Organising a National Event Series

An interview with Scott Rice, Director of Quantum Events Ltd, owner and organiser of the Banana Boat New Zealand Ocean Swim Series

How did the NZ Ocean Series begin? 

It started with a single event on Takapuna Beach called King of the Bay’s in 2004. Apart from a few swims offered by a volunteer group called Auckland Central Masters, there weren’t any other ocean swimming events at that time.

It was only after Sovereign Assurance came on board as our naming sponsor that we started to think about growing the event into a series, as they were looking for national coverage. First, we added the Harbour Crossing, then in 2006 we added Wellington, Tauranga and Christchurch. 

My business model has always been to have strong sponsorship revenue, so when Sovereign said they would support a national series, it became one of those moments when you had to pinch yourself, this was an opportunity I couldn’t say no to. I purchased a trailer and filled it with what I thought we needed, and we took event around the country. 

What were your initial challenges, and did you take your team and suppliers with you around the country? 

Initially we had to look for new suppliers in each of cities as the only contractor we took with us was our timer. We had a small crew that travelled but we had to rely heavily on help from each of the city Council’s and from the people we knew in the places we visited. 

Nowadays our videographers, photographers, and timing team travel with us, as well as a much larger crew. This makes it easier as you don’t have to brief them at every event, and you also get consistency. It makes it a more enjoyable too as you create a team atmosphere. 

The things we do need to find suppliers for are things like fencing and toilets, anything that is logistically difficult to take around the country. However, these can come from the same business if that business is a franchise like HirePool for instance.  

We still need to get support from volunteers in the areas we visit. Back in 2006, volunteerism was a lot stronger than it is now and it was easy to find people to help. Everyone seems time poor currently, which makes it a bit harder. When we need volunteers now, we use groups who are looking to raise money. 

When you are looking for a venue for your events, what are you looking for? 

That’s a complex question to answer as there are many factors taken into consideration. 

The operational cost is one of the most important to consider. For instance, a venue in a more isolated area will generally cost more to put on. As an example, we need up 40 lifeguards for each event. If the venue is not central to a surf club or somewhere you can easily find lifeguards, I have to add transport and accommodation costs to get them to the event.  

The natural appeal of the area is important when we consider how many people the event will attract. Anywhere that people would enjoy swimming and would like to visit is great.

Sponsor’s opinions need to be considered too. Is the venue in an area they want to profile their business? A good example would be the Bay of Islands, which is popular with swimmers and a very beautiful place to visit but it’s a costly place to run an event and a difficult location attract big sponsors.

Other things we consider are water temperature, accommodation, and ease of access. When we first went to Nelson, Jetstar and Air New Zealand were flying into the area but when Jetstar left, accessibility to the area reduced considerably. It became expensive for event goers to get there which reflected in lower participation and for that reason we discontinued the event. 

Host city support can help massively as it can bridge the gap where there are challenges. We used to get great support from the Far North District Council for our Bay of Island event as it would to bring in up to 2500 people into the area, this made the event viable. 

What went through your mind when you chose to bring the NZ Ocean Series to Rotorua, adding a lake event to the series? 

Initially I was very concerned, I thought we might be ridiculed. I even contemplated changing the name of the event to the NZ Swim Series. But I got a lot of great feedback about the value of the brand so decided to keep the series name and call the Rotorua swim our fresh water ocean swim. No one was concerned and it never became a problem. 

The Legend of the Lake is now one of our most enjoyable swims as it has a point of difference, it attracts a different audience and it is held in a beautiful location. 

Did you see a growth in your database because of coming to Rotorua? 

Yes. Definitely. There are people that are afraid of swimming in the ocean, for many reasons. Adding the Rotorua Legend of the Lake swim to the series gave those people the opportunity to join the Banana Boat New Zealand Ocean Swim Series. The great thing is that it still attracts the ocean swimmers, who enjoy the chance to swim in the lake. We now host the NZ Secondary Schools Open Water Champs at the Rotorua event, that wasn’t something we could have done before. 

How have you coped with Covid and whats next for the Series? 

We have been very lucky as we only had to cancel three events in 2020, and not one this year. 

Unfortunately, our international event Ocean Swim Fiji,  was planned for 2020 had to be put on hold. We had planned to run it in 2021 but we have now pushed it out to September 2022, in the hope that things get better in Fiji.

Having to postpone the Fiji event opened a gap for our new winter swim on Waiheke Island, which has blown all expectations. It is great as it will see over 1000 swimmers, plus family and friends visiting Waiheke, providing a big boost for the island.

We did a lot of innovating last year, adding the Bean Rock Swim to the series. We have changed many of the event names and updated the event imagery to keep things fresh. It’s been a really good year for the Banana Boat New Zealand Ocean Swim Series as we have seen a 24% growth in participate numbers. 

What advice would you have for suppliers who are looking to get involve in events? 

Established organisers have got to where they are by building great relationships with their suppliers. Some of those relationships are really tight, others may not be, so I would suggest suppliers who are interested in getting involved in events do their research before approaching an organiser.  

Spend time finding out about the event and the event owner. Find out who they are currently using for their events and what is currently being supplied. 

Make contact with the supplier and start building a relationship. Think about what can you offer that’s different to their existing suppliers. 

I haven’t been contacted by any new suppliers for a long time. I refuse to accept LinkedIn requests as this is too easy but I would be happy for someone to put a proposal together, that would start a conversation. Suppliers need to treat an approach to an organiser, as we do when approaching a potential sponsor. It’s all about building a relationship and that takes time. 

To learn more about the Banana Boat New Zealand Ocean Swim Series, go to https://oceanswim.co.nz

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