In January 2021, RCX hosted the first-ever NFL FLAG Bowl. The flag football tournament is based around Super Bowl and the 2021 was the first event of its kind for many reasons. The main reason being the COVID-19 pandemic.
Youth athletes have been stuck at home, practicing in living rooms and backyards waiting to get back on the field. We knew the pressure was on to create a competitive, fun, and safe environment for kids and coaches.
Even with extensive safety measures, athletes got the “Super Bowl” feeling. Kids left Tampa feeling like champions which is always our main goal with any event we host. Leading up to the inaugural NFL FLAG Bowl, our team worked around the clock to ensure the event was a success.
VP of Operations Garland Cooper and Director of Marketing Jaclyn Thomas reflect on what led to success and key takeaways for planning an event during a global pandemic. Each step is edited for brevity.
STEP ONE: “Freak out a little, realize you know nothing, and you must it figure it out quickly”
STEP TWO: Understand the rules and regulations at the federal, state and community level
STEP THREE: Get to know the comfort level within your company and your partners
“We had total buy-in from our team. Everyone was dedicated to making this happen.In between all these steps are a million conversations before anyone says “yes” to running the event.” – Garland Cooper, VP of Ops
Cooper researched high profile events, like the NBA Playoffs. Not surprisingly, we quickly realized a “bubble” with hundreds of kids age 5-17 wouldn’t work.
STEP FOUR: Research conventions, trade shows, and amusement parks. Learn from their signage and how they were organizing lines, communicating information, and preventing mass chaos with clear entries and exits.
“This is all we’ve been thinking about since last March. We put these comprehensive guidelines in place and then we worked backwards. It was easy to plan and research, but the hard part was implementing that into the event.” – Garland Cooper, VP of Ops
STEP FIVE: How many gallons of hand sanitizer do we need?
Director of Marketing Jaclyn Thomas’ began reaching out to vendors for premiums, apparel and promotional items to understand the ordering timeline leading up to January 2021.
“We over-ordered everything. By a LOT. We didn’t know how much hand sanitizer people would go through.” – Jaclyn Thomas, Director of Marketing
Timeline Leading up to 2021 NFL FLAG Bowl
September, 2020 – Decided we want to provide a one-of-a-kind experience for youth athletes
October, 2020 – After getting buy-in from our team, we started buying PPE and everything needed to run the event
November, 2020 – Officially received the green light to host this event
December, 2020 – Planning, buying, ROS, meetings, preparing, pretend holidays don’t exist
January, 2021 – Showtime!
“It’s one thing to say you have guidelines, it’s another to enforce them.” – Garland Cooper, VP of Ops
We had to challenge the venue to be more restrictive than they had to be, pushing boundaries of what they were used to. Triple the amount of safety officers were used – which included security, trainers, and staff. To get this done, we budgeted for 3x the amount of safety officers and figured out ways to compensate.
“We did things that were really uncomfortable to ensure safety of the event. We did what we had to do in order to run a safe event. It wasn’t always popular but at the end of the day, safety is our priority.”
Putting together a youth sports tournament during a pandemic meant doing a lot of things that felt uncomfortable. At one point during the tournament, everyone had to leave the venue at 12pm so we could allow the next group in.
22 fields + hundreds of kids + coaches + parents + staff = a lot of people to move
We’d never have to do this at an event before. Then again, this was a year of firsts.
“It always feels like the rug is gonna be pulled out underneath you when you’re planning an event in a pandemic.” – Garland Cooper, VP of Ops
STEP SIX: MAKE THE EVENT SPECIAL
RALLY SIGNS – With only 2 supporters per athlete allowed into the event, we had to get creative. Jaclyn Thomas, Director of Marketing, figured out a solution to 1. Take up space and 2. Show support from people who couldn’t be there. BuildASign.com stepped in and allowed families to create signs at no cost to show their support to their athletes.
LIVE STREAMING –11 fields were live-streamed during the event, including all championship games. Thanks to supporters at home, we garnered 5,300 unique views on game streams with Sporfie
JUMBOTRON FEAT. MESSAGES FROM NFL – A large screen displayed personalized “good luck” messages from NFL players, mascots, cheerleaders, and executives
SOCIAL CONTENT – On the field and in social feeds, talent was on display. Thanks to a 6-person content team, our social media was on 🔥 and our channels grew exponentially.
Takeaways from Jaclyn and Garland
Be confident and have full buy-in from everybody on your team
OVER PREPARE. The key to confidence is preparation
Events will always have digital & virtual aspects going forward. Think of the people who can’t be there
Optimize the times you’re fortunate enough to be in person
Go full steam ahead. When you second guess yourself, that’s when you fail