Logistics Lets the Games Begin

Tags: Project Logistics

Before the high-profile athletes and rabid fans arrive at a major professional sports event, superstar logisticians and planners perform their own feats of greatness to ensure the big game goes off without a hitch.

Making it to the final contest that determines a professional sports championship takes practice, hard work, and determination—whether you're an athlete competing or part of the team charged with planning the momentous event. The whole world will be watching, and the slightest oversight could have game-changing repercussions.

The complications involved in organizing these events seem endless. The venue changes every year, crowds number in the hundreds of thousands, local weather can be unpredictable, and the host site may not be prepared to handle the accompanying demands.

On the following pages, go into the locker room to discover how the planning teams behind Super Bowl XVLI and the 2011 PGA Championship prepared for—and pulled off—world-class sporting events.

Tackling a Super-Sized Logistics Challenge

When their city was chosen to host Super Bowl XVLI, Indianapolis organizers and logistics experts huddled up to create a game plan that would deliver a big win.

Organizers of the 2011 Super Bowl in Arlington, Texas, faced challenges including frozen roads, ice falling from the stadium roof, events spread 30 miles apart, and pre-sold temporary seating that was not ready on game day.

For the team tasked with planning Super Bowl XVLI—held Feb. 5, 2012, in Indianapolis—those glitches might have served as an intimidating preview of the trouble in store for them.

But the Indianapolis Super Bowl Host Committee had recruited a local logistics resource to help develop its game plan: Vice Chair Cathy Langham, president of Indianapolis-based Langham Logistics, a full-service provider of transportation, warehousing, fulfillment, and freight management solutions. From the initial fundraising effort through the big game and beyond, Langham helped lead a largely volunteer team of more than 60 committees and 140 subcommittees.

Logistics managers will recognize some of the coordination challenges a Super Bowl planning committee faces: scheduling carefully timed deliveries into a tight location, complying with strict customer requirements, and coordinating events with a large number of constituents.

But other tasks go beyond typical logistics management scenarios, such as scheduling a workforce of 8,000, ensuring delivery and service for 290 portable toilets, and coordinating among multiple federal, state, and local traffic and transportation agencies to help the teams move smoothly between their hotel and practice locations.

Like any logistics operation, the Super Bowl committee must plan for variables completely beyond its control, from the NFL player lockout that threatened the 2011-2012 football season to a surprise visit from President Obama. Addressing unpredictable weather can prove particularly challenging. In Indianapolis, Super Bowl Sunday 2009 was a snowy, below-zero day. In 2010, it was a sunny 65 degrees.

Winning the Bid

Logistics features prominently in the bid to win the Super Bowl contract from the National Football League. "The selection committee considers a city's ability to mobilize volunteers, coordinate with venues and hotels, and reserve event space," Langham says.

After losing its bid for the 2011 Super Bowl in 2007, Indianapolis undertook a complex process in 2008 for its bid for the 2012 Super Bowl, including raising $25 million in seed money, generating local interest, and nailing down proposed logistics. Langham helped raise funds by meeting with local companies and benefactors, and was one of five Indianapolis representatives presenting the nine-inch-thick bid document to the NFL.

Indianapolis offered the NFL considerable experience and commitment to hosting major sporting events. In 1982, the city set out to forge a reputation as a sports tourism destination, establishing Indiana Sports Corp., a not-for-profit that represents Indianapolis in the business of sports.

In addition to the well-known Indianapolis 500, the city has hosted multiple National Collegiate Athletic Association final four playoffs, Pan Am Games, Olympic trials, and other national contests. Over the past 30 years, Indianapolis has transformed its downtown to accommodate the crowds and hoopla surrounding these events, and amassed a ready corps of volunteers prepared to dedicate their time and effort to delivering "Hoosier Hospitality."

After the NFL awarded Indianapolis the contract for Super Bowl XVLI, the planning committee chose local organizers to help plan the event, rather than enlist the hired hands that traditionally put on the Super Bowl in host cities—although it did tap the NFL's list of well-honed Super Bowl best practices.

The committee discovered there is even more to organizing a Super Bowl than arranging the big game. The NFL strives to leave a lasting, positive legacy in the cities where the Super Bowl visits. In addition to the $125 million to $400 million the Super Bowl infuses into the host city's economy, the NFL's Super Bowl programs include efforts such as revitalizing neighborhoods, educating local youth, planting trees, and fighting breast cancer. Those programs fall under the host committee's purview, and it chose to go beyond the minimum requirements, providing a range of community-enhancing programs that involved even non-fans.

In addition to the community enhancement programs, the committee's logistics organizers were charged with setting up the NFL Experience, a huge interactive NFL theme park that includes a 650-foot-long zip line; and Super Bowl Village, a 10-day, three-block celebration of football.

Big Game, Small Space

The region around Indianapolis' Lucas Oil Stadium is the most compact Super Bowl location the NFL has selected. That makes it great for visitors, who can focus on having fun, rather than getting to the fun. Thanks to a $3-billion investment, Indianapolis boasts a new stadium, expanded Indianapolis Convention Center, a new airport, and 12 hotels with 4,700 rooms connected via enclosed walkways to the stadium and other venues, complementing the 34,000 additional hotel rooms in the greater Indianapolis area.

While these amenities make attending the Super Bowl easier for visitors, supporting the densely packed locations presents a logistics challenge. All shipments into Super Bowl Village and the surrounding area have to be managed and maintained, from one-time deliveries of tents, heaters, and display equipment to constantly refreshed resources such as food and merchandise.

"The committee sent representatives to New Orleans to observe Mardi Gras," says Dianna Boyce, director of communications for the Indianapolis Super Bowl Host Committee. "They learned how the city and event organizers transported food in and trash out of the event locations, and how they provided access for employees."

Based on the lessons learned, the committee arranged to have all Super Bowl Village deliveries take place in the middle of the night according to a carefully coordinated schedule using an approved list of transportation providers.

The committee also had to develop plans for transportation challenges such as cab strikes, bus drivers getting lost, inaccurate GPS data, road closings, and insufficient road signage. Communication was key, and the organizers leveraged digital technologies such as smartphone apps and social media to distribute information to attendees and volunteers.

The organizers worked closely with representatives of area businesses, including 200 downtown restaurants, to prepare for the Super Bowl. During the week before the game, local employers were encouraged to stagger start times or allow employees to work from home to regulate traffic flows. The committee also developed a transportation and parking plan, and launched an app and Web site to provide up-to-the-minute street closure and parking information.

Technology tools helped the committee coordinate 8,000 volunteers, filling 34,000 shifts throughout the 10-day event. All personnel were trained for tasks such as greeting visitors at the airport, working the NFL Experience event, and offering directions on the street. Workforce management software set schedules, alerted volunteers to last-minute changes, and filled newly opened shifts as needed through text messages to volunteers' mobile phones.

Logistics MVP

Langham Logistics played an active role in the Super Bowl preparations, performing tasks such as shipping and warehousing equipment, and staging parts for entertainment venues. It also managed merchandise such as apparel sold at hotels—picking, packing, and shipping them nightly to replenish inventory.

"The timeframes were very tight," says Langham. "If we were one day late delivering t-shirts, all the spectators would be gone. There was a lot of stress, energy, and activity surrounding the event. Our logistics plans had to be foolproof and failsafe."

Hosting the Super Bowl is not just about a football game. It's about a large group of people pulling together to address a complex logistics challenge.

"The logistics effort to put on the Super Bowl is fascinating, from beginning to end," says Langham. "It's interesting to get an inside view of the effort involved. But I wouldn't want to do it every year. I think the whole community breathed a sigh of relief after the game was over."

Teeing Up A Tournament

Even with a 10-year lead, planning the 93rd PGA Championship required steady hands and a clear vision.

Like each of the 18 holes on a golf course, planning every annual PGA Championship presents its own set of unique challenges. Even after organizing 92 championships, the PGA of America encountered new obstacles while preparing for the 2011 PGA Championship, held Aug. 8-14, 2011, at the Atlanta Athletic Club.

In addition to the 156 golfers competing, the event drew more than 200,000 fans and was broadcast to 203 countries, reaching approximately 450 million households. It also attracted millions of dollars of advertising and promotion by prestige brands—none of whom expected less than the very best. With that many eyes watching their every move, the event's organizers couldn't afford to miss a single swing.

Unlike other large sporting events that take place in stadiums or arenas, the PGA Championship has to create its own infrastructure every year.

"In most sports venues, organizers know where the crowd will sit, the media will set up, and concessions, restrooms, and hospitality suites will be located," says Ryan Cannon, director, 2011 PGA Championship. "They know their parking and security needs. They hold hundreds of events every year during which they can refine their processes."

Getting on the Green

The PGA Championship brings the same logistics issues, but most golf courses are not equipped to handle crowds. Some of them are more than 100 years old, after all.

"The classic golf course architects had incredible vision, but in 1910 Donald Ross or Alister MacKenzie had no idea that the golf course they were designing would one day host an event of the PGA Championship's magnitude," Cannon notes.

One challenge the event's organizers faced was moving 40,000 people on and off the property every day. Attendance varied daily, spiking during crucial periods of play, and addressing the crowd's needs over the seven days of the event was demanding.

Planning began long before food concessions were set up or spectators began to arrive—in fact, preparations for the 2011 championship at the Atlanta Athletic Club began in 2001, at the close of the last PGA Championship held at the site.

"From the moment the next championship is announced, any changes in the infrastructure of the club, the golf course, or within the community become relevant to our plans for the future PGA Championship that will be held there," Cannon says.

For example, the PGA wouldn't want the state Department of Transportation (DOT) to select the second week in August for highway bridge repairs near the club. The state DOT of a PGA Championship site is notified of upcoming events so it can try to minimize the impact of future projects on the event's logistics.

Looking Way Ahead

Ten years may sound like an exceptionally long planning horizon. After all, what can happen to impact a golf championship?

As the PGA Championship organizers know, a city can happen: Johns Creek, Ga., the site of the 2011 championship, did not exist before December 2006.

"The town incorporated in 2006, creating a new government entity, with new permitting, and new police and fire departments," Cannon explains. "That government entity did not exist when we chose the site in 2001 for the 2011 event. And we have to work very closely with that entity to set our plans."

The Johns Creek community has grown tremendously. Population statistics are difficult to gather because the city did not exist during the 2000 Census, but one estimate places the growth at 27 percent between 2000 and 2010.

This growth created surprising repercussions for Cannon and the PGA team. For example, one of the parking lots used for the 2001 PGA Championship is now a water treatment facility site. Another has been turned into a residential community. And the road system has completely changed.

"We try to develop and execute the best plan possible," Cannon says. "We benefit from the experience and expertise of the people who have been working on the championship year after year."

There's another vital component: the relationships that still exist from 2001 at the club itself and in the community.

"The local planning team knows that no matter how large the challenges seem, we're going to get through them," Cannon notes. "They have confidence because they've been through it before. That is invaluable."

The experience in the host community can also influence future sites. "These events can disrupt the town's everyday life," he admits. "But the good news is, that temporary disruption also brings tremendous long-lasting benefit."

A Friendly Invasion

When an event the size and scope of the PGA Championship comes to town, it can look like an invading force. The advance guard may be subtle, but that subtlety can disappear quickly.

Cannon and his staff worked with a number of Atlanta Athletic Club members, represented by General Chairman Tom Adderhold, and with many state and local government agencies and officials. More than 50 committees oversaw different functions for the PGA Championship, and more than 3,500 volunteers typically support the event.

The PGA manages every aspect of event operations. Working in conjunction with the host club, it constructs from 200,000 to 300,000 square feet of temporary on-site facilities, including a 22,000-square-foot merchandise tent that functions as a fully enabled retail shopping environment.

After all the planning and effort that goes into setting up the PGA Championship, the organizers don't simply pack up and walk away after the winner is decided. The Monday after the PGA Championship concludes is every bit as busy as the Sunday before the event starts.

"We have to deconstruct everything we spent 10 years planning," says Cannon. "It's an intense back-end operation." That intensity continues for at least two months after the event.

"By the time the PGA Championship is over, most of the host city's residents can't wait to welcome the event back," says Cannon. "We set out to create a community partnership, and that's why we invest so heavily in time, talent, and financial resources to make it happen."