Defining the term ‘event’ in the context of the academic study of event management is fraught with difficulty. I’m reminded of Lord Denning’s observation on the similar problem of defining ‘pornography’ – ‘Difficult to define, but we know it when we see it’. Perhaps we should be guided by that great philosopher Humpty Dumpty who declared in Through the Looking Glass, “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”
Although a generally definition is elusive, that does not mean that we should not think about what the elements of a definition might include. Recently a colleague, Robert Kaspar, brought up the issue of frequency. He felt that a theatre performance should not fall within such a definition – repeating the identical event on a daily basis should surely not fall within the definition. A ‘first night’ perhaps, with media presence, or possibly even a ‘last night’ with a cast party, but not a normal, regular, run-of-the-mill performance surely.
I think he has a point. Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap is now in its sixtieth year, and has seen over 24,000 performances. It does not make sense to argue that each of these was one of 24,000 virtually identical events. They have exhibited less variance than 24,000 evenings at a restaurant that has been running for sixty years, and we wouldn’t include a restaurant being open for the evening as an ‘event’.
What then of a football match? The frequency here is fortnightly for much, but not all, of a year. Would there be a concensus as to whether these are ‘events’?
At the other end of the scale, there are issues too. The Oberamagau Passion Play is performed once every ten years, and, at an even longer frequency, the Preston Guild occurs once every twenty years. In the latter case in particular, the gap is so long that there is little continuity between successive events, and it only makes sense to to look at each Preston Guild as, in effect, a one-off event. Their considerable longevity encourages us to view them as a series of events, and their rich heritage no doubt encourages their organisers to view them likewise. But is that realistic?
More typical of the events we choose to study (and thus implicitly define as ‘events’ to the exclsuion of other happenings, for want of a better word) are those that take place annually. For mega-events, such as the Summer Olympics or the FIFA World Cup, we are happy to extend our ‘comfort zone’ with respect to frequency to four years.
Is frequency of a repeated event a key element in whether we class something as an event or not? I have no problem with classing a one-off event as ‘an event’, but, if it occurs too frequently, does it fall outside the illusive definition of ‘an event’, and simply become something significantly less describable as ‘an event’?
The legacy currently being planned – I write a couple of months after the finish of the Games – is rather different from that envisaged earlier.
The earliest plans for legacy were:
A legacy for sport
A cluster of five specific facilities:
Stadium; Aquatics Centre; Velopark; Hockey Centre; Indoor Sport Centre
A legacy for the community
Economic regeneration; health and well-being; accessibility & inclusion
A legacy for the environment
In fact, just what the International Olympic Committee would want to hear from a bidding city. As the actual Games approached, the plans were scaled back, and there was a re-emphasis in general:
Olympic village; Olympic stadium; Aquatics centre; Broadcast and press centre
The rest had been re-profiled downwards
The new emphasis was on infrastructure, and extended beyond sporting infrastructure. This might be interpreted as a shift from the idealism of a bidding city to the realism of a host city.
Before the Games had taken place, the Olympic Village had been sold to a Qatari property developer for £557m, leaving the UK taxpayer to cover a loss of £275m. As Julia Kollewe of the Guardian explained it:
Jeremy Hunt, the culture secretary, hailed the sale as a “fantastic deal that will give taxpayers a great return and shows how we are securing a legacy from London’s Games”. The village cost £1.1bn to build, but the ODA insisted it never expected to recoup building costs. “It was an entirely empty site, it didn’t have any infrastructure, roads or parks. There was always going to be a public sector contribution to help put those in,” said a spokesman.
The Olympic Stadium proved particularly problematic. At a capacity of 80,000 seats it was far too large to be economically sustainable as an athletics track, and yet London had promised the IOC it would be retained as an athletics track. Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United both expressed an interest in taking it over as a football stadium, but Tottenham withdrew their bid because of the difficulties of conversion. Closer by Leyton Orient objected to either club moving there (their present stadium is approximately two kilometres from the Olympic Stadium, much closer than either Tottenham’s or West Ham’s). At the time of writing, the matter remains as a dispute to be settled in court. Meanwhile, it has been admitted that the conversion is likely to take longer than originally planned, and the earliest that football might be played there is probably August 2016, four years after the Games ended.
The UK government announced its further legacy plans shortly after the completion of the Games. These now include:
- £125m per year funding for elite sport over the next four years – up until Rio 2016.
- £300m investment to turn the Olympic site into the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, open to the community.
- Bringing 20 major sporting events to UK by 2019, with more bids in progress.
- Sport England’s £135m Places People Play legacy programme to fund new facilities, volunteering and participation programmes.
- £1bn investment over the next five years in the Youth Sport Strategy, linking schools with sports clubs and encouraging sporting habits for life.
- Government support for the Join In programme to build on the spirit of volunteering seen at the Games by getting people to volunteer at their local sports club.
- Introduction of the School Games programme sponsored by Sainsburys to boost schools sport and county sport festivals.
- More done to ensure PE in schools is available to all.
- £1.5m funding to the English Federation of Disability Sport to increase participation in sports by disabled people.
- Continue funding for International Inspiration, the UK’s international sports development programme, to 2014.
All of these incur costs which had not been planned for previously, and few carry explicir costs. Those that do add up to over £3.4m. Whether these costs should be added onto the costs of the Games themselves is debatable of course, but I will not be holding breath to see the uk governement rcognising that any of them should be included.
After all, they have adopted a ‘creative’ approach of late. Last month they proudly announced that there had been an underspend of £377m on the Games. “London 2012 was a tremendous success and it is a significant achievement to deliver this large and complex programme on time and under budget” purred Sports minister Hugh Robertson. Well, it’s true that there was this underspend on the 2007 budget figure, but this completely ignores the ever-rising estimate of the total figure up until then. When London made its bid in 2005, the total cost of the Games was expected to be £2.4bn.
There have been numerous ommissions, underestimates and additions to the total bill for the Games. This initself was only to be expected given the complexity of the undertaking. But their sheer scale and the fact that new costts are poured into the mix after the Games have finished is deeply worrying. Will we ever know what the total cost has been?
This blog has been established to provide a platform for news and views on Events Management. It will cover all types of events, focussing primarily on sports events and culturalevents, but extending beyond these two topics to include business events and public events.