Birkbeck sport management students organise a charity football tournament

As the teams gathered for the opening ceremony, Tony and In Ki felt proud as well as a strong sense of accomplishment. They had managed to take the game they love most, football, and to use it as a mean to an end, a tool to raise money for people who needed it badly. Their achievement was two-fold though – as they had overcome tight time and logistical obstacles to organise a charity 7-a-side football tournament in just over a month.

Arriving from China and Korea respectively, Tony Liu and In Ki Choi had decided to complement their undergraduate degrees with a postgraduate degree in the sport management field. They are both Master’s Degree students in the Sport Management and the Business of Football programme at Birkbeck, University of London.

On April 20th 2013, 01:02 London Time, while Tony and In Ki both were in their first week of the Summer Term, a disastrous earthquake of 7.0 magnitude struck China in Ya’an, a town in the Sichuan Province. The disaster resulted in at least 200 deaths, 15,000 badly injured and tens of thousands made homeless. The deadly earthquake took away countless lives, homes and families.

When the disaster hit the small town, Tony and In Ki  decided that they must do something to assist the people of Sichuan. “I had started my own research into the various aid initiatives that had sprung up following the disaster, and I realised that nothing was going on in London,” says Tony. “I talked to In Ki and it was clear to us that since we are sport management students, nothing is more appropriate than a sport related fund-raiser”.

In Ki confirms: “We thought a football tournament could be an effective tool for raising financial support [in the form of] charity, where participants are able to show their sympathy through donations while enjoying the sport of football.”

The tournament’s participants in a moment of silence just before kick-off

In which tools you used to promote the event?

“Initially we targeted students and therefore most of the promotion was made through university channels i.e. students’ unions, their messaging boards and websites”, says Tony. “But fearing it wouldn’t be sufficient to attract enough teams, we used public media channels, such as Birkbeck College’s channels and obviously the Birkbeck Sport Business Centre’s website and Twitter account,” he adds.

“Finally we negotiated with the London based newspaper Chinese Weekly who agreed to promote the event on their website and through their Twitter account. This was very helpful and as a result, almost half of the teams arrived through this channel.”

The main challenges they faced were time and money. They wished to organise the tournament as soon as possible. And because they wanted to maximise possible revenues to be made as donations to assist the earthquake victims, they also had to be as cost-effective as possible. “We mostly worked together, trying to optimise the limited time we had. We separated our roles where it was relevant to our previous experience and background; In Ki was responsible for the promotion of the tournament including copyright and I was in charge on the communication side of the event including the negotiations with the teams’ captains, sponsors and partners,” Tony says.

The Birkbeck Sport Business Centre (BSBC) played a key role in the organisation of the event because, as Tony explained, since they had a mere two weeks to set it all up, “it simply wouldn’t have happened without the help we got from the Centre and in particular from Sean Hamil – one of the Centre’s directors.” In Ki explains that the BSBC helped in several ways: “Firstly, BSBC helped us to promote the event so we could maximise the number of teams involved. Secondly, the BSBC set up the on-line team registration process. Thirdly the BSBC then helped us communicating the event to the wider public. And finally Sean introduced us to Rob Park from the Birkbeck Students’ Union,” In Ki explains the key role of the students’ union: “The student union at Birkbeck supported us in promoting the tournament, printing event materials, and organising the payment of the final payment to the earthquake relief charity.”  And under the auspices of the Birkbeck Sport Business Centre and the Birkbeck Students Union, “the money raised from the tournament was donated to the victims of the earthquake disaster through the Chinese Education Foundation, which is an official charity organisation in China,” continues Tony.

Evaluating the ‘success’ of staging the tournament, Tony and In Ki said: “It was amazing how a small idea to begin with, grew to become the event where, on the day, more than 150 people, from all over the world, from different sectors, came together because they wanted to, and moreover they paid to come, to do something positive for the victims of the terrible earthquake in Sichuan. We made it all happen, but also football has a lot to do with it, and that shows you the power of this game.”

“In terms of the funds raised, we exceeded our expectations. We aimed at raising £1,000, but managed, after all expenses, to donate £1,320,” says In Ki. “We researched similar charity activities set up with the intention of helping Sichuan and realised what should be our target and while we were more than happy to surpass it we are particularly grateful to the Birkbeck Sport Business Centre and the Birkbeck College Student Union for their donations to the fund.

Birkbeck’s Students’ Union helped with the final payment to the earthquake relief charity
In Ki, Birkbeck Students’ Union’s Rob Park, Sean Hamil and Tony presenting the donation.

What was your best experience from organising this event?

“It was impressive and heart-warming to see all the other Birkbeck sport management students asking if we needed any help once we talked to them about our idea,” Says In Ki. “The guys were amazing! Three days before the tournament, we gathered, all of us together, and discussed the roles and responsibilities of each of the volunteers involved such as the media and administration teams,” Tony reinforces this point: “The fact that we are all students in a sport management programme meant that we all love sport. That was extremely valuable as all volunteers, our fellow-students, were passionate and motivated about the event at least as much as we were and for that we are grateful,” he says.

”I would also like to mention how emotional was the opening ceremony of the event,” says In Ki, “upon registration, each team was presented with a donation certificate accepted by the teams’ captains. But moreover, just before kick-off we held a minute of silence in memory of the earthquake victims which was very special and put the event in its appropriate context.”

From left: In Ki, Tony and Birkbeck’s Sean Hamil at the event’s opening ceremony

What lessons did you learn from organising the event?

“Sometimes, as students, you spend most of your time learning theoretical concepts. There is a need, I think, for students to allow themselves the time to apply these concepts in practice, and this is what we did,” says In Ki.

Tony and In Ki with the donation cheque

“In organising this tournament, not only did we apply general business skills acquired elsewhere, but also, we saw for example, how football can have a social impact, how football can contribute to society, which is a central issue discussed in our studies,” adds Tony.

Interestingly enough, In Ki was also keen to illustrate how failing to apply those key theoretical concepts might affect the preparations and hinder the process of organising a sporting event: “We sent a couple of proposals to sponsors, such as Sports Direct and Adidas, and perhaps it was the lack of time but the fact that we were unable to show these bodies what would be the benefits to them from sponsoring our tournament cost us their rejection.”

“Even though we failed to get the sponsorship, we still learned a valuable lesson that cannot be learned simply through textbooks. By trying and practicing you can learn and be better as a sport manager,” Tony adds and recommends next year’s students to give themselves a chance and experience the application of the programmes’ many valuable theoretical concepts. “A disaster such as the one happened in Sichuan does not have to be a trigger for students to act. Any kind of event organised by sport management students can be beneficial to society and to the student themselves.”

In Ki highlighted the Strategic Sport Marketing module as valuable because without aggressive promotion there wouldn’t be enough teams participating in the event. “We only had two weeks so we used the power of media and in particularly social media. We focused on specific target groups such as students, members of the Chinese community in London, and we utilised these media channels to reach these groups. These strategies we acquired during our studies at Birkbeck and they were key for a successfully organised tournament.”

“A key lesson from our Sport Business and Events Management module is the lesson derived from the academic literature that a successful sport event must be planned taking into account the following three stages: pre-event stage, the event itself and the event’s legacy stage. We felt that we successfully implemented the first two stages and we would like to recommend to the future Sport Management students to make sure that the legacy continues and that an annual charity football tournament is being annually held. This is our legacy.”

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