When it comes to enhancing the fan experience at an event, being able to call upon the right people to engage with members of the public is a common challenge.
As paid staffing resources will only stretch so far, volunteers therefore play a vital role – and few know the role volunteers can play in the fan experience at a major event as well as Mary Cahill, who first got a taste for it as a volunteer herself at the 2003 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Dublin.
After managing teams responsible for recruiting a large number of ‘Games Makers’ for the London 2012 Olympics and then serving as a volunteer and administration manager in track cycling and BMX during the Games, she worked as a volunteer resourcing team manager and workforce operations manager for the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England.
Then, as the head of the acclaimed volunteering programme for the 2019 Cricket World Cup earlier this year, she spearheaded a scheme that recruited 4,000 people to support the delivery of a tournament that spanned England and Wales.
“Spectator experience is probably one of the biggest areas that volunteers can impact and did so at CWC19,” Cahill tells us.
“When attending any international event, we want our spectators to take away memories that they will talk about for years to come; not only remembering a great day of sport but remembering their whole experience as a positive one.
“The buzz and atmosphere created by an international event is all started with volunteers – from the friendly welcome when you arrive at the tube or train station, right through to your walk to the venue and continuing across the day, ensuring every spectator is well catered for and informed with just as warm a goodbye as the welcome they got when they arrived!”
Recruiting, training and then managing a sizeable pool of unpaid temporary staff members is a complex task. For the 2019 Cricket World Cup, for example, 10,000 applications were processed, with the eventual volunteers filtered into roles that would suit their skillsets and personalities.
According to Cahill, it is ideal for volunteers in the spectator services team to be “outgoing, bubbly and happy to talk and engage with spectators, whether on the walking routes, in a fan zone or within the ground itself”.
She adds that they should be “happy to provide help to anyone who is looking for it, give a high five to hyped-up fans and build a connection between the spectators and the teams playing that day”.
To keep volunteers motivated, Cahill believes it is essential to offer them, as well as the spectators and fans, a “great experience” – even if they have only attended an interview or training day.
“Every experience should be a positive one and it is so important that each volunteer feels welcomed and valued,” Cahill says.
For the Cricket World Cup, Cahill’s team implemented a rewards and recognition programme, recognising the efforts of the volunteers with free gifts and experiences. On top of these add-ons, the hard-working volunteers were given adequate break times and comfortable spaces for them to sit down and perhaps even watch some of the sporting action in less busy times.
“It is important to treat volunteers with respect and understand their motivations and, above all, give them a great experience as it will rub off on the fans,” Cahill adds.
“Every major event needs a volunteer programme. They are the heartbeat of any event and vital to its success.
“You have to make sure the experiences you are providing the volunteers with are great so they have a memorable and enjoyable time. No volunteer should be taken for granted.”
This exclusive interview with the Head of Volunteering Programme for the Cricket World Cup 2019 is part of Fan XP- a newsletter designed to keep you abreast of the latest innovations, strategies and more regarding fan experience across the globe. To sign up, please click here.