Event Name: Volleywood Beach Volleyball Tournament

Location: North Avenue Beach, Chicago Illinois

Cost: ranging from $110-$240 depending on team size

OVERVIEW

This month we were lucky enough to get two big dogs from Chicago for our interview. Chris Hastings and Brian Irving give us the scoop on their most recent big event, Volleywood. Below are the full interviews of both guys. 

Chris Interview

Please give a quick description of your event VOLLEYWOOD? (4-5 sentences about your event).

Volleywood is a sports and entertainment event featuring a 1,200 person+ beach volleyball tournament which includes men’s and women’s qualifying divisions for the AVP, and a 3,000+ person beach party which includes internationally acclaimed DJ acts, a 70,000 square foot beer garden on the beach and twenty+ sponsors activating within the event. It is the second largest event to take place at North Avenue Beach on an annual basis following the Chicago Air and Water Show. 

 

So, how did your event go my friend? 

This year’s Volleywood event was our most challenging to date due to weather issues. We had more teams, more tickets sold, and more sponsors this year than in just about every other year we have held the event. We were poised for one of our best Volleywoods, unfortunately Mother Nature did not cooperate. In the morning on event day 7-foot high waves crashing the shores from Lake Michigan flooded 75% of our courts for the beach volleyball tournament. This happened between 5am-7am and we literally watched it. As I was driving on Lake Shore Drive to the site from my hotel at 4:45am, I saw white caps out of the corner of my eye and I knew that was a bad sign. When we arrived at 5:00 the first thing we did was check the courts, and everything was still okay on our 53 courts. By 5:15 we started losing courts though. 1-2 every 10 minutes. We had to cancel all but 4 divisions and it was the first time we’ve had to cancel on any volleyball teams at one of our tournaments in over twenty years… It was that bad, but the show must go on. With doors opening at 11am for the party, we had to finish getting ready, while also starting the tournament for the 4 divisions we could play. Those included our AVPNext divisions for Men’s and Women’s 2’s which included a $20,000 purse. Leading up to the event all week long there were concerns over the heat (which was 95 degrees with a 110 degree heat index on Friday) for our set up. That’s what we got to on Saturday starting at about 9am after the beach had been flooded by strong winds in the morning. The heat continued and we were prepared with 11,000 bottles of water (9,000 as free samples for hydration) and enough ice to keep the water and products for our bars cold.  We added two EMT teams and ambulance coverage for the event due to the heat concerns and we needed it, treating 5 people for heat related issues during the day. We had to create a heat action plan to go along with our wind and weather action plans which were all reviewed by the Mayor and the OEMC prior to our event. Throughout most of the day, the heat was my biggest concern. I expected later in the day would be when people may have issues, but unexpectedly the weather changed drastically at about 3pm. Much to the delight of our 3,000 party attendees at that time, it felt like someone turned on the air conditioning. Within a few seconds the temperature dropped by over 10 degrees. The crowd cheered. 30 minutes later our stage and sound and lighting crews and I were checking the wind levels and gusts to determine if we needed to evacuate due to high winds. We did not hit that point. The show and the party went on and people were having a great time. At 5:00pm the weather turned again and a storm was about 10 miles out heading our way with lighting and heavy rain. At 5:10 we had to evacuate for safety as the storm hit hard within 5 minutes after that. With our permit to sell alcohol and to have live music ending an hour and a half later there was not time to get things going again after the storm passed so the show was stopped. It was tough. The event still had a great 6 hours, and we finished the tournament on Sunday (despite another two-hour rain delay). The impact of cancellations for our beach volleyball tournament affected about 750 people unfortunately. That was a real bummer. Having to shut the show down early affected 3,000 attendees and although they had an opportunity for 6 hours before then to enjoy outstanding music and an amazing atmosphere and were having a great time, it’s a disappointment to have to end early. The impact for our business was substantial as we lost significant profit. Thankfully the event was still solid in terms of profit, but would have reached much higher levels without the weather issues. 

 

What were some of the highlights of the event? 

On the volleyball side, having the $20,000 purse for our AVPNext level 2’s for men’s and women’s attracted high level talent from all over North America. The volleyball was tremendous. On the party side, our DJ lineup included four international acts and the music was excellent, along with the visual show accompanying the music. The stage was a mesmerizing focal point of the event. Our twenty+ sponsors added interesting elements to the event with activations ranging from body paint, to facials, to sampling vegan sausages, to pop-a-shot contests, to charging stations, group stretches, photo ops, and more.  One last somewhat sick highlight…seeing an ominous shelf cloud over the crowd that was having an incredible time knowing I may need to stop the event. I took some pics and video of the scene thinking to myself “this will either be evidence of how bad the situation was and why we had to call it or an epic pic of a close call”. Unfortunately it’s now a reminder of an amazing event we had to end early.

 

Obviously, some big surprises happened at your event. How did you use your experience to get creative in handling them? 

A lot can happen with any event and you have to be prepared with a plan and the right resources to do your best to manage the issues that come up to create the best possible experience for your participants and attendees. We try to manage most problems with up front preparation and investment in resources. Examples of this include adding 15 volleyball courts in advance of our event that we have not used in previous years due to some challenges that have occurred at the beach this year. It saved the levels of the tourney we were able to have. We ordered additional water and ice and cooling towels in advance of the event to make sure we could help our attendees deal with the heat. Due to the wind overnight there were some issues that came up with our setup that we had to adjust for on the fly to make certain our venue was safe and efficient for participants and sponsors. Additional wind management resources were added day of. Having a predetermined plan to deal with weather problems was key in determining when to call the show due to weather. We were able to safely evacuate all attendees. 

 

With everything that went on during your event, what were your top two takeaways of the day?

  1. Preparation is critical and the more prepared you are the more equipped you are to handle issues that can come up. You cannot be over prepared  
  2. You have to have a good team to be able to produce an event of this size. The team must be experienced and understand the importance of working as a team to create and execute on a successful event.

If you could have one superpower to help you for the day of the event, what would it be and why?

The power to stop weather from affecting the event. I guess Superman powers – the power to blow away the wind and storm. 

 

Would you say your event was more or less successful than the previous Bears season, based on what you were dealt for the day? 

That’s a harsh question Felix! I was at the playoff loss…I think it’s a tie. We had a double-doink that ended our event in a less successful way than how we prepared and executed considering the morning volleyball cancellations and the evening weather stoppage. But like the rest of the Bears season, the rest of our event was outstanding. 

 

Plans for this event in the future?

Bigger and better. We have a history of building the event year after year and this year was on track for that. You have to factor weather into outdoor events so no excuses. In the future we will continue to improve the event and work to lessen the impact that weather can cause. 

How big is sponsorship to this event?

It’s huge. All of our annual sponsors are part of the event along with many others for this event alone. They add to the experience for attendees and add to the bottom line. Makes up about 20% of the bottom line. The impact from the event on sponsors is bigger than that however…it is an important selling point for all of our sponsors. They love the event and look forward to it all year. 

 

Planning an event can be stressful, what are some ways you help your team stay motivated?

Thankfully we have an amazing team that is self motivated and motivated to support each other and be sure not to let each other down. The event is an exciting one to produce so I believe that helps to motivate everyone. I think the best thing we do for motivation is to support each other and work together to create the event. It’s very collaborative and everyone is allowed to make an impact on the event. Everyone has a role that is extremely important. People embrace the challenge and responsibility. There’s a lot of stress for sure – I think everyone recognizes that and supports each other more because of that recognition. 

 

What role do you see social media playing with events going forward? 

Social Media is and will continue to be extremely valuable for promotions for events. It’s crucial for creating organic interest in events which sells tickets or registrations. It’s an effective avenue to create audiences beyond the event attendees for people to experience and engage with the event, and post-event for the memories to live on. For sponsors social media is a valuable medium to tell the story of their brand and connect with people through their integration with the events they sponsor. Sponsors can highlight specific attributes of their brand and reach targeted audiences with relevant messages through social media based on the events they are a part of.  

Biggest learning experience in your event life? 

Probably when I was social chair in my fraternity when I was 19 and I decided we should have a beach party inside our fraternity house. I was inspired by Spring Break I guess. I had to convince 50 other guys we could do it and it was a good idea. I ordered two tons of sand and when the dump truck came and I told them to dump it, two tons of river rocks fell out on our parking lot. I made some calls and got them to correct their mistake and within two hours, we got the sand in and had a great party. The toughest people to convince it was a good idea before the event were the first ones to help remove the sand and clean up when the event was over. I learned that if you push the envelope a bit you can make something memorable happen and it can be worth it. I also learned that whenever you have an event there’s a good chance something is going to go wrong. You have to be ready to deal with it and not quit.  (BTW…The hot tub wasn’t quite as good of an idea)

What athlete would you compare yourself to when it comes to events and why?

Damn Big Cat that’s a helluva question! Since you brought up the Bears I’ll say Jim McMahon. Not the best that ever lived and not perfect but I hope successful, reliable, inspiring and ultimately a leader people enjoy working with. 

What the next big event or move for you with your events department?

Labor Day Weekend beach volleyball tournament – everyone from the SSIA is invited – there’s no better time to be in Chicago! Then on to Bloody Mary Fest, Halloween, Turkey Bowl and three New Year’s Events. Maybe another big one coming up…

Any last words about your event or events, you would like to leave us with?

I think creating and producing events like we all do is a worthy endeavor. The events create joy, life experiences and memories for the attendees and the event producers alike. It isn’t easy and certainly isn’t glamorous but when you do it well it’s a lot of fun and feels really good. 

 

In 3 words or less answer the following topics. I will bring up the subject (in bold) and you give an answer/thoughts in three words or less.

  

  1.   Event world…

always interesting

  1.   Events are moneymakers…

they can be

  1.   Favorite part of an event…

people having fun

  1.   Event of the decade…

Cubs Game 5 (of World Series)

  1.   Chicago 2019/2020 “DA BEARS”…

Super Bowl Champs!

  1.   Key to success

Prepare and execute

Brian Interview

So, how did your event go my friend? 

We arrived at the beach at 5am, after setting up all day ahead of time on Friday, and the beach looked pristine and ready to go.  Within an hour the waves flooded the beach and we lost 26 courts to flooding. We have had a tremendous amount of rain and the lake is at an all time high, so the strong winds on Saturday morning pushed the waves over the sidewalk and break walls and flooded the beach.

What were some of the highlights of the event? 

The highlight was the way our staff handled themselves through oppressive heat (excessive heat warnings both days) on Friday and Saturday and kept a positive attitude and dealt with our participants as best possible despite all of the adversity we were confronted with.

Obviously, some big surprises happened at your event. How did you use your experience to get creative in handling them? 

We have had to get creative over the years and especially this summer at the beach.  We have had a lot of erosion over the years, so in order to accommodate the demand we added a tournament that starts at 2pm to get more teams playing.  Ahead of time we had 40 teams for the 2pm tournament, and we knew with the winds dying and the heat that some of the courts would dry up, so we tried to convince as many people as possible to consider playing in the 2pm tournament.  We also offered some free entry in the Volleywood Beach Bash or tried to convince some people to transfer to our Labor Day Tournament. We tried to supply as many options to help our participants feel like there was some sort of alternative solution despite what mother nature dealt us.

With everything that went on during your event, what were your top two takeaways of the day?

  1. Top two takeaways are that no matter how much you prepare that you can always have unexpected things happen.  You have to always try and roll with the punches and stay true to your core goals as a business. If you show genuine care, concern, and empathy you can for sure overcome even the worst situations.
  2. The second takeaway, is always dress and plan for everything at the beach and bring plenty of zip ties!

If you could have one superpower to help you for the day of the event, what would it be and why?

My superpower would be shop vac arms!  That way you can always drain the puddles on a field or court and play on.

How would you rate your event on a 1-10 scale based on how your team had to deal with? 10 being a Superbowl level and 1 being a Fyre Fest bust?

I would rate our event about a 7.  Those that played had a great time and we were able to not let the other issues an adversity affect the good time had by those able to play.  

Planning an event can be stressful, what are some ways you help your team stay motivated? 

The best way to keep those motivated is to not let things get you too down and also show that you are willing to pitch in and work just as hard as they are, from lugging boxes, staking in tents, to having a good time with them.  Keep it light and loose and show them the same sort of respect and love that you would like to receive.

Biggest learning experience in your event and operations life?

Biggest learning experience is communication is key.  There is no such thing as over communicating.

What athlete would you compare yourself to when it comes to events and why?

I would compare myself to John Stockon.  Willing to mix it up, but content to dish off an assist.   

Any last words about your event or events, you would like to leave us with?

Last words of advice…don’t let the small minority of complaints get you down and shape your opinion of the event or job you are doing.  Just bask in the smiles and good times everyone on site is having and that is what it is all about and why we do this. The compliments down rain in as hard and the complaints, but when they do come in it makes things that much sweeter.      

 

  • Event world…

Takes a village

  • Secret sauce to events…

Staff and preparation

  • Favorite part of events…

Tear down

  • Event of the decade…

Red Bull City Clinch

  • Buffalo Bills 2019/2020 Season… 

Strong to very strong

  • Key to success… 

Hydration, lunch, staff

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