Walk, Don’t Watch

Limelight Sports

Limelight Sports is an events management company that calls itself a specialist in “engagement”, as explained by Marketing Manager Karla Bunney and Managing Director Andrew O’Loughlin. “You could describe us as an events management agency,” they explain. “Essentially we create and deliver sports experiences for our clients.”

Limelight originated some twenty years ago in the UK and has five years of track record in Australia. The business sets up mass participation sports events in order not only to promote the creator / sponsor but to further the cause of public participation in sport – not spectating but sweating, walking not watching. Sport is good for both individual and corporate health.

The company has soaked up numerous awards including Mass Participation Event of the Year in the UK. Defining ‘mass’, Andrew says that, “typically our events involve anything from three or four thousand to – particularly in the UK – 20,000 participants. We have even had 60,000 participants in a one-off event.”

These numbers do not include those watching – friends and families, as well as the curious, the lazy or the mildly sadistic who like to watch people working out. “But we can also organise small-scale localised events and campaigns.” Potential success for the event is a greater motivator than sheer size; Limelight is prepared to tell a client if it thinks a concept is unlikely to have the desired effect.

The company originated as a conventional events manager but in the last few years has evolved into ‘engagement’. “Our clients are usually marketing people; they invest in events as a vehicle to market to their consumers and we also offer marketing and PR services.” But essentially this is a different exercise from putting money into billboards at footy stadiums or sponsoring elite (and usually professional) teams. Instead, Limelight’s clients put their money into events which “allow their consumers to participate – running events, or cycling, for example, where the consumer is actually taking part.” Elite athletes do get involved in many of the events but more as a draw card than a competitor – Limelight’s events are for those who may never do more than dream of greatness on track or field.

Andrew says there is no set format to how an event comes together. A client may have a clear idea of what to do, or may come to the company with no more than a vague thought of getting involved in some form of ‘healthy’ promotion. In these ‘green’, environmentally friendly days, sport, in its widest sense, has become a highly popular avenue for corporate promotion right across the board.

Limelight can take a brief and come up with something – either an existing event or something completely new – to suit budgets, demographics and geography (you want it nationwide? Or just your local suburb? The company even ran a global campaign for trainer-maker Nike, organizing a soccer talent competition with finals in the UK. Having representation at both ends of the earth, Limelight is increasingly being asked to get involved in work overseas and was recently in Indonesia organising another event for Nike.

Many of the clients are public authorities, promoting health among electorates. Recent examples include Active Melbourne City Sports (“a lunchtime sports programme delivered on behalf of City of Melbourne and focused on getting Melburnians active”) and the Yarrawonga Mulwala Multi-Sport Festival (“a weekend of triathlon themed activities held annually in Victoria”).

In the UK, equivalent events masterminded by Limelight include Palace to Palace, a 75 kilometre cycle ride between the Buckingham and Windsor palaces in aid of The Prince’s Trust and the Royal Parks Foundation Ultra, a 50 kilometre charity ultra marathon organised by the charity and designed for ultra runners “looking for their next big challenge”.

The J.P.Morgan Corporate Challenge series is a worldwide set of 5.6 kilometre running events followed by hospitality, open to groups of employees from organisations in both private and public sectors. The London event ran recently and Sydney is set for November.

But J.P.Morgan and Nike have their own marketing and PR machines, don’t they? Andrew says they can still make use of Limelight’s special knowledge. “We have the scale of operations with our experience and tried and tested methodologies, as well as insights into the world of sport, so we can add value to your projects. We have a lot of expertise, both local and international, that we can tap into.”

He adds that return on investment can be maximised too, making Limelight’s involvement extremely cost effective, not to mention the risk mitigation, economies of scale and quality assurance the company can add to a project that in-house teams or non-specialist agencies might not be able to offer. Limelight has developed its standard project planning methodology which ensures all the little and potentially overlooked aspects of organising an event are covered.

Karla says the company is “very focused on not categorising events as one-off events. We look at any project as a campaign in its entirety, building a community around that event.” Social media is vital. Online channels are pressed into service from the very launch of an event and keep the community engaged and in contact (with each other and with the corporate sponsor) well after the end of the event. “We look at any project from a holistic viewpoint.”

Limelight likes to suggest it is “redefining sport”, but fans should not worry they are trying to change the footy or ruin rugby. “It is more about understanding why people participate in sport,” explains Andrew, “as opposed to why people watch sport. What are the emotives? What are the barriers? We talk a lot about ‘consumer journeys’ from the time they first hear about an event right through to their physical experience of it. How can we enhance that experience online? How can we get the community to talk to each other before, during and after the event?”

There are many barriers to participation in sport – cost, time, lack of equipment and, let’s face it, the ‘fear factor’ – which crop up time and again across all sports, he says. Occasionally Limelight’s involvement might involve redefining the laws of a sport, but more often it is about redefining the way in which non-elite men and women (or indeed kids) can engage with some kind of physical activity that interests them.

“Sport is fantastic in its current form and we want to be true to that, but we want some innovation too, to see whether we could do things a little differently so they are more how people want them to be.”

Promoting sport to Australians sounds like selling ice to Eskimos, doesn’t it, especially in Melbourne where Limelight has its headquarters? It has been often observed that with the sports-mad Victorians (in particular), it’s a miracle anyone is left over to spectate, so is marketing participation not perhaps somewhat redundant? Andrew says there are many layers to a typical event that include a cultural and social aspect as well as a sporting one.

“Arguably we are a very sporting community but there are a lot of people who are not active and many who are active but would like to be more so.” He says there are interesting statistics that suggest we are, as a nation, not quite as active as we may appear.

“All of us face constraints around how often we can be active in playing sport, so the more we can be encouraging people to play, by creating programmes that enable them to do so, the better. It is still a challenge to get people active and playing sport.”

Making Sense of Management

Management is the art, or science, of getting things done through people. Sounds fairly straightforward – except for the fact that people are not robots waiting to do our bidding. People have their own minds, motivations, and goals. So how do managers keep operations – and the people behind them – running as planned?

January 18, 2019, 3:29 AM AEDT