The Financial Times’ events arm, FT Live staged its first hybrid conference last week. FT Live’s director of event delivery, Daniel Greenwood took to the Confex stage to share his experiences of moving The Business of Football Summit from virtual-only to a hybrid format.
The Business of Football Summit 2022 took place from 2-3 March. More than 1,000 viewers from over 100 countries registered to watch the virtual elements and as a result, the event generated media coverage of over 900 articles in less than 24-hours.
“We would never have had that level of reach and media interest without maintaining the virtual elements as journalists from around the world were able to tune-in and report on our content,” Greenwood told the Confex audience.
“Going virtual-only during the pandemic showed us that a different level of speaker – from former presidents and premiers to Bill Gates and Elon Musk – were suddenly available to the FT brand. Despite now saying that ideally, if you want to come and speak at one of our events, you need to be in the room, our audience’s expectations and appetite for big-name keynotes means we can’t now close the door on being able to dial-in true A-listers.”
FT Live’s hybrid proposition for the Business of Football Summit was to make the first day online-only, via the Bizzabo platform, and to stage the second day in-person, with sessions streamed live, courtesy of Silverstream TV. Content from both days was then made available to view on-demand via the conference website.
The online-only content featured keynote interviews with former Manchester United defender Gary Neville and vice- president of FIFA, Victor Montagliani, along with panel discussions on subjects such as racism in football, fan engagement and player performance data.
The second day was held at the Biltmore Mayfair hotel in London’s Grosvenor Square. In-person panels discussed the future of football, private equity’s role in football and investing in talent, while high-level keynotes, including the president of UEFA, Aleksander Čeferin, dialled in.
“One of our biggest concerns with blending in-person and virtual speakers was around camera angles and eye-lines – where would people be looking when they were on-stage interviewing someone on a screen? We solved this by fixing monitors next to the camera lens so that the interviewer could keep the same eye-line as the interviewee when talking to them on-screen,” Greenwood said.
Another concern for the FT Live team was keeping the virtual audience engaged at the start and close of each on-stage session.
Greenwood explained: “Our virtual-only events had run strictly to time to ensure we didn’t lose any of our online audience but we all know that in-person events don’t always work that way. We resolved it by having a ‘ring-side’ commentator sitting on the production desk at the back of the room who topped and tailed each session by talking to the virtual audience and ‘filling’ by letting them know what was happening and what was coming next. Just having that dedicated person talking to the online viewers removed all of the stress of starting in-room sessions on-time.”
Greenwood concluded his recount of FT Live’s debut hybrid conference by telling the Confex audience he was looking forward to analysing both the platform and marketing tech-stack data to understand the viewer engagement levels and to see what worked and what didn’t.
“I question how engaged someone sitting at home, watching a conference all day will be so video-on-demand is sure to be really important for our content moving forward,” he said. “As event managers, we’re all television producers now and we want our events to look like you’re watching FT TV. It raises the game for platforms, while technology providers need to find new ways to bring the cost of hybrid down by looking at their pricing models and having cleverer delivery solutions.”