Planners can start preparing for future events by professionally handling a cancellation

Following countless days, months, and even years of planning, the last thing a sports event planner wants is for all that hard work to seemingly be for naught if the event must be cancelled or postponed.  Unfortunately, many planners in America and across the globe are seeing this nightmare scenario become a reality because of the coronavirus outbreak.

The pandemic has forced unprecedented schedule disruptions at all levels of sports.  Professional leagues have suspended their seasons, major events such as the Masters Tournament and the Boston Marathon have been postponed, and the NCAA cancelled all winter sports championships including the Final Four.  Countless amateur and youth events and tournaments have also been cancelled or postponed.

Ultimately, the decision as to whether to postpone or cancel an event is the product of several factors as evidenced between postponement for professional sports and cancellations for collegiate events.  The feasibility of pushing an event to a later date based on the availability of participants and facilities is a major factory and hosts also need to gauge whether there will still be interest from all parties in having the event at a future point in time.

As Roland Rivera, World Series Director of Triple Crown Sports explains, “I have to consider the safety and health of all participants above all else when considering cancellations.”  With relation to the coronavirus outbreak, Rivera has been in touch with government  entities of all types of areas where his group is holding tournaments to determine whether or not they are shutting down facilities locally.

Regardless of the ultimate decision, there are a number of things a planner needs to do in order to appropriately manage the crisis.  And, as odd as it may sound, this is a great opportunity to start building toward your next event.


Once the decision is made to cancel an event, you’ll want to communicate the news to all parties swiftly to give them notification as early as possible about the change in plans.  However, it is important to make sure you are sharing accurate and consistent information in all of your communications, and you’ll want to notify your own internal staff of the change in plans so they are not blindsided if they are contacted by an outsider.

Once the internal staff has been notified about the schedule change, it is time to share the news with everybody else.  This contact list will be much larger and will include all of the different people and groups you worked with in the planning stages of the event: participants, event and support staff, officials, fans, facility operators, athletic trainers, medical support services, vendors, sponsors, visitors, venues, hotels, and others.

It is important to reach all of these different groups so they are informed, and it is better to reach them multiple times rather than not at all.  Planners should combine as many of the following communication methods as possible to share the news: press releases sent to news outlets, updates to the event’s website and social media accounts, utilizing a text notification systems, email blast, and phone calls.  If your event has a website, it important than all parts, including schedules, notification boards, and billboards, are updated to reflect the schedule change.

Finally, all communications should include specific and pertinent information while showing empathy for those other parties who have also been adversely affected by the schedule change.  Important information to include in your communications (when applicable) include the specific event, dates, and/or facilities affected by the change, any potential plans for rescheduling the event, information on refunds, where to go for updates, and the name and phone number of the person, or people, to contact for more information.

The executive of a good communications plan will go a long way into retaining participants, officials, vendors, sponsors, and more for future events.

Other Things to Do

While your communications efforts will stop people from showing up for an event that won’t be happening, there is still more to do to most appropriately untangle the knots of a cancelled event.

While it may sound obvious, it is important that all planning for a cancelled event be halted immediately, particularly when parts have been outsourced.  You can save a lot of money by cutting off unnecessary printing, advertising, and more.

Planners may also need to file insurance claims to cover losses from cancellations.  Many tournaments and competitions will take out event cancellation insurance to protect themselves in circumstances like the ones we are currently experiencing, so it is important to get the claims process started as soon as possible.

Another legal aspect that event planners need to tackle following the cancellation of an event is the contracts they have with other parties.  Ranging across an array of areas, these agreements may be in place with numerous vendors, suppliers, facilities, participants, advertisers, and more.  It is important that the expectations spelled out in contracts be met with regards to the event cancellation in order to meet any legal obligations.

Depending on how close to your event the cancellation occurs, you may need, or want, to clean up your facility.  Returning rented equipment sooner than originally expected may help you save money while moving other physical assets such as goals, flags, tents, signage, and more into storage can prevent damage.

It is important to take advantage of any opportunity for follow up communication during this time.  No matter if it’s an update to the status of an event or a confirmation of the location for next year’s tournament, staying in touch with people keeps you at the forefront of their minds as they make future plans.

Rivera also notes that he is being contacted by locations and venues that are looking to fill gaps in their schedules that are suddenly created by other cancellations.

Finally, you should turn this unexpected break into a chance to get ahead of the game for next year.  Assess any strengths or weaknesses the experience exposed.  Maybe you will develop a crisis communications plan if you didn’t already have one in place.  Think of any concerns you had prior to the schedule change and plan for ways to address them well ahead of next year’s event.

While the current situation is one that has not been seen before, nearly all sports planners are in the same boat as they grapple with these scheduling decisions.  Those who realize that sports will return, plan for future events, and don’t dwell on what is lost now will be best positioned to excel when the pandemic is gone.