From the IAVM Region IV newsletter
This past spring, Oregon Convention Center welcomed IAAF and TrackTown USA into their building as they hosted the World Indoor Track and Field Championships. After more than 2 years of ongoing planning meetings with the client and their venue team, this event took center stage in front of a live audience and TV viewers around the world, March 17–20, 2016, following 5 weeks of build-out, trial runs and lots of late nights.
During the week of competition, OCC welcomed over 500 athletes from 144 countries to experience the sport of track and field at its absolute best in front of a sold-out audience of 7,000 ticket holders per session. Guests from all corners of the world watched records being broken within the walls of the OCC, where Team USA brought home an impressive 23 medals, 13 of them gold!
Oregon Convention Center had the opportunity to be a part of some major changes to indoor track and field. This was the first IAAF event to incorporate theatrical production elements into their program - a big change, and a big chance taken. The wish was to inject some "WWE/Rock 'n Roll" style excitement into the proceedings using music and lights designed by OCC’s in-house production team. The team presented a versatile and dynamic lighting and special effects design to showcase during competition – and for those “big” moments – which included 300 moving lights, strobe effects using LEDs, a pulsating soundtrack, and giant video screens.
In addition to the production elements, OCC's technology services team installed over 350 internet drops and 23 units of hardware that communicated to 70 WiFi radios. They provided WiFi internet access for 7,000 people, allowing for close to 5,000 unique WiFi stations – most of them concurrent. It was an impressive and successful installation for their team.
We interviewed a few key players in the success they experienced bringing this event to Portland. Lisa Chan (Sales Manager), Natalia McDonough (Production Manager), Steve Ebner (Technology Services Manager), and Stefanie Arnold (Event Manager) tirelessly and expertly worked with the local organization committee to make sure this event went off without a hitch.
What thoughts ran through your head when you first heard this might come to the Oregon Convention Center?
Lisa Chan: I was thrilled and a few years earlier I had an opportunity to discuss an indoor track meet with another group, so I knew it was possible. Nowadays, convention centers can house a variety of sports due to portable tracks, courts, ice rinks, and more! Our clients had an extraordinary vision of what indoor track and field could be in the United States, and OCC was the ideal open canvas they needed to create an exciting, once-in-a-life time experience for track and field athletes and fans.
Natalia McDonough: “How are they going to do that?”
Steve Ebner: I thought it would be interesting, but that the event would probably not end up coming here.
Stefanie Arnold: Sports are my passion so I very professionally threw multiple air punches then proceeded to tell everyone that has control over assigning events that this event was going to be mine.
What was the biggest challenge in bringing an event like this to a convention center?
Lisa: The entire build of the track and stadium seating and all of the technical aspects was incredible and complex. We had teams of experts from the architects to the master track builder to AV production to the electricians all working together on an elaborate scale. Due to the very short amount of lead time to build and install everything, the crews worked around the clock so each layer of the construction could be orchestrated for the next. We even had other large events during the construction time right next door.No matter how many times it was said that an indoor track and field championships was coming to the Oregon Convention Center, we still had some non-believers. OCC had this great opportunity to host the USA Indoor Track & Field Championships, featuring over 500 high school track and field athletes, and the IAAF World Indoor Track and Field Championships, in Portland!
Natalia: Building a complete environment within our building and the competing priorities. As the rigging and lighting provider we designed and built a subgrid of over 400’ of truss with 140 chain motors for 300 moving lights to light the track and provide specials effects for the Athlete’s Entry. All this while keeping enough headroom for a Pole Vault. We also had independent truss to raise and lower the shotput net, for the precision finish line cameras and a myriad of other rigging challenges. We worked hand in hand with the architect during the permitting process to ensure everything was accurate to within an inch.
Steve: Logistics and planning. When it comes to providing services, welcoming guests, etc., it’s not that different from other large events that we host throughout the year. The difficulties came as a result of the many distinct people/groups that have a hand in making decisions. In this case, the planner and local organizing committee (TTUSA), the main body (IAAF), and the broadcasters 3 big examples. Each group is broken into more defined areas that also consist of key decision makers. Corralling all of that into one cohesive plan is very difficult and leads to much indecision and late information.
Stefanie: Restructuring our staff's concept of how our building flows and what we consider our 'normal practice'. Flexibility is the name of the game in events and I think we do that well but this pushed staff to a different realm. We had separate credentialing systems for USAs and Worlds, so getting staff equipped to understand that some spaces were off limits even when it is ‘our’ building was unique. Flows throughout the building had to be changed due to these restricted areas so it was a matter of rethinking how we store and access items, get catering from the kitchen out to the various areas, thinking of our exhibit halls in a vertical manner in addition to our normal horizontal build-outs, all of it required buy-in from staff to embrace the change.
What lesson learned during this event will stick with you for the rest of your career?
Lisa: Nothing is impossible. If you set your goals, have the right attitude and skill set, and the best convention center team in the world, anything is achievable – like holding a world-class 200 meter indoor track event to be watched around the world.
Natalia: Be brave. Just because you’ve never done something before doesn’t mean you can’t and, in fact, you can and will!
Steve: With the rate of change in technology, we learn things with every large event. The two main things we took away from the event were, one, a frequency coordinator needs to be a requirement for any large production, particularly one with a large broadcast presence. And, two, as much planning as possible between the local organization committee and the venue should take place before commitments are made to an organization that might bind them to very specific, less-than-efficient services.
Stefanie: In the end, successful events come down to the relationship formed between staff and clients.Working closely with the planning staff for over two years made those difficult conversations easier to have as well as embracing the unique nature of this event that made us flex some of our standard rules that work for tradeshows but not for a world track event. You have to focus on that common goal and then be creative together in how you reach that.
What was your favorite part of the event?
Lisa: There were so many great moments. It was so fun watching the construction of the track, the stadium seating that was built in an oval, and the all of the lighting going up in the ceiling. It was like magic each morning coming into work and seeing how far everything was progressing. The athletes were treated like rock stars, with all of the fanfare of flashing lights and smoke, as each of them were introduced onto the track. The athletes also gave a lot back to fans with gold medal performances and breaking a few records.
Natalia: Watching Olympic-class athletes practice and compete up close and personal.
Steve: Personally, the excitement involved with some of the higher profile events. Professionally, the ability to work with a counterpart on the other side, parallel to other event management. This is not uncommon, but it did alleviate some of the above issues significantly. The stadium was pretty cool, too.
Stefanie: It’s cliché, but the whole thing was amazing. As a lover of the Olympics, it felt like this was our own mini Olympic Games. That said, Oregon track fans are very knowledgeable about track and field, so the energy that comes out of the crowd on the last laps or down the straightaways is electric. I also think that moment on the last day of competition when the last event ends, people are filing out of the building, and you can just stand with your team to take in what you’ve accomplished. That’s a priceless feeling.
What tip can you pass along to other venue managers looking to bring events like this to their venues?
Lisa: An event of this magnitude will depend on many people, and these experts in their fields may not all be on your team. So, it’s a huge collaboration of relying and trusting each other. As long as you have done your homework to ensure that the facility meets all of the requirements needed, the next step is to learning as much about the operations of the event, and expected outcome, while trying to anticipate needs that the client may not even know yet. There are many aspects of holding citywide conventions that were applied to this sporting event, but we knew this was a unique event from the beginning, so we flexed where it was needed to ensure the success of event.
Natalia: Clearly communicate what you do and do not provide as a venue.
Steve: Don’t be intimidated, but be extremely diligent with attempts to gather information. When providing information, articulate, be specific, and don’t assume things are understood without being said. Also, the process is going to seem messy at times, but the participants and attendees only see a very small part of what we see. Moving forward with confidence, rather than stressing over small setbacks is important. With a dedicated staff and the proper planning, there’s no reason it can’t be pulled off just like every large event before it.
Stefanie: I think the biggest piece we learned is that when we sell the building for a unique event, we need to be diligent about communicating what does and does not come with a cost. This wasn’t a tradeshow, it was a construction project/arena, and the client arrives with the concept of treating the facility like an arena. We’re a blank canvas in many ways, so shifting internal thinking to align with that idea of being an arena helped us in the long run.