Responsible for setting London’s new framework for major sports events and delivering against the city’s strategy and ambitions, Laura Pierce, Senior Manager for major sports events at Greater London Authority (GLA), speaks to us about gender inclusive events, the role of a host city in a mega event such as UEFA EURO 2020, and the agenda for future sustainability in London.
Both an active footballer and cricketer in her time, Laura is a sports enthusiast in charge of overseeing London’s portfolio of global major sports events, attracting new impactful events and opportunities to the city. She was project manager for the eight UEFA EURO 2020 matches at Wembley this summer and shared her insight on the complexities and responsibilities around hosting a mega event. “While the sport is taken care of by the governing body and host association (UEFA / The FA), the host city’s role is everything that lies outside the stadium. This ranges from fan zone areas to overseeing the transport plan, the security plan, and ultimately everything else that keeps the event running”, Laura explains. The complexities revolve around the differing priorities of the governing body, the host association, and the host city. Harmonising these needs, fulfilling the host city requirements, and negotiating a collaborative approach is essential but by no means easy.
UEFA EURO 2020 was styled as a celebration across the continent, with games being held across Europe to mark the 60th anniversary of the first ever tournament. One of the significant benefits of this structure was the opportunity to collaborate and learn from other cities as opposed to bidding against them. “Arguably, London is the best city in the world to host major events, but what we can see is that lots of other cities across Europe are equally rising up to the challenge and are proving to be good at it. While the competition becomes tough for us as a city, it’s brilliant for the industry and Europe as a whole. Paris 2024 Olympic games will pave a new wave of exciting, major events for Europe”.
When asked which city caught Laura’s eye, she points out that each city has something different to offer. “If you look at Copenhagen or Amsterdam, their smaller city centres mean they’re offering this amazing fan experience where you can walk everywhere, which is really appealing for a fan. The minute you land, you are experiencing the tournament: the event really can take over the whole city, and you feel it everywhere you go. Wembley differs quite significantly in its model as the city centre isn’t as easily accessible and requires navigating by tube to reach places, hotels, etc.”
With the trajectory for women’s sport continuing to rise steeply, the UEFA Women’s EURO 2022 this summer in England is expected to break all attendance records. Laura is proud that London is hosting the first ever back-to-back men’s and women’s finals and is anticipating a different atmosphere to the Men’s EUROs, not least because there will hopefully be fewer COVID restrictions for the Women’s EUROs. “Wembley will sell-out meaning it will be the first time that many people will witness a Women’s final. The tickets are affordable, they’re spread across the country, and we’ll start to see a real community buzz and legacy from it. The trajectory of women’s sport is so steep; there has been huge growth since the EUROs in 2017, the World Cup in 2019; even since we won the bid to host UEFA Women’s EURO 2022 in 2018, the sport has moved on so much. The Women’s EUROs can only be bigger and better given our experience in delivering the Men’s EUROs”.
Laura highlights the importance of commercial partnerships and the opportunity to bring something new and exciting next year. “We were still in the middle of the pandemic when delivering the Men’s EUROs, and as such, we were restricted to how many spectators we could accommodate in the fan zones, while also limiting the extent to which sponsors could engage and get involved. Hopefully, next summer will paint a completely different picture, and our partners will be able to go even bigger and better!”.
With a strong emphasis on sustainability, Laura is currently writing a framework to set out what the next ten years look like in London for major sports and events. “Embodying our beliefs and policies, such as protecting the environment and delivering sustainable events, will be an essential criterion to determine which events London hosts within the next five to ten years. Our bespoke framework will challenge events to ensure they are operating in a sustainable way, tackling any hate and discrimination, maintaining the success of community and legacy, and allowing London to portray its diversity”.
The World Athletics Championship 2017 hosted in London is a memorable and prime example of great community spirit and legacy for Laura. She defines the schools ticketing initiative to be one of the most impactful programs as it drew hundreds of children into the Olympic Stadium to watch live sport. “Thinking about the broader influence on communities is imperative, and we implemented a similar initiative with BCOMS (The Black Collective of Media in Sport) for the Men’s EUROs where the program opened up training in journalism to young people, allowing them to learn how to write articles and interact in interviews. It goes beyond participation, and that’s something London does incredibly well.”
Laura reveals the need to address challenges, risk factors and barriers when writing the future framework, especially around the topic of sustainability. “Delivering operationally is really difficult and expensive, so this will be our biggest hurdle if larger budgets are not considered for the delivery of sustainable events. Cities and events must work together to establish where that responsibility sits and how we can make it happen”. Currently high on the Government agenda given the recent COP26 summit, Laura hopes events will remain a priority on the list to ensure they’re doing everything they can to implement and reach future sustainability goals.
Looking ahead at an ambitious event calendar for 2022, Laura excitedly shares news of many events looking to make a bigger and better comeback, including sports such as the Rugby League World Cup across the country, the Laver Cup at the London O2 and the return of the NFL. Laura is keen to keep driving the major sports and events landscape across the city and aspires to securing more inspiring and mega events such as the IPL. “Starting conversations and delving into international event calendars is the starting point in securing events like the IPL. I believe Londoners are truly passionate event goers, and that’s a real big draw for these sports. Broadening the appeal outside the country you’re delivering in is huge, and London has plenty to offer!”
Undoubtedly a remarkable woman making waves in the sports and events industry, we asked Laura to share one piece of advice or wisdom for our female colleagues and professionals that may find themselves outnumbered in many boardrooms. She claims, “women have a tendency to second guess themselves, so remember to speak up, be confident and make allies with other women – we should be each other’s support systems and cheerleaders”.