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Case Study: Virtual Sport Awards

How do you hold a live awards ceremony in the middle of lockdown?

Virtual events might be about to become our new normal.

Read on to find out how the event production team at the University of Birmingham turned a live, in-person event into a virtual spectacular.

The event: an awards ceremony for staff and students

Sport is integral to life at the University of Birmingham.

The Sport & Fitness team deliver expert support in world-class facilities year round, for students, staff and the local community. Their mission: ‘enabling people to thrive, fulfil their potential and achieve extraordinary things’.

Each year, Sport & Fitness hold an awards ceremony to celebrate individual students and teams, and their coaches and mentors.

2019 sports awards: photo by Mark Assinder

The challenge: make it feel live

The annual awards event was already in production when new lockdown rules came into play in spring 2020.

But cancellation was never an option for this event production team. Aaron Croston and Martin Hewitt-Moran had a clear objective: to create a virtual event that was as close to the experience of the live event as possible.

‘Being an awards evening, we wanted to preserve the sense of this being a special event to celebrate the achievements of the nominees and winners,’ says Aaron. ‘To give it a sense of occasion.’

The solution: ask the experts

When you have to pre-record all your content, it’s a real challenge to give your event that ‘in the moment’ experience.

Fortunately, Aaron and Martin had plenty of creative ideas to make it work.

A ‘big show’ look and feel

The ceremony was intended to take place in the Bramall, in the impressive Elgar Concert Hall.

It had been a fantastic setting for the previous year’s event – but was now completely closed per the lockdown guidance.

To maintain a sense of grandeur, visual impact and the feel of the last ceremony, the team created a CGI version of the Bramall stage.

CGI stage set with green-screen effect to show speaker

Green screen allowed the host to ‘appear’ on stage. Clever editing and a mix of shots combined to make it feel completely convincing.

Technical expertise

Host, speakers and winners were all given clear guidance on how to approach recording from home.

The team offered dial-in access for live speeches, but the organisers chose a full pre-recorded option to avoid any technical issues from home internet providers, or nerves on the night.

This meant there were over 40 speakers to record, edit and arrange. This was combined with green screen, CGI, scripted voice-over and music editing – all on a clear schedule to ensure delivery could be achieved within the time frame.

Keeping the winners secret

From Aaron: “To maintain the brief of this being true to the physical event, we wanted to maintain the surprise of who had won each award. We didn’t want to be contacting the winner ahead of the event to arrange dial-in slots, as this would have given the game away to who had won.’

The solution: every nominee recorded a short acceptance speech, supported by technical advice from the team.

The winners got their moment in the spotlight, and the excitement of revealing them was preserved.

Collaboration

The UB Sport team provided key elements, like storyboarding, script and co-ordinating the contributors. The event production team then pulled the content together for the ‘live’ show.

‘Every event we do is a working partnership,’ says Aaron. ‘We’ve worked with UB Sport before, and they had great creative ideas as always. Our job was to translate that to virtual.’

A YouTube premiere

By keeping the time and date of the planned ceremony and premiering on YouTube, that sense of watching it all unfold was preserved.

Everyone viewing it from home could chat on social media, sharing their reactions in real time, and cheering on the winners as they were announced.

This audience might not have been in the same room, but they were watching together.

The outcome

The awards received plenty of positive feedback, from attendees and organisers alike.

‘It has been a pleasure working with you guys and we are really pleased with how it has come out… it’s been a new and challenging project but couldn’t have asked for a better team to work with on it.’ – Harriet Hubbard, UB Sport & Fitness organising team

Senior staff were also delighted with the results.

‘That was brilliant. Congratulations. You did UBSport, the University and the students’ achievements proud. I know just how much work . . . . and team-work went into this evening’s awards, and that reflects your collective talent and professionalism that you planned and delivered such a polished event in a relatively short time. I knew it would be impressive, because you were all so excited in the lead in. And it certainly lived up to expectation.’ – Zena Wooldridge, Director of Sport 

One outcome that no one predicted: the ceremony has now been viewed many more times than the capacity of the planned venue.

With over 50 sports teams at the University of Birmingham, and hundreds of keen and interested staff and community members, the original ceremony could never have hosted everyone who might have enjoyed the evening.

Thanks to these challenging times, these awards reached a whole new audience.

Watch the full event

Virtual events

Take your next event online with virtual and hybrid events at the University of Birmingham.

Plan with confidence. You’ll have an expert team to advise on packages for events large or small, and full support with all the technical details. Even if travel or meeting restrictions change, you’ll be ready.

  • Stress-free management from our experienced team
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  • Live dial-in speakers, pre-records, webinars and livestreaming
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