Risk Management for Sports Events

By Matt Libber, CSEE, September 11, 2017

Whoever said “the difference between reckless and risk is planning” knew what they were talking about. If you are managing a sporting event, a team or sports organization, you better have a risk-management plan in place. 

When running an event, the organizer has several areas of responsibility. Among the most important is to provide a safe environment for participants, spectators, staff and other stakeholders. This includes protecting the assets of the organizations, facility and other entities involved in the event, and fairly executing processes and policies within the plan. The risk-management plan will also need subcategories and plans for emergency management, communications and disaster recovery.

The biggest thing to remember about a risk-management plan is that it needs to be a living, breathing document that can be adapted to each situation. It is important that when you are developing your plan, you follow these key steps:

> Risk Identification: There is no such thing as a risk-free event. Perform a top-to-bottom review of your event to identify any items that present a potential risk.

> Risk Evaluation: Assess each identified risk and assign it a priority based off the likelihood of its occurrence and the impact it will have on participants and the overall event. 

> Risk Mitigation: Find solutions to reduce or eliminate the impact of hazards. Understand some risks can’t be mitigated.

The main purpose of a risk-management plan is to provide a safe environment during your event. This needs to include not only participants, but also spectators and your staff. The obvious area to look at is security. That does not always mean addressing major issues such as terrorist threats or an active shooter, though these do need to be part of your risk assessment. Safety measures also include monitoring vehicle security in your parking lot, working locks on doors and ensuring proper lighting at the facility.

An additional issue that must be addressed, especially when working with youth events, is background checks for staff, coaches, officials and any individual who will be in contact with minors. In today’s world, you should screen everyone to be safe.

Event operators and facility owners also have a duty to protect the assets of the event and the facility. While it is important to get the event underway, you also need to be looking long-term at the effects of the event on the physical assets—field, courts, equipment, etc. The event operator and facility owners need to make sure the equipment and facility are in working order prior to the event starting and monitor its condition during the event.

There have been countless lawsuits throughout the U.S. from soccer events where a goal was not anchored to the ground, causing physical harm to a player. A proper risk-management plan would include an equipment inspection prior to the game to mitigate that risk.   

The last important piece of a risk-management plan is to make sure you are covered legally and financially. Have an attorney review contracts for liability coverage and indemnification. You also need to make sure you have adequate insurance coverage for all parts of operations, from general liability to vehicles to theft and property damage.

Ultimately, you will never be able to account for every circumstance that arises during an event. There will always be an unknown factor to deal with when you operate live events. However, if you have a proper plan in place, you can easily adapt existing processes, procedures and policies for many unknowns.

As Benjamin Franklin said, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.”

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