Host Town program, in which 97 communities from San Luis Obispo to San Diego hosted Special Olympics delegations, was a stunning, loving and emotional welcome for athletes, coaches and officials, many of whom had never been to the United States before.
  • The accommodations for the 6,163 athletes from 164 nations and the 2,651 coaches and officials accompanying them were excellent, using the student residences at UCLA and USC.
  • Competitions held in 25 sports at 11 different sites – but primarily at three major hubs at the Los Angeles Convention Center, UCLA and USC – ran nicely and, for the most part, without incident.
  • Spectator attendance at the World Games shattered all expectations – and records. An estimated total of 247,247 spectators saw the events, plus the Opening and Closing Ceremonies at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Every event was free, except for the Opening Ceremony. Another 100,000-plus attended the free festivals at UCLA and USC, which were packed daily for entertainment, games and awards.
  • Worldwide news media coverage also shattered all records, with 1,728 media from 79 nations credentialed for the Games and 1,514 actually on-site (some foreign media could not get entry visas). They sent back thousands of stories and pictures, aided by an LA2015 initiative that placed 23,108 royalty-free photographs on a special Flickr site for worldwide media use.
  • Television coverage by ESPN may have changed the World Games forever. When LA2015 president and chief executive Patrick McClenahan convinced ESPN in 2014 to show 10 hours of the Games, it was an achievement. But ESPN aired 38 hours of coverage that was seen by more than 20.1 million Americans alone, with partners in more than 20 countries and Games availability in 170 countries.
  • The digital-media impact of the Games also reached new heights, with 2.9 billion digital impressions during the Games period, 2.05 million visits to the LA2015 Web site and 190,456 social-media followers and subscribers for the Games.

A core team of about 300 people made this happen. To record their achievements (and the challenges), a five-volume Retrospective of the 2015 Special Olympics World Games has been produced at the request of LA2015 by Perelman, Pioneer & Co., and will be permanently hosted in a few months, on the LA84 Foundation Web site (www.LA84.org).

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Until then, we have links to it here (all files are in PDF):

Volume 1: Retrospective
A review of the arrangements, challenges and outcomes of the LA2015 Games Organizing Committee in attracting, creating and executing the first Special Olympics World Summer Games held in the United States in the 21st Century.

Volume 2: Memories
A photographic essay of the Games experience, compiled primarily from the 23,108 photographs created by the LA2015 Digital Strategy photo documentation team.

Volume 3: Gallery
A sampling of LA2015 advertisements and promotional graphics created by design director Jon De Ring, design coordinator Monique Yniquez and staff.

Volume 4: Games Design and Signage Guide
A detailed review, in an extra-large format, of the remarkably successful environmental design and signage program managed by Look & Signage director Jim Casares. Due to its size, this volume is offered in three parts : Part A, Part B and Part C.

Volume 5: Results
Condensed summaries of the results of each sport as provided by the Games Management System (GMS) and edited for style by Isabel Cervello, vice president for Sports & Games Technology Management.

It was a remarkable Games, thanks to the tremendous athletes and delegates who competed and those who supported them. And the 300 or so who stood behind the scenes and would not let the Games fail. To them, and the volunteers, contractors and officials who helped, the LA2015 World Games Retrospective is published in your honor.

(If you’re interested in assistance with your mega-event, go ahead and Contact Us right away!)

Social Media: Put-on or Panacea?

September 21, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Communications, Technology 

LOS ANGELES, Sep. 21, 2015 – In ancient Egypt, pharoahs had the walls of temples carved with inscriptions that announced their triumphs. As technology has advanced, communications have become faster and more personal: mail, newspapers, radio, television, electronic mail, Web sites and, in the 21st Century, social media.

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Among 21st Century marketers, the question most often asked now is why and how social media can work for their brands, or by extension, for events.

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The question was illuminated last week in an interesting article in the widely-respected Advertising Age trade magazine: Unilever Finds Social-Media Buzz Really Does Drive Sales; Coke, Where Unilever’s Top Researcher Once Worked, Found Otherwise.

The highlights:

Positive mentions in social media have been proved to drive sales for Unilever brands.

Coke researchers discussed a study … in 2013 finding online buzz had no measurable impact on short-term sales.

Only one in a thousand TV ad impressions prompts a sale. … A study [indicated] that an unnamed major pet food brand generated sales from four in a thousand digital ad impressions by targeting pet owners, and from 40 in 1,000 digital impressions by targeting cat and dog owners specifically.

So what does this tell us? Social media is not a one-size-fits-all savior for marketers of ice cream, soft drinks, pet food or special events. But it is a tool that can assist you in combination with others, including, but not limited to:

  • Broadcast media:
    = Radio
    = Television, especially local cable
  • Online media:
    = Electronic mail
    = Mobile apps
    = Web sites
  • Outdoor media:
    = Billboards
    = Bus cards and shelters
    = Street banners
  • Print media:
    = Magazines
    = Newsletters
    = Newspapers

Now, which social-media outlet to use? That’s another story.

(If you’re interested in assistance with your mega-event, go ahead and Contact Us right away!)

In a high-tech world, low-tech worked wonders

LOS ANGELES, Sep. 6, 2015 – Experience is a great teacher, but desperation is a better motivator.

Here was the dilemma: as co-senior director of media operations for the 2015 Special Olympics World Games in Los Angeles, I knew we had to find a reliable, no-cost (or at least, low-cost) way to communicate with the record number of news media we had coming to cover the event.

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There would be advisories for news conferences, news releases about issues during the Games, statements in case of problems and so on. And with 1,728 credentialed media coming from 79 nations, there would be no way to create a personalized, or even a group solution to communications, with so many different levels of technical ability and equipment being used. So we not only had to find a reliable way to communicate, but also to “train” the media to look for our messages in an easy-to-use format.

There were lots of options:

  • The LA2015 mobile app was one possibility. But the app was really for the public and couldn’t be set up primarily for media use.
  • Text messaging through a mass-messaging mobile app like GroupMe. But how many media would know how to download the app and be able to join the group? Probably not enough.
  • Using mass-audience sites with mobile apps like Facebook, Twitter and SnapChat were possibilities. But having special media accounts for these social-media giants would inevitably cause confusion with our own Digital Strategy team, which was revving up to serve an enormous, worldwide audience on its own.

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None of these were optimal solutions. We needed something fairly simple, universally accepted, easy to control and update and as accessible on a smartphone or tablet as on a laptop computer.


This wasn’t a perfect solution, either, but it was low-cost, universally used and easy for us to send to whomever we wanted. The LA2015 Web site team already had use of a service to send mass e-mails, which we could adopt for media use by copying over the e-mail addresses of the media who had registered for the event, at no added cost to the organizing committee.

The key issue to be faced was how to arrange the messaging and delivery protocol so that the e-mails sent were impactful instead of annoying. For this, we found a good solution which can be widely replicated to other events in the future:

  • We created a “Media Communique” which was designed to capture all of the announcements, news and reference data we wanted news media to have in-hand.
  • Using a standard layout, in the nearly-universally-accepted PDF format, allowed us to get news media used to the Communique, and to be able to find what they wanted in it comfortably.
  • By introducing the Media Communique early enough, news media would accept it as a reliable tool for information. If needed, a special bulletin could always be sent separately.
  • By providing information in a single package on a daily basis, requests for sending low-impact announcements could be eliminated and all items could be included in the Media Communique.
  • By beginning the Media Communique service early enough, we thought we could get media to rely on it as the World Games approached, eventually becoming a daily source of news and information sent to news media early each morning (Los Angeles time).

Creating the format was more art than science, and the launch was delayed because of other, pressing issues inside the organizing committee. But the first issue was distributed on Monday, June 8, and followed up with Monday morning mailings on June 15, 22, 29, July 6 and 13.

Reaction was excellent and requests to be added to the mailing list were common. With the Delegation Welcome Center opening on July 21, frequency was increased to three times during the week of July 13, adding July 15 and 17. Beginning on Monday, July 20, the Media Communique was published daily (sample issue), right through the Games, with the final edition on Monday, August 3. There were 24 issues in all, plus six advisories and two LA2015 statements sent on an emergency basis, primarily dealing with athletes who had gone missing from their delegations.

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By the time the Communique had gone to daily circulation, we were sending to three different lists: credentialed media, LA2015 staff and “others,” a collection of everyone who had asked to be added. This totaled about 2,000 names.

But the surprise was not the positive reaction of the recipients, but the viral uses made by recipients who sent them on to others. After the Games were concluded, it became clear that the Media Communique, although designed for media, was actually being used as an all-in-one information source that was circulated to 4,000 or more additional recipients on a daily basis.

One Special Olympics official replied to the delivery of the July 27 issue thus: “Been too busy to say what I’ve been thinking: these are fantastic!”

Ian Payne of Britain’s ITV sent his own congratulations: “I’ve just returned to the UK after 8 days covering the Special Olympics World Games in Los Angeles for ITV … I’d like to complement and thank you for an incredibly well-run tournament and superb media communications.”

The Media Communique fulfilled its role and then some. But it also showed that the high-tech solution is not always the best one. Low-tech (and sometimes no-tech) still has its place.

(If you’re interested in assistance with your mega-event, go ahead and Contact Us right away!)

Avoiding waste: the World Games and “sustainability”

August 22, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Event Management, Olympic Games 

LOS ANGELES, Aug. 22, 2015 – Imagine a magician waving his wand over Dodger Stadium after a game and making all those hot dog wrappers, peanut shells and left-behind programs disappear . . .

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Instead, we have mounds of trash.

On a much larger scale, that’s the reality of major events – up to and including the Olympic Games – where facilities are built that have no obvious long-term use and sit idle.

This is where future events can learn a lesson from the recently-completed Special Olympics World Games in Los Angeles, where not a single facility was built for the event. None.

The entire Games, hosting 6,163 athletes from 164 nations in 25 sports, was held in existing facilities that were customized at modest cost to host the event at just 11 sites:

  1. Balboa Sports Center (1): Football;
  2. Griffith Park (1): Golf
  3. Long Beach/Alamitos Beach (3): Beach Volleyball, Open Water Swimming, Triathlon, plus the Half Marathon;
  4. Long Beach/Aquarium Way (1): Cycling
  5. Long Beach/Belmont Pier (1): Sailing;
  6. Long Beach Marine Stadium (1): Kayaking;
  7. Los Angeles Convention Center (6): Badminton, Bocce, Handball, Powerlifting, Roller Skating and Table Tennis;
  8. Los Angeles Equestrian Center (1): Equestrian
  9. Lucky Strike Lanes (1): Bowling;
  10. UCLA (7): Football (Soccer), Gymnastics/Artistic, Gymnastics/Rhythmic, Judo, Softball, Tennis and Volleyball;
  11. USC (3): Athletics (Track & Field), Basketball, Swimming.

The Long Beach sites were serviced together, acting as a single hub in terms of supplies and transportation. Athlete housing was concentrated at UCLA and USC, so that athletes could walk – and 54% did – to their competitions, completely eliminating transportation.

It’s true that the sites were generally small, that attendance was limited, and that tickets were not sold except for the Opening Ceremony. There were, however, long lines to get in only at gymnastics (artistic and rhythmic) and at judo, both at UCLA.

But unlike so many other events, the World Games organizers here in Los Angeles felt no need for grandeur . . . or for waste. The venues were right-sized to what had been the experience of very light attendance at the World Games in prior years.

Instead, people came out in force to several sites and the 2015 Games set an all-time record of 247,247 attendees, of which 146,551 came to the competitions (the others went to the Opening and Closing Ceremony).

But the facilities chosen were outfitted with bleachers, portable restrooms, tents and whatever else was needed to make the competitions work for the athletes, officials and spectators. They were returned to their original state, to go back to their regular uses, within days after the Games ended.

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(Pictured above: Drake Stadium and the Intramural Field at UCLA fitted with temporary facilities to host football matches at the 2015 World Games. Photo credit: Glenn Grossman.)

As the race for the 2024 Olympic Games gets underway, it will be worthwhile to see if the International Olympic Committee – which has memorialized its desire to avoid facilities without post-Games uses in its Agenda 2020 reforms – places any emphasis on the avoidance of waste.

It’s true that for some cities, new arenas or stadiums are appropriate or needed. The Salt Lake City facilities built for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games are busier now than ever.

But the I.O.C. picked London for the 2012 Games and watched the budget explode from the bid-book figure of 2.4 billion British pounds (about $4.4 billion U.S. at the time) to 8.8 billion British pounds (about $13.7 billion at 2012 rates). Was it worth it?

By the way, Paris also bid for the 2012 Games and had an aggressive approach to temporary facilities to keep costs down. Perhaps the French were ahead of their time; they’re bidding again, you know …

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Credentials: Simpler is Better

August 15, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Event Management, Press Operations 

LOS ANGELES, Aug. 15, 2015 – One of the most thankless tasks in any large event is the specification and production of accreditation badges, or credentials as they are sometimes known.

Once as small as a lapel pin, sometimes adorned by a ribbon, badges have become larger and larger over the years, as they carry more and more information, But sometimes, less is more, as too much information sometimes makes badges nearly impossible to read. Consider this badge format for the recently-completed 2015 Special Olympics World Games:

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Now, no badge had all that data, but there was a lot to consider on any badge. Responding to the interests of individual functional areas for exact control of their areas, the final LA2015 credential badge design included 10-11 lines of information, including a person’s name, delegation or organization and function or role. Access control and privileges information consumed up to eight lines on each badge:

  • 21 codes available for participant identification
  • 28 codes available for venue access
  • 25 codes available for sport access
  • 6 codes available for hub access
  • 9 codes available for medical information (athletes only)
  • 41 codes available for housing access
  • 3 codes available for transportation access
  • 3 color codes and 4 numerical codes available for zone access

Most badges required photographs of the users (not for vendors or law enforcement personnel) and each badge had an individual bar code as well. On many badges, only one venue, sport or hub code was used, making their use more manageable. But the system was still complicated, as shown by the prototype badge above.

Moreover, the number of badges printed was large:

  • 31,323 World Games individual badges (with photographs)
  • 36,218 World Games generic badges (day passes and vendors)
  •   4,776 Ceremonies badges (individual and generic)

All together, this totaled 72,317 badges prepared for the Games and available for distribution.

As if this wasn’t enough, the credentials themselves were supplemented by a four-color lanyard system designed to help identify the wearers:

  • Blue: Delegation member housed at UCLA
  • Red: Delegation member housed at USC
  • Green: LA2015 team member (volunteer)
  • Purple: LA2015 staff member (manager)

In practice, the system proved to be too complex for many users, with too many symbols and colors to be easily understood. The hub, sport and venue codes and the numeric zone codes were easy to use, however. The delegation lanyard colors (red and blue) were easy to understand, but the LA2015 lanyard distinctions (purple and green) were not widely recognized.

A typical view of the system in operation came from a functional-area chief at the UCLA venue hub (housing, festival and six sports):

Either a simpler access system or better education of what all the numbers/colors on the credential meant [was needed]. Until Wednesday of Games competition week, very few people at UCLA knew that the color-bar across the bottom of the credential meant something. Virtually no one knew about what T-1, T-2, T-3 meant. Everyone focused on the numbers (e.g., 2, 4, 5, 6).

Accreditation badges have come a long way since the current style was introduced at the 1984 Olympic Games held in Los Angeles. There, in order to determine whether someone should be admitted to a specific area, or to any site, an access controller needed to look at only one place on the badge. And a typical badge had only three indicia on them.

Oh, for those simple days again.

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