For the first time since the pandemic began, festivals are making a comeback – one such event is Bournemouth 7s Festival. Launched in 2008, Bournemouth 7s has grown from 6,000 attendees to the world’s largest sport and music festival, attracting over 30,000 people to the South coast. Renowned for being the “sporting Glastonbury,” the three-day event welcomes 400 teams and other guests to come together and share their love of sport and live performances.
Like many festival organisers, the Bournemouth 7s team has had an incredibly challenging time after being forced to cancel the 2020 festival. But with this year’s Bournemouth 7s Festival back on the cards, we caught up with its Managing Director and Vice President of the National Outdoor Events Association, Craig Mathie, to hear all about its big return to the live events scene. Mathie gives us a brilliant insight into what festival planning looks like right now, from how life changed for event creators this year to the lessons that can be taken into the future.
If you’re planning on hosting a festival this summer, make sure you consult the latest COVID-19 government guidelines to help keep your attendees safe.
Making the big decision
Unlike other events that have been operating under strict restrictions, Bournemouth 7s’ festival business plan meant waiting for the UK COVID roadmap to reach its final point. Mathie explains that around 90% of a festival’s profit from ticket sales goes towards covering costs. “Effectively, we start with a big open, empty field and a whole host of temporary infrastructure in place: toilets, showers, fencing, electricity,” he says. “Then, we have to have all the content, all the safety, all the security in place. And I don’t think people sometimes fully appreciate the level of effort that goes into doing that.”
So, it’s no surprise that the team was committed to hosting the event at full capacity. “For us, delivering the same type of event but with a smaller audience just wouldn’t work. And I think we’ve been very honest and realistic about that,” Mathie says. For that reason, they also decided to forgo a back-up plan in case restrictions change. As Mathie explains: “We know the format in which our event works. And if we aren’t able to deliver it in that format, then we just wouldn’t do it.”
Bournemouth 7s usually takes place over the May bank holiday weekend. But this year, it has been pushed back to the end of August – a tricky decision to make, according to Mathie. “We have effectively been planning as if we were going to happen over the last six months without knowing for certain whether we were going to. I completely understand why people haven’t done that, and they have decided to defer,” he says. So how did Bournemouth 7s make it through? By managing its situation and constantly assessing risk levels through good conversations with the likes of event suppliers, contractors, and venues. “Basically trying to find a middle ground where we can keep everything on pause, ready to press play at the last minute,” says Mathie.
When it came to making the call to go ahead, Mathie highlights timing. He says he was confident that the August bank holiday was far enough past the original end of lockdown date (June 21) for the team to be able to deliver. And like many creators, the organisers of Bournemouth 7s have been closely following the government’s Events Research Programme. Watching pilot events take place on a large scale, like the British Grand Prix or Euro 2020 matches at Wembley, gave them further confidence in the return of festivals.
As an established festival with a loyal following, Bournemouth 7s was in the fortunate position where some attendees held on to their 2020 tickets. But, as Mathie tells Eventbrite, this comes with its own challenges “in terms of big chunks of your audience buying tickets at two-year-ago prices and now you’re trying to deliver the event with new supplier prices. Everything becomes tighter [and] much more difficult to get hold of.” Even so, the team is delighted that demand has been through the roof: “We’ve had our busiest ever days in terms of ticket sales and we’ve pretty much sold out already, so it’s an amazing place to be.”
To make the festival as safe as possible, Bournemouth 7s has introduced a number of measures for the 2021 event, with current legal restrictions representing a baseline. “We will go above and beyond those to make sure the event is safe and securely delivered. We’re working on a whole host of mitigations, from testing to track and trace and mask-wearing for staff,” says Mathie. He adds that it’s important to make sure that “your audience is as safe as possible, but with as little complication as possible. Because the more complex things are, the more challenging they are for people to adopt and the more easily they forget them when the event happens.”
And while, understandably, COVID-19 is at the forefront of most event planners’ minds, Mathie makes the point that it is far from the only risk. “There is probably other stuff which presents a greater risk to our event,” he says, “so we need to make sure that when we’re doing our risk analysis and managing our event, we’re thinking about all of the stuff we always used to think about as well as COVID.”
Of course, it’s vital that attendees are kept in the loop about COVID-19 protocols. Bournemouth 7s is doing so by reinforcing health and safety messaging via its website, social media platforms, and event emails. When plans and protocols are finalised, they will be shared with attendees in advance. And “if people do not want to go to events, we’ve been really honest and transparent and said we can absolutely arrange refunds,” Mathie states.
Communication is key
It’s not only attendees that should be informed about COVID-19 regulations – local authorities need to be kept in the loop, too. And while many organisers may not have included them in their festival organising guidelines before, authorities have generally proven to be supportive and just as keen to get events back up and running.
Bournemouth 7s is one of the festivals that has had to engage public health authorities for the first time. Mathie says “they weren’t really a consultee in the event management process [before but] they have been involved in our discussions around events delivery. We’re constantly going to be engaging, discussing, and chatting with them about the event on what’s likely to happen.”
He also advises creators planning an event this year to “speak to the public health team in your local authority. They may not be thinking about events, but they have powers that they have never previously had to influence how your event happens. Make sure you speak to them early.”
The lessons to take away
Despite the challenges and frustrations festival organisers have faced throughout the pandemic, the Bournemouth 7s team has learnt a great deal, from believing in their original format to clearly communicating with others in the events industry. “It’s really easy to think about the negatives and the challenges of those situations that we’ve been through, but also take a little bit of time to reflect on some of the positive things and learn some lessons,” Mathie says. “For us as a business, it’s given us an opportunity to think about new business ideas. So hopefully, they’ll launch at some point later this year.”
Another important piece of advice Mathie has for festival organisers is to keep going. He thinks that those “in the industry who are able to keep the faith” will be able to host some events this year. “And they will be slightly different,” he adds. “There will be some more mitigations, some more measures in place. But actually, I think that we’ll look back at the end of this festival and events season and smile at what we’ve achieved in that time.”
Helping festival organisers to bounce back
Eventbrite’s platform is designed to help festival organisers with every step of planning their event. In fact, the Bournemouth 7s team has been using it to introduce people to new events and transfer attendees between dates. From how to hold a hybrid event to the ultimate guide to securing sponsorship, Eventbrite has a whole host of articles that can help you.
Remember: if you’re thinking about organising a festival, make sure you comply with the latest government guidelines. And whether it’s creating a mobile-optimised event page or advice about onsite logistics, we’re here to help you own your event.