Glasgow is about to publish a new events strategy. Looking back on 2018, it’s little wonder why the city, which has become a ‘face’ on the international bid calendar for major events, wants to refresh its events vision and position itself as a forward-thinking host city destination.

It has already secured its status as fifth on the SportBusiness ‘Ultimate Sports City’ rankings and is rated by the magazine as the Best Small City in the world for hosting major events. Twenty-eighteen, by anyone’s standards, was a standout year; the city staged the first-ever multi-sport European Championships, involving six different sporting federations and a broadcast union that cooperated to beam live images into a worldwide television audience of over a billion. Having hosted the Commonwealth Games in 2014, the city had a competency of events provision within its own city council team and although many moved to pastures new when the caravan left town, a core rump, including Colin Hartley, who became Director of the event, remained in post.

From the ground up, an eventual 100-strong team worked to deliver a unique experience that the city can proudly and genuinely claim to be an innovative events concept that delivered 11 days of thrilling and diverse sports such as cycling, triathlon, and aquatics with a rich cultural programme running alongside. The event – co-hosted with Berlin (which staged the athletics) and co-designed with the federations – was an unqualified success and, for many, has ‘disrupted’ the traditional model of delivering major events.

Such disruption had argubaly been necessitated by a sea change within the context of bidding for major global events; a downward pressure on budgets means cities are increasingly finding it hard to justify bidding for events, which is a costly and time-consuming process, only to risk losing out.

Glasgow is no exception in that regard; next year the city faces a £41m spending gap and the venues that its cultural arm Glasgow Life operates are expected to undergo a sale-leaseback process – as part of a way of financing an equal rights pay claim. There are clearly no events pots of gold at the end of a rainbow. 

BILLY GARRETT, Director of Sport and Events at Glasgow Life, is working within that financial landscape; whilst he insists the ambition to stage major events in the city remains “absolutely unchanged”, he says part of the reasoning for the events “refresh” was to try and pitch Glasgow as a slightly different proposition as an events host, both to its own civic audience and to the international market. Fresh impetus into the global events bidding scene is long overdue, and pragmatic and realistic event owners and rights holders have grasped that. One of the key words that will feature prominently in Glasgow’s refreshed strategy, which will be launched next month, will be ‘policy’.

Garrett insists every event the city considers hosting meets the policy objectives of the city council at a higher level, which means greater social, economic and environmental responsibility at its core.

“If there’s one thing we want to be clear about in Glasgow is that the events strategy is policy-led,” he says. “So, the idea that we are bringing events to the city for the spectacles, just so the circus rolls into town and rolls out, if that was ever the case – and I’m not sure it was – but that certainly isn’t the case now. Working with our partners – EventScotland, VisitScotland, UK Sport – events in Glasgow will be policy-led and justified, and articulated around policy initiatives and benefits, whether that’s about the health and wellbeing agenda in the city, which is enormous, the tourism and visitor economy, productivity and economic benefit, and the culture and vibrancy around the city; whatever those existing drivers, it’s about how this event is adding to those, supporting and enhancing them. That will be a clear line coming through the strategy.”

So, events will have to have a 360o approach, I enquire? 

“That’s a really good way of looking at it. That’s why there’s a bit of a focus on the structures, the governance structures that support events. We’ve changed those over the last 18 months; there’s now a Glasgow Event Board as opposed to the old strategic major events forum,” Garrett adds. 

The personnel are yet to be revealed in full but the board will be chaired by the city council’s Depute Leader, David McDonald, who also Chairs Glasgow Life, and will also include stakeholders from EventScotland and the wider tourism, leisure and hotels sector. The purpose is also create a “frictionless” approvals process around hosting events in the city, making it easier for event owners to access decision-makers.

EVENTS WILL be categorised as ‘local, signature, anchor and mega’ and part of the strategy will articulate how regularly the city will commit to hosting them. Garrett says smaller events brought into the city via investment and a new business model, like those which have proved popular at Kelvingrove Bandstand, demonstrates the way Glasgow will approach all events; there has to be a “strong business case” at the heart of them, and which “drive direct spend” on events and in the wider city. He uses the word “realistic” as if to temper expectations on what is “achievable” between now and 2030, given the financial constraints, yet reiterates the desire for Glasgow to be “punching above its weight”.

“We see ourselves as a city that hosts mega events,” he says. “Whether that’s a future Commonwealth Games or a future European Championships, who knows, but we are in the market for mega events, we absolutely are. What’s interesting, I suppose, if you think about the European Championships in 2018 and UCI (world cycling championships) in 2023, both of these are new events; the very first iteration has been in Glasgow and Scotland.” 

Day one of the European Championships Glasgow 2018 at Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome on August 2, 2018 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)

He adds: “And I think there’s something interesting there for Glasgow as a host and that’s about how we develop a slightly different kind of relationship with the event owners. There’s the beginnings of a movement away from a reliance on the bid process on all occasions. I think there’s a recognition that that doesn’t always quite deliver exactly what the event needs. We’re certainly finding that. Federation and event owners are more willing to enter into a dialogue and a conversation and a partnership around how to place events and what’s important and what the priorities are around that process.”

STAGING THE Host City event in Glasgow – where international event owners and rights holders are due to gather once again in November – is another important marker for the city’s ongoing events ambition; the conference is explicitly designed to provide a platform for international events organisers and hosts to come together and discuss the latest industry developments and trends. Glasgow’s events strategy will be available to delegates by then and no doubt the city will use its policy approach to influence conversations at the highest level.

The city can also claim to be a standard bearer for events innovation; Berlin’s intention to host all of its national championships under one banner this summer is evidence that the European Championships multi-sport event is having a lasting effect on worldwide events delivery.

Garrett is also keen to stress that the sale-leaseback of Glasgow Life estate assets such as the Emirates Arena, Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome and Glasgow Concert Hall will have absolutely no effect on costs for events operators coming to the city. “Clearly there is a cost,” says Garrett. “There will be a revenue cost to the city of that arrangement; it will be millions of pounds per annum but that’s of a council budget of £2bn.”

“In terms of us operating the Emirates Arena or the Concert Hall which are Glasgow Life venues, which we operate on behalf of the council, it has no impact on how we cost those venues for events owners or rights holders. There is absolutely no reason for anyone thinking about bringing an event to the city to take that into consideration. Other than as a positive.”

THERE IS indeed a lot to be positive about for events in Glasgow and the city is now firmly on the map for international events, which includes the growing footprint of cultural events such as Celtic Connections and Aye Write!.

There’s also a real attempt to present a coherent vision for events, says Garrett, and the new strategy will present ideas around building on its People Make Glasgow brand to make sure visitors feel welcome while in the city. There is, too, a realisation that a willingess to experiment and create new events can help build a sense of place, ownership and civic pride: there are whispers of a new closed road cycling event next year, along the lines of Ride London and Vélo Birmingham & Midlands, which ties into the big UCI international professional scene but also satisfies demand from local amateur participation. There is no fixed timescale for that event – whose route may include the Trossachs national park – landing in the city, but it is thought that discussions are at an advanced stage and 2020 is a reasonable timescale for its launch onto the annual calendar.

Presumably for Garrett, the fact that it makes those vital policy connections to the city’s health and wellbeing aims will chime very nicely indeed with the new strategy.