Ba-Ba-Black Sheep Events

Our team spent the morning striping soccer fields for the Special Olympics Colorado Summer Games descending on Grand Junction this weekend. This event is hands-down my favorite event of the year. Seeing these incredible athletes, their determination, sportsmanship, and the sheer joy spread ear-to-ear on their faces is, as MasterCard says, “priceless”. It’s a true exemplification of what sport can and should be. In its purest form.

Special Olympics Colorado Summer Games Opening Ceremony 2014

Not all events are that way.

Here at the sports commission, we get asked on a weekly – heck, nearly on a daily basis for event advice.

People always want to know what goes in the “secret sauce” for successful events. Is it marketing? Is it sponsorship? Is it pixie dust? What is it and how do they get ’em some? How does a black sheep event turn a 180?

Well, I’m no Great and Powerful Oz, but a few trips around the event planning block will cause some busted chins and lessons learned. In my opinion, these lessons do no good if they don’t drive change. And what’s more, sharing them multiplies the fruit for others to enjoy.

Uh, yeah, not me.

So, without further ridiculous analogies (I’m lying, I’m sure there will be plenty more to come), I give you my Top 5 fixes for Ba-Ba-Black Sheep events.

*Disclaimer: Please note these responses are only the opinion of Stoll, I do not receive compensation from any outside entity and as such, the advice may, in fact, be worth as much as you are paying for it. PS – No black sheep were injured in the writing of this blog.

5. Revisit your “Why”

In other words, what is your purpose for creating the event in the first place? Is it because you want to generate revenue? Perhaps you were suckered into it by a community member who just loves unicorn races. Maybe it’s for room nights. Maybe it’s for community exposure. Whatever your “WHY”, you must not lose sight of it.

On the flip side, knowing your “why” will also allow you to determine if you’re measuring success of your event appropriately. Some events may not pencil out from a budget perspective. In some communities, that’s fine. It’s about exposure, and the exposure reward is more valuable than the financial. If your “why” is for exposure, then don’t measure success in economic impact, or room nights. That makes no sense. Identifying your “why” can keep the vision pointed in the right direction. Maybe that sheep was just rolling around in the dust.

4. Events Need to Grow Legs

On the hole, events do not launch as raving successes. They have to cut their teeth. They must be loved, nurtured, fostered, and cared for. Often boards of directors and staff alike want the instant win. Managing those expectations is paramount. It is important to proceed with most new events knowing this truth.

At the GGJSC we inherited a 30+ year event that was turning a profit of a whopping $127. Yes, you read that correctly. I did not omit a zero (or 3). Slow and steady, with an eye toward the potential and managing expectations of growth, that same event is now our highest revenue generating event…and we give a sizable portion of the proceeds to fund a student-athlete scholarship at the local university.

3. In Events, True Positive Correlation is a Myth

In scientific research we look at correlations, or the degree of relationship among two separate things. The more DQ S’Mores Blizzards I eat, the higher my weight will be, for example (unfortunately). At least I hope that’s right, b/c I’m almost finished with my PhD and that would be super embarrassing!

Positive correlation we THINK will occur with every event

In the event world, we tend to set our sights on a perfect positive correlation of time and event success (no mater what your metric of success). Simply stated, as time goes on the revenue/economic impact/exposure/number of registered unicorns will increase at exactly the same rate because, you guessed it, they are correlated.

What events actually look like

This isn’t the case with events. Events more look like a spider web of chaos. Our job as event managers is to make as much sensibility and efficiency out of the chaos to better our chances of hitting our success metrics and get that correlation as close to 1.0 (perfect positive correlation) as possible.

That’s more like what we’re aiming for!


2. Don’t Marry Your Event

All that stuff about events needing time to grow and be nurtured in No. 4 above…That was some flowery crap. NO, I’m just kidding all of that is VERY TRUE. Buuuuuut, you can take that too far as well. This is what I called “Marrying your event”. I see people do it all the stinkin’ time. Events are given a fair shot and they don’t produce even though your “why” is clear and you are measuring appropriately. Or, worse yet, a great yielding event suddenly under-performs and never rebounds.

But these are our babies! We put hours, sweat, tears, and yes, if you are me and have been the only person to visit a medical tent at an event, even blood into them. Then they leave us at the alter. And a little piece of our ego dies.

Photo Credit: SocialMediaBeyondAllRecognition

I’ll let you in on a secret: It’s okay! Like the number of times Brett Favre came out of retirement, everything has a life cycle. Hey, dude was a good QB, and like I’ll mention below, there was a market. Times change, trends change, customer preferences change. Events, at times, also need some pruning. It may be 20 years in, or sometimes it’s just a one year effort. Don’t be above it, don’t take it personally. We cut an event after one year. Was it fun? No. Was it right? Yes. Not every event has the longevity of the Kentucky Derby, or the Daytona 500, but that’s why we talk about those events, they are the exception, not the rule.

Photo Credit CBS Sports

And, the number one tip I have for black sheep events is…

1. The Judge is NOT You

Events, like anything in business, is based on a market. You can plan the best event in the world that you’re certain will rival the Olympic Games, but if the market isn’t there to support it, then it’s not there to support it. Period. *Cough* XFL *Cough Cough*. Oh, say what?…it’s coming back? They must’ve talked to Favre.

Photo Credit: XFL

Further, you can have Prime Angus filet at aid stations, spit-shined portable restrooms (eww, I can’t believe I just typed that!), and medals that rival the Heart of the Ocean in Titanic, but if there isn’t a market for the event you created – in other words, you built it and they aren’t coming – then you have a problem.

Also, well-planned events can have poor execution. Remember, it can be hitting the fan in the back of your mind, but we are in a customer service business. We – me included – often think we are in the event planning business. Well, maybe to an extent, but we don’t have an event to plan if we don’t have customers. Our primary business is customer service. And unfortunately, we aren’t the judge of it. Our customers are, and what they say trumps what we think. We better listen. Excuse me while I choke on a bite of humble pie.


So there you have it, my top 5 ba-ba-black sheep event fixes. I hope I’ve provided some new ways to think about tending your sheep. As John Wooden said, “Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be.” This is Stoll on Sports.


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