Published: 06 Mar 2015

Whose show is it anyway?

In the sixth of a series of blogs for Exhibition News, Richard Mann, the NEC’s Market Development Director, talks football and event ownership

After yet another defeat for Aston Villa recently (sorry Villa fans), BBC Midlands Today ran a short piece comprising vox pops from angry fans after the match. Some were demanding Paul Lambert, Villa’s manager, should be sacked (he was). Others insisted that both Lambert and Randy Lerner (owner and chairman) should go.

It’s common to see scenes like this up and down the country whenever a team is struggling, but if you actually consider the reality of the situation, what do we think gives us, the football fans, the right to make these outlandish demands?

The fact is that football clubs are not owned by the fans (at least not in the Premier League). We have no position within the club, no say in the running of the club, and ultimately, no control of the club. If the owner wants to change the manager, the colour of the strip, or even the ground, he can do it, regardless of what the fans say.

Yet the fans do have a big say in the running of “their” clubs, because they are the paying customers, and as such, any chairman would be unwise to ignore what the fans want for too long.  

But what do football fans’ relationships with their clubs have to do with our industry? I think there’s a parallel, and it’s an interesting way of considering who really owns events.

Of course, the organiser owns the event - in a similar way to the chairman owning a football club. They invest in it, they own the brand (the badge), the data (season tickets), and they hold the tenancy (the ground - or its rental at least!).

Does an organiser own the spirit of the event though…the living breathing essence of an event that is a community coming together at the same time and place to buy, sell, learn, network or be entertained?

An event’s community is its heart, just as the fans are at the heart of a football club. They may not legally own it, or have any direct control over how it is run, but without their support it withers and dies.

Perhaps, then, the communities (or fans) own the event - but without a suitable venue (or ground), there is no viable place to meet and carry out the activity around which the community is based.

Maybe the meeting place for the community – the venue or ground – is the heart of the event? But for that to be a success, there has to be great content (or not so great, in Villa’s case), for the community to come and gather around.

Could it be that the contractors (the backroom staff) are the true standard bearers - the unsung heroes behind the scenes, without whom nothing would be ready on match day? Essential though they are, however, they cannot be said to be owners, either.

So, who really owns an event? Ultimately no one does, yet we all do.  Take away the owner, or the club staff, or the players, or the fans, or the ground and you no longer have a football club. Take away the organiser, or the contractor, or the exhibitors, or the visitors, or the venue and you no longer have an event.

So, how do we ensure our “clubs” remain strong? By recognising that each element has its part to play and by remembering that - as the fans will always tell us - we’re all only ever as good as our last match.

Richard Mann, Market Development Director, the NEC